REVIEW: Terminator: Dark Fate (Spoiler Free)

They said they’d be back.

An advanced terminator and an enhanced super soldier are sent back in time to war over the survival of a young woman, Dani Ramos, who’s fate is seemingly tied to the legacy of one, Sarah Connor.

Do I care about the Terminator franchise? That is the big question.

Look, I have never been the biggest fan of these films. I highly respect the original two, Terminator and Terminator: Judgement Day, but have never been an overly obsessed fan of them. Guys, don’t hate me. I think they’re great. I just never have the urge to re-watch them. The franchise’s various attempts to make a third installment is where I have found most of my entertainment concerning Terminator. Never have I seen a more blaringly obvious attempt to continue a long dead franchise than the series of Judgement Day sequels which have continued to fail… terribly.

With each sequel though, there has always been an insanely obvious problem that has made each flick their own brand of terrible. The original third TerminatorTerminator: Rise of the Machines, was a slight departure from the original’s horror and the sequel’s action for, instead, more an infusion with the sci-fi genre… to comedic effect. The main problem with Rise of the Machines was its unintentional humorous side; the mere factor that it was funnier than it intended to be. Rise of the Machines, in short, was a meme. So, what did the second attempt of a third installment do? Take a hard left turn into a more serious tone of course. Terminator: Salvation‘s attempts at a more solemn war movie really brought the franchise even lower into cold and uneventful territory. Pretty much, the movie’s problem was it went too far in the wrong direction. And lastly, most recently, we had Terminator: Genisys which was the messiest, cluster (you know the word) of all which attempted too hard to start a franchise that, frankly, nobody wanted.

So yeah, basically the Terminator franchise has had more downs than ups… and its kind of been funny seeing this series stuff up so royally over and over again, although I was really hoping the franchise would finally get a win with Terminator: Dark Fate. For the sake of the original two movies, I was heading into Dark Fate with my fingers crossed that hopefully the franchise would be revived in some way… and it kind of was.

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(Paramount 2019)

Out of all four of the attempts at making a third Terminator film, Dark Fate was probably the best. It was in no way the amazing return to form the franchise could have hoped for but Dark Fate was, at the very least, ok. It was not as unintentionally dumb as Rise of the Machines, not as self-serious as Salvation and not as messy as Genisys. The worst this movie was, was generic… but, in saying that, what Hollywood blockbuster isn’t these days?

The generic structure of the movie’s story really just felt like a basis for the film’s characters to pop… not that all of them really did. However, I would have to say the clear highlight of this film was, for the most half, the characters, in particular Linda Hamilton’s return to the role of Sarah Connor.

Although her character did not have as much to do with the general narrative, Hamilton’s Connor did really provide the bulk of the spectacle for Dark Fate. In fact, I think the film would have worked better if it were solely a Sarah Connor movie, because, as soon as other factors got involved, the movie just felt like a complete retread of Judgement Day.

Almost every action beat, plot thread and character arc felt ripped from Judgement Day and even, to an extent, the first Terminator. This is what I meant by generic. Even though there was nothing inherently wrong with the film, it just never attempted to be truly nuance. It just drifted from cliché to cliché with lines of dialogue feeling as though they were pulled straight from fan made trailers. For example, the film’s Hispanic lead character, Dani, has a big emotional speech moment where she literally says the words “I want to stand and fight“… now, not only is that line generic as hell, but its already been claimed in, guess what, a Michael Bay film. In said movie, which was Transformers: The Last Knight, another sci-fi action movie about robots, the lead Hispanic character, Izabella, has a big emotional speech where she quotes “I want to stand and fight” (man, that’s cringe when you say it out land) and it really goes to show how lazy and repetitive a lot of these Hollywood blockbusters are written.

There were plenty of moments in Dark Fate where I just sat there thinking, “that edit could have been more creative” or “that line could have been more funny” or “that action scene could have been cut shorter”. The main point I am trying to make here is that Dark Fate was fine, but just came up short every single scene of being great.

The movie even recycled the exact same plot of almost every other Terminator film we have seen. A Terminator is sent back to the past to kill someone vital to the future resistance but an unexpected hero is also sent back to save said target. The movie turns into a wild goose chase of horror, action, sci-fi and an impending threat of war and an eventual apocalypse. Dark Fate was just another movie, in many ways.

And recycling plots are not exactly a bad thing. For example, Stars Wars: The Force Awakens was completely built off the traditional Star Wars formula with narrative, character and action beats all almost entirely feeling like a recycled production. However, The Force Awakens had two things that Dark Fate hasn’t. Firstly, The Force Awakens had a sense of flare. It really felt like a spectacle when Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill appeared on screen; when Rey embraced the Force; when cosmic visuals absorbed the screen with such beauty. The recycled elements didn’t matter, because they just acted a platform for an exciting return to a galaxy far far away. Secondly, The Force Awakens was released over a decade after the last Star Wars feature. Whereas with Dark Fate, this is the second soft reboot in the space of only two years. People are naturally tired of Terminator movies. So getting berated with the same generic Terminator formula over and over again, compared to the more spaced out Star Wars releases, really does not help in making Dark Fate feel relevant.

Even the character of Dani felt insanely boring and uninteresting to watch despite being a cookie cut female version of John Connor. The character had finesse even though she was meant to be the heart of the movie; the whole point the plot was put into motion. Yet, there was nothing really there to attach the audience to her. She was just another generic plot device.

I will say though that Mackenzie Davis’ Grace was a major highlight in the film. Tough, exciting and emotionally driven, Grace was maybe my favourite part of the film… even considering Hamilton’s Connor. In fact, another plus I had with Dark Fate was its ability to show female empowerment without being too preachy. Dark Fate had three female leads and never really made it a big deal like GhostbustersOcean’s 8 or Captain Marvel. The characters were just characters who were paired up because they were the best people for the job. Not for any other ulterior motives like the factor of female led action movies being the in thing now. The female leads just felt natural and organic to the story. And it worked.

The action was also serviceable. Most of it was entertaining but the visual effects were a bit too distracting at points. There was, however, a pretty remarkable use of CGI towards the beginning of the film that really did stun me completely. Also, Diego Luna as the new Terminator was pretty cool. He had a suave, gentlemanly manner about him that carried the film’s more tense moments. Another brief point I want to make is that I feel this movie has visually shown a growth in Tim Miller’s direction since Deadpool. It’s definitely not a better film than Deadpool but, personally, I just felt Miller shot this movie better than his predecessor.

I also have to bring up, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return as the T-800. Again, this was probably the best use of the character since the original two films. There was genuine heart and humour involved in Schwarzenegger’s role, both in the writing and acting. He was not used too much in the film which was ultimately beneficial to the narrative. I certainly liked seeing Schwarzenegger’s T-800 return and thought it worked for what it was… but yeah… that’s about it…

I really did not dislike this movie. It was not great, nor that good, but it was managed to be entertaining enough. It passed the test in most fields but notably failed in others. Definitely the best of the bad Terminator sequels, I have to say if the last three flicks in the franchise never happened, this movie would probably have better reception. However, we cannot ignore the last two decades of absolute crap, can we?

Maybe the future A.I. ruler of the world (Walt Disney) should just send back a Terminator of their own to terminate this franchise once and for all.

Terminator: Dark Fate, sadly, belongs in the… KINGDOM OF THE CRIMINALLY DULL…

 

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