I had given up on Terminator flicks a long time ago.
The last Terminator movie I saw was the third entry in the series. I never bothered with Salvation or Genisys because they both looked pretty terrible, and it seemed as though the franchise was just churning out properties to cash in on a nostalgia market. The magic of the original and its first sequel was long-since gone.
Still, I was curious about the new movie, Terminator Dark Fate. Most notably because it featured the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner. Perhaps that is what every movie in the wake of T2 did wrong: ultimately, Terminator is Sarah Conner’s story. Whether it is her as a confused young woman on the run from a killer machine, or her as a bad-ass, battle-hardened adult… on the run from a killer machine… Sarah is the soul of the franchise. When you remove her to focus on John or the future or whatever, you lose what grounded the series to begin with.
So what follows will be my Terminator: Dark Fate review with LIGHT SPOILERS, but come on… it’s Terminator, not The Usual Suspects.
(Oh, I should mention, Dark Fate retcons everything after T2 out of existence. So for the current official canon, the only movies that count are Terminator, T2, and Dark Fate)
Dark Fate takes place in the current day, almost three decades since Sarah, John, and the T-800 changed the future, and over two decades since Judgment Day was supposed to occur. It didn’t! So that’s good!
Except only to a point because humanity gonna humanity, and it turns out where Skynet never happened, a new threat named Legion did. So while it may have been delayed several decades, the machine apocalypse still occurs, and A.I. rises up to hold humanity under its sleek metallic heel.
The biggest spoiler of the movie that the trailer doesn’t give away is that John Conner died very shortly after the events of T2. It is revealed that Skynet sent multiple Terminators to the past to stop him. Even though the future from which it came is already void, a T-800 finds John and Sarah at a bar and shoots the would-be savior down.
From there we advance to the present day and meet three of the stars of the new movie. Mackenzie Davis as Grace, a human from the new timeline future who has cybernetic enhancements to battle Terminators. Natalia Reyes as Dani, the modern-day Sarah Conner who requires protection from a threat she doesn’t understand. And Gabriel Luna as the Toyota Rav4–I mean, the Rev9 model Terminator–who is sent to kill Dani.
The story from there is VERY samey-samey if you have seen either of the original Terminators, and that’s why the spoilers don’t really matter. Protect Dani from the dangerous robot! Car chases! Warehouse fight scenes! Danger! Explosions!
The other big twist–the one that trailers kind of gave away, but not really–is that Arnold is back, but it’s HOW he is back that actually kind of works. As the T-800 that killed John, this Terminator had no future to return to, nor any further mission to attend to, so he just wandered off into the world. And while T2 turned Arnie good by having him have been reprogrammed in the future, this movie does so by having his own on-board A.I. develop a conscience. He met a single mother and her son, adopted the name Carl, and became a family man.
From there, the T-800, Dani, Sarah, and Grace fight the Rev9 for Dani’s fate, which is that she is the next John Conner. The movie wastes time making you think she is just the mother of the future savior, but it’s 2019… you know right away that a woman can be a hero and not just a baby factory.
The big point of note, the one that will either sell or ruin the movie for you, is the idea that the T-800 just became a hero on its own. I’ll be honest… it really worked for me. Not only does it work with the idea of A.I. that is learning from its own surroundings, but it very subtly creates the idea of hope. Dark Fate is more like Terminator than T2 in that it’s more about saving humanity’s hope than actually stopping the threat, so you have to accept that the apocalypse is still coming. And in that regard, the growth of the T-800 presents the idea that the seemingly villainous A.I. of Legion could eventually empathize with humanity and create a better world. Obviously, that’s not what we see in the future from which Grace and the Rev9 come from, but a few years out from there? Who knows?
Arnie is engaging as usual here with some great humor spots as he once again relives his greatest role. Linda Hamilton is a bit wooden and somehow “off” at parts, but it’s so wonderful to see her back in the role that put her on the map, who cares? She does such a great job portraying a character constantly in turmoil between compassion and hardened indifference that some bland delivery isn’t so bad. Reyes is solid as basically a recycled version of Sarah, and she has more spunk that Sarah had in Terminator. She is also believable as terrified about the goings-on and in grief for her family.
Davis and Luna are somewhat less impressive, but not “bad” by any stretch. Luna’s biggest issue is that he just isn’t Robert Patrick, who did such a historically brilliant job as the T-1000 that it’s hard to measure up to. Davis is high quality as the future bad-ass warrior, but the screenplay does her no favors; she is vague to her partners for no real reason, and when she has to flip the switch to sadness, it isn’t entirely believable. Like I said, neither is a huge weakness, but they got swallowed up by Arnie, Linda, and Natalia’s performances.
The movie allows itself not one but TWO callbacks to “I’ll be back” which is a bit heavy-handed. Remember Terminator 2, when the movie was still crafting iconic lines rather than just resting on the ones its forefathers fashioned? This movie doesn’t have that much heart. Like I said, it feels very much like a sequel that just wants to relive some glory rather than blaze its own trail, which–to be fair–didn’t Salvation and Genisys try new things? So maybe this is what we deserve.
It’s one of those Empty Calorie movies. I totally enjoyed it while I was watching it! But ultimately, it added no value going forward to my life. There’s absolutely nothing about this movie that bothered me while I was in the theater, but when I left, I learned there were no memorable moments from it. Terminator one was a science-fiction horror movie. Terminator 2 was an action movie (and arguably the greatest one ever). This was… just another action movie.
Which, I mean… “good, not great”, is that where I’m landing? Because that isn’t bad. My movie ticket was $6.50. I will gladly pay $6.50 for two+ hours of “good, not great”. Obviously, I’d prefer “great, not amazing” or “amazing, but nothin’!”, but sometimes you pay more than $6.50 and see “trash, not good”. So you have to be appreciative.
It’s a shame this movie is fairing so poorly at the box office. It doesn’t deserve to be a bomb.
Until next time… take care!