REVIEW: Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Paramount Pictures / Buena Vista International

The following is a review of Terminator: Dark Fate — Directed by Tim Miller.

Just a couple of years ago, Terminator Genisys broke my heart. Nevertheless, on Friday, I found myself in a movie theater ready to watch the next Terminator-film in its opening weekend. Terminator, a long-running franchise that hasn’t found a lot of success since James Cameron left the film series’ director’s chair and let multiple others sit in it, has been run into the ground. The first two films, which were both directed by James Cameron, are both iconic and Terminator 2: Judgment Day might be my favorite action film ever made. Since then Jonathan Mostow, McG, and Alan Taylor have all tried and, to varying degrees, failed to resurrect and reboot the film series in a successful and satisfying way.

What Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate promised to do was to erase Mostow, McG and Taylor’s films from the series’ canon and finally make a sequel that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Cameron’s two films. But, honestly, Tim Miller’s film didn’t just break that promise and disappoint me. Terminator: Dark Fate actually pissed me off. To explain exactly why might be to spoil the film, but let’s just say that I strongly dislike this story’s explanation of what happened almost immediately after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The scene in question, which happens no more than two or maybe five minutes into the film, annoyed me so much that I considered leaving the theater right then and there. Of course, I didn’t leave the theater. I stayed to watch the rest of the film, and I hoped that Dark Fate‘s six screenwriters had come up with something that made this incredibly frustrating scene worth it in the end. I waited in vain.

Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate takes place several decades after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Armageddon doesn’t appear to be upon us. Except for the fact that robots are taking hardworking civilians’ jobs, the world looks pretty safe. However, it turns out that perhaps Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) and her son didn’t prevent the creation of ‘Terminators’ and judgment day itself, it looks like they merely postponed armageddon. As it often happens in these Terminator-stories, Dark Fate truly begins when two individuals are sent back in time to either kill or protect a member of the so-called Resistance. Grace (played by Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human, has been sent back in time to prevent Daniella Ramos (played by Natalia Reyes), a young Latin-American woman, from being killed, and a so-called Rev-9 cyborg (played by Gabriel Luna), who can split itself into two separate cyborg units at will, has been sent back in time to kill her. This cyborg prototype is way too much for Grace to handle on her own, but she soon learns that she won’t have to. Because Sarah Connor is ready and able to terminate those who have hunted her and her family all of her adult life.

The six screenwriters have handed director Tim Miller a story that is just as trite and repetitive as the rest of the recent entries in the franchise, but which, thankfully, is not as frustratingly incompetent and mind-numbing as Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys. In the grand scheme of things Terminator: Dark Fate — Tim Miller’s second feature film as a director — might be the best sequel to Terminator 2, but that really isn’t saying much if we’re being honest. All of these many discouraging sequels, including Dark Fate, have only proven that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is exactly where the film series should’ve ended. But I digress. In the same way that J. J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens had continued the Star Wars franchise by making a sequel that reused the elements from the original film in the franchise, Tim Miller’s film is basically just the first two popular Terminator-films over again but with some new characters and, needless to say, Miller’s film is not as successful in continuing the franchise as Abrams’ film was for Star Wars. At its most infuriating, though, it reminded me of David Fincher’s Alien 3.

Except for that one scene that drove me up the wall, which did, admittedly, feature some pretty strong visual effects, I actually thought the first half of Terminator: Dark Fate was really solid, even though its story is a carbon copy of something we’ve seen executed much better previously. The immediate opening of the film is really captivating as it shows a scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day that, honestly, made me really excited about the idea of a good proper sequel, which Dark Fate ultimately turned out not to be. I think the introductions of Daniella Ramos, Grace, and the Rev-9 are pretty strong and they all lead up to a couple of excellent and intense action sequences between Grace and the Rev-9. I’ve grown tired of seeing Terminator-characters say the same old catchphrases over and over again, so it did make me groan to hear all of the main characters say the famous catchphrases over and over again as if they’ve all watched the previous films and know them by heart.

Though there is some humor prior to his introduction, the film becomes much more comedic when Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his return to the franchise. While I think it would be inappropriate to explain his role in the film, I will say that even though his inclusion might be a little bit forced, he genuinely gives the film some much needed and successful levity. Unfortunately, once Schwarzenegger has entered into the story, the action sequences take a turn for the worse. The second half of the film is dark and the action sequences therein are sometimes frustratingly unclear. The action scenes underwater and on a plane are really difficult to make heads or tails of, and they distracted me from the film. At one point, I basically stopped trying to make sense of them.

Generally, I think this film suffers from poor dialogue, a repetitive plot, flat and generic characters, and a tendency to underexplain major plot developments including, but not limited to, the new retconned details of the titular cyborgs. Other than the sometimes quite excellent action sequences and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance, I must admit that I really enjoyed watching the three female main characters, even though not all of these characters were well-written. I think Mackenzie Davis is a star. It’s absolutely incredible that this is the same actress who starred in Jason Reitman’s Tully. In Tully, Davis had an irresistible warmth about her, and here, in Terminator: Dark Fate, she is an amazing believable badass. I think it was great to see Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor again, but I don’t really like what they do to her character, in part, because I disagree with the decision to continue her story like this, but also because I just think her character has been woefully underwritten. I also really liked Natalia Reyes, and I think it’s a really cool and timely update of the Terminator-mythos for the six screenwriters to have come up with the idea that the future is both female and foreign.

When it comes down to it, I do recognize that this film is by no means as offensively bad as my strong reaction to one of the opening scenes indicates. I think that Terminator: Dark Fate will definitely be remembered as the best sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but I just have a strong dislike for the ways in which they have chosen to continue the story of the Connors here, as well as the impact that the events of Cameron’s films had on the universe. I understand but disagree with several, but not all, of the decisions made in Terminator: Dark Fate. Ultimately, Tim Miller’s film is an underwhelming, unimaginative, and formulaic but serviceable sequel in a franchise that has been run into the ground and might as well be terminated.

5.9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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