Movie Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ (Second Opinion)

You can read Gfunk’s review right here!

Plot: Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is a young factory working living in Mexico City with her father and brother. However, her mild existence is upended one day when a Rev-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna) from the future is sent back in time to kill her. Fortunately for Dani, an augmented soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is also sent back in time to protect her. Along the way, the pair run into Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who now hunts terminators and Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger) a T-800 connected to Sarah’s past and now passing as a human. Together the four must unite to destroy the Rev-9 and fight the future.

Review: Before I delve into the specifics of this review we need to get something out of the way first. Terminator: Dark Fate is not the film being marketed to you in trailers and TV spots. While it appears to be relying on nostalgia (which to some extent is true), the film is actually…well…something else. I’ve tried to think of a way to best describe it but then I stumbled upon this tweet that I believe captures it perfectly. And keep in mind that this person is extremely left leaning on the political spectrum:

The fact of the matter is that Terminator: Dark Fate tries to be too “woke” for its own good at times, enough that even I rolled my eyes a time or two. Now if you’re willing to look beyond this aforementioned reality, you’ll find a servicable if unnecessary Terminator sequel actually waiting in the wings. Still with me? OK. Moving on!

Terminator: Dark Fate is now the third (!) attempt by Hollywood to reboot the storied franchise begun by James Cameron in 1984. The Terminator and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day remain two of the best films in the history of cinema. And since T2 used its plasma pulse rifle to decimate cinemas twenty-eight years ago, Tinseltown has sought time and again to recapture the magic. They couldn’t be bargained with, they couldn’t be reasoned with, and they absolutely would not stop – EVER – until that happened. Well it hasn’t happened and the likelihood of it happening is less than a T-1000’s chances of survival in pit of molten steel.

A couple notable distinctions separate Dark Fate from the last three entries in the franchise. The first is that Academy Award winning director James Cameron decided to pause from his latest exploits in Pandora and return in a producer capacity. Secondly, Hollywood darling Tim Miller (Deadpool) took on directing duties and has cited the first two films as a major influence on his filmmaking career. It was clear from numerous interviews how passionate he was about the project. Lastly, Sarah Connor herself, Linda Hamilton, returned to the franchise in all her ass-kicking glory. Give credit where it’s due, Cameron, Miller, and Hamilton try their damnedest to make Dark Fate succeed and occasionally they do. Unfortunately, the misses are more prevalent than the hits.

Dark Fate often feels too much like Terminator karaoke, with several callbacks to the first two films peppered throughout the two hour feature. For example, early on Luna’s Rev-9 is crushed in a hydraulic press and an opening chase sequence is eerily reminiscent of a similar moment in T2. Hell the final damn frame of the movie mimics the end of the first film almost exactly. There’s a difference between callbacks and lazy writing and unfortunately Dark Fate crosses that line repeatedly. No less than five people are credited with the story so I probably don’t have to remind you of the old adage about an exorbitant number of cooks in the kitchen. In addition, these same chefs make a narrative choice in the first ten minutes of the film that is sure to piss a lot of people off. I won’t spoil it here, but suffice it to say it’s something I’m still wrestling with. Furthermore, the film contains many convenient Mexican cliches like Dani’s brother’s aspirations to be a Latin pop singer or the fact that Dani’s uncle just happens to be a coyote adept at getting people across the border. Honestly, it’s a little insulting and casually racist.

Moreover, the action never possesses the urgency and stakes of the first two films. Part of this is due to the fact that there is entirely too much CGI in the movie where practical effects would have served better. While the action is relentlessly high octane and intense (especially the last twenty minutes or so) Terminator: Dark Fate just seems to hop from action sequence, to exposition, and back again. It too often comes off formulaic. However, the action does manage to entertain, even if it never approaches the level of the first two movies.

Where Terminator: Dark Fate does succeed is with the cast. Linda Hamilton crushes it as Sarah Connor once again. In the intervening years Sarah has suffered great personal loss and is now more machine than human. Her appearance is worth the price of admission alone. Arnold Schwarzenegger is just as good as the T-800, delivering a more nuanced performance than in past entries. Ironically, where as Connor has become more machine-like, Arnold’s T-800 (or Carl if you will) has become more human, going so far as to have a family and his own drapery business. Schwarzenegger is also pretty damn funny in the role and even at seventy-two gets plenty of opportunity to flex his action muscles. Unfortunately, the mental gymnastics the writers go through to justify his presence in the film is a little bit beyond the pale.

Mackenzie Davis also makes for a nice addition to the franchise. Her Grace is reminiscent of both Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) from the original and the Sarah Connor of T2. An augmented super-soldier from the future, Grace has the interesting trait of being able to engage intensely in combat for a specific amount of time before wearing down and requiring medication. My only issue is that Grace kind of takes a backseat to Sarah Connor once Connor arrives on the scene. Reyes does the best she can with what she’s given, however her Dani is a pale imitation of Sarah Connor from the first Terminator or Edward Furlong from Judgment Day. Her connection to Grace, and Dani’s significance in the grand scheme of things is patently obvious to anyone with half a brain. Luna also never exudes the level of menace that Arnold Schwarzenegger or Robert Patrick displayed. Those two were terrifying, whereas Luna never attains anything beyond creepy.

While Terminator: Dark Fate occasionally offers moments of glory and is certainly better than the last few entries in the franchise, Tim Miller’s film can’t hold a candle to the first two movies. With the sixth entry for Paramount Pictures primed to lose over $100 million at the box office, it’s high time this franchise finally be terminated.

My rating System:

0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
3 Bad
4 Sub Par
5 Average
6 Ok
7 Good
8 Very Good
9 Great
10 A Must See

Terminator: Dark Fate: 6/10

You can follow me on Twitter at CorryeAtTheMovies @VanCorrye