WHAT WE THOUGHT:
A quarter century since Sarah Conner and the T-800 saved the world from Skynet in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, another young woman, Dani Ramos, holds the key to the future fight against the machines. With the most advanced Terminator yet sent back in time to kill her, Dani’s has her own potential saviour: Grace, a cybernetically enhanced human from the future, but when even Grace seems to be no match for the unstoppable Terminator, the pair receive help from the most unexpected of people: Sarah Conner herself.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Yes, you read that right, Terminator: Dark Fate is the, what, third Terminator film trying to stake its claim as the true follow-up to the beloved first two Terminator films by ignoring all other spin-offs and sequels. The good news is that it’s probably the best Terminator film since T2 and a gargantuan leap forward after the truly dire Terminator: Genisys came within a hair’s breadth of finally sinking the entire franchise through bad spelling alone. For all of that, though, Dark Fate makes no better case for its own existence than its predecessors and still provides no justification, beyond the purely financial, for continuing the franchise past Terminator 2.
This isn’t to say that Dark Fate is a bad film. Far from it. Arnie is once again tons of fun as a somewhat different take on the T-800 (though he is very much a supporting character here) and the film ups the franchise’s already impressive feminist credentials by centring the film around a trio of strong women. I mean, yes, Natalia Reyes’ Dani does spend the majority – but, crucially, not all - of the film as little more than a damsel in distress but there’s no doubting just how kickass Linda Hamilton still is as Sarah Conner and Mackenzie Davis, in a star-making turn, proves to be the film’s true VIP as the mysterious Grace. The film is also undeniably contemporary as the tricky state of Mexican-American immigration gets a look in, and the major advances in technology do add a few new wrinkles to the Terminator’s MO.
The problem is that all of this amounts to an utterly apathetic, “so what?”. Terminator: Dark Fate fails hopelessly to be anything but a noticeably inferior remix of the first two films that also kind of undermines the ending of T2 without really doing anything of real interest with its new reality.
The chaotic action scenes are sometimes impressive but just as often overly chaotic and even, dare I say it, monotonous. Director Tim Miller proved himself to be a better director of comedy than action in Deadpool, and none of the all-too-frequently messy action scenes in this film do anything to refute that. And, honestly can someone please explain to me how a film made in 1991 has noticeably superior visual effects to something from 2019? Well, okay, I can: the limited but ground-breaking CGI of T2 had to be augmented with tons of physical effects, giving the film a real physicality that the often weightless, all-CGI-all-the-time effects in Dark Fate sorely lack.
As for the story by original Terminator creator James Cameron (yay?) and about eighty-five other credited writers, it’s just not much more than an inferior rewrite of the first two films, but with none of the stripped-down intensity of T1 and none of the cheesy personality of T2 – though Arnie’s appearance halfway through the film does, at least, manage to shoot some much needed humour into the proceedings.
Dark Fate also suffers from the same, um, fate of every Terminator since T2: it has a shockingly crappy villain. The Rev-9 is basically just a souped-up version of the T-1000 (basically the same but with the ability to somehow split into two Terminators) but the bland Gabriel Luna ain’t a patch on the seriously menacing Robert Patrick. Arnie in T2 aside, The Terminator’s are, by design, little more than blank killing machines but Luna, like so many of his predecessors, just doesn’t have the presence of a Schwarzenegger or, the glowering intensity that Patrick brought to the series’ most terrifying terminator (and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise), the T-1000.
Ultimately, though, none of the flaws are enough to stop the film from being a slightly above average sci-fi action film. Unfortunately, as a followup to two films that together make what may just be the high-water mark of the genre, “decent” just doesn’t cut it. More than that, it’s not just that Dark Fate is infinitely inferior to the first two Terminator films, it’s that it adds almost nothing to what they already brought to the table.
Sure, we have some new additions like cybernetically enhanced humans, and the film does begin with an impressively ballsy and unexpected death of a major character, but there is no real expanding on the mythology or even giving it much of a tweak. Even the significantly inferior Terminator 3 had that game-changing ending – which was completely ignored by Gensiys, of course, but that’s hardly its fault. There’s just nothing of any real substance in Terminator: Dark Fate that you won’t find done with much greater effectiveness and panache in the first two Terminator films.
Action junkies may enjoy it and if you’re in the mood for an uninspired cover of a couple of classics, it does its job well enough. It certainly never falls into the abject lameness of the other Terminator sequels. There was still no reason to spend millions of dollars on it, though, when the studios could just as easily have just given the originals yet another cinematic re-release and lost almost nothing in the process.