“You don’t fight it. You run from it.”
There’s almost nothing that I liked or was able to take away from the bloated, boggled, and bungled mess that is Terminator: Dark Fate. This is by and large a rather empty film, imparting massive set pieces where intimate moments are more needed, and no amount of non-diegetic noise can give a voice or a new lease on life to such a pedestrian, similar story we’ve already walked too many times. At some point you’d think the behind-the-scenes creatives would figure out that simply modernizing past films isn’t enough when you tell the same tale beat for beat. Dark Fate lives up to its title but never the previously established legacy.
Rightfully ignoring each Terminator film since 1991’s T2: Judgement Day, sequestering the three sequels and reboot attempts into alternate states of oblivion, Dark Fate begins pretty much where Judgment Day left off. And for how creatively dull the entire film tends to be, it’s worth commending the massive risk it takes in the opening sequence, even if it is a big swing and miss. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) relaxes south of the border with her son John (Edward Furlong), hiding out after diverting a future crisis. It seems idyllic, almost dreamlike. But then another T-800 (in the form of a badly de-aged, Duke Nukem looking Arnold Schwarzenegger appears and kills John, erasing all the merits of the best action sequel ever made with a few slugs to the chest. It’s a bold, lazy excuse for yet another franchise installment.
Cut to modern day and we meet Grace (Mackenzie Davis, giving the only memorably badass performance in the picture). She’s a technologically enhanced soldier sent back from the future to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) from the deadly and advanced Rev-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna), designed to mimic humans so as to most efficiently hunt and kill his prey. But, as the trailers showed us, an older and uncaring Sarah Connor returns to the fray. She hunts terminators by day, gets self-proclaimed blackout drunk by night, and repeats the cycle as if it were a penance. A solid chase sequence – which really is the entire backbone of these films – ends with her reintroduction. Then the movie continues to get bigger and bigger without much foresight, and Hamilton only continues to ham her way through grizzled, corny dialogue. Turning Sarah Connor into a bounty hunter for terminators is a great idea, but that it comes at the cost of her heart and all of her humanity strips the character of empathy. She’s devolved into a machine and the franchise has followed suit. It’s an empty alloy casing with nobody in the driver’s seat.
Previous attempts at re-igniting the franchise with Schwarzenegger proved to be futile, and his character only seems to be present here for nostalgia’s sake, bringing the large narrative to a stand-still. It’s a necessary respite from the many unforgiving set pieces. And yet it’s done in such a puzzling, comical way. So while the most impressive elements of Tim Miller’s film are Davis’ action-heroine role and the timeliness of the new and improved killing machine (the T2’s police officer antagonist reflected the animosity of the LA riots and is now, temporarily, a hounding border patrol agent who’s admittedly conveyed with far less subtlety), Dark Fate still can’t overcome the overwhelming and finite nature of this story. The original Terminator was great, got an even better sequel, but it didn’t need to be a franchise. That they only seem to be able to muster up, time and time again, the exact same story with faces and names both new and old shows just how out of touch this movie is with the present because it’s so limited by the scope of its predictable future. A Dark Fate indeed.
“Those assholes never learn.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5