Movie Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate'

Category:  The Arts
Friday, November 15th, 2019 at 11:15 AM
Movie Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate' by Jason Hurst

The sixth film in the “Terminator” series, and the third tied to James Cameron, “Dark Fate” is positioned as the spiritual successor to the first two films of the franchise: “The Terminator” and “Judgment Day.” Unfortunately, that tie doesn’t do much to improve the film’s quality.

Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (the T-800 model terminator) reprise their recurring roles one more time in this latest installment. They are joined by Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cyborg, who continues the time-traveling protector role for Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). The group attempts to thwart the efforts of the Rev-9 android, which is sent back by the future’s new A.I., Legion, and which aims for the death of Dani.

“Dark Fate” suffers from a myriad of plot problems. Within the opening moments, we’re treated to a brutal change of pace from the previous films, which serves as a metaphorical declaration: everything will be different this time around. Then it proceeds to immediately revert back to the core plot of the first two films, cannibalizing them and failing to do even that well.

We’re introduced to essentially the same plot as “The Terminator,” which was: “Protect the girl, kill the robot.” There’s a hint of “Judgment Day” thrown into the mix, as well. Grace is part-machine and part-human, sent back to protect Dani who will send her in the future. We’ve seen this plot so many times and unfortunately, this offers nothing new. The film’s only true innovation is the future’s antagonist, Legion, the A.I. enemy of this altered timeline. Even there, nothing is explained about this new future aside from a few flashbacks and throwaway dialogue.

The new terminator, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), isn’t even called a “terminator.” It’s simply a machine. The new antagonist is supposed to be an innovation in the franchise, yet still feels like a copy of Robert Patrick’s liquid metal villain from “Judgment Day.” The only difference here is that it can shed its liquid metal, becoming two machines; it’s a trick, which at first seems frightening and formidable, but then becomes overused, uncreative and repetitive. Luna’s portrayal of the Rev-9 is superb, however, blending the unyielding apathy of a machine with realistic human portrayal when necessary.

A recurring theme of the “Terminator” franchise is the line, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves,” a concept revisited many times in “Dark Fate.” However, instead of trying to change their fate, the main characters readily accept their bleak future. Over the previous films, the protagonists successfully erased Skynet with their efforts in the past. Never once is this course of action suggested against Legion. Instead, the film prefers the “run and hide” end goal.

Much of the film’s positives center around Sarah and the T-800. More than 20 years have passed since “Judgment Day,” and Sarah continues to hunt terminators. The T-800 has the best character growth of all, surprisingly settling down in Texas and serving as arguably the best part of the film (certainly this writer’s favorite). He even becomes an interior decorator, with enough weapons for a small army, because, “This is Texas.” The interactions between these two create the most interesting dynamic in the film. It’s two remnants of an aborted timeline trying to find their place in the new history of humanity, while also dealing with the demons of their pasts: each other.

Grace and Dani, the two main characters, are where the film fails. Even among themselves, they bring little energy to the story. Grace will do anything to fulfill her mission to save Dani. It seems every scene with this character must be filled with action and suspense. There’s never a dull moment, and it gets tiring fast. Action, however, will only take a film so far. There seems to be no person behind this character, even with the flashbacks and fleeting explanations. Dani seems to do nothing the entire film other than give pep talks to the others and allow her emotions to cause problems. Her role is far from “damsel in distress,” yet she brings nothing of consequence to the film.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” had the opportunity to bring fresh change and revitalize an already dulling franchise. But like so many other films, especially sequels, “Dark Fate” falls into the category of wasted potential. While the film was fun and immersive, it’s just a combination of all the best parts of the franchise, and that is where its failure lies. Each of the previous installations brought something new to the table, whereas “Dark Fate” was a rehashing of existing materials, plots and all. Fans of the series will enjoy the slight innovation, but the appeal for anyone else is almost none.

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