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Terminator: Dark Fate Review

November 1, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Terminator: Dark Fate
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Terminator: Dark Fate Review  

Directed By: Tim Miller
Written By: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray, James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee
Runtime: 128 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity

Linda Hamilton – Sarah Connor
Mackenzie Davis – Grace
Natalia Reyes – Dani Ramos
Gabriel Luna – Rev-9
Arnold Schwarzenegger – T-800/Carl
Diego Boneta – Diego Ramos
Manuel Pacific – Mateo
Tom Hopper – William Hadrell

Hollywood has tried and failed to recapture the magic of James Cameron’s Terminator films for years. When 2015’s execrable Terminator: Genisys hit theaters, it seemed like things could not get any worse. While Arnold Schwarzenegger had involvement in some of the failed sequels, there was a certain magic element that was missing in the equation: James Cameron. James Cameron returns to the franchise in a mild capacity with the latest followup, Terminator: Dark Date, along with Linda Hamilton returning to her groundbreaking role of Sarah Connor. So, can this truly be any worse than Genisys? The answer is no. But is it an installment that’s truly worthy of the original two Terminator films? Not really.

It’s understandable why so many filmmakers and writers have tried and failed to revive the Terminator franchise or put their own personal spins on it. The first two films are classics. For anyone born in the 1980s, Terminator 2 was to audiences in the 1990s what Marvel Studios features are today. These films and the work of James Cameron likely inspired a whole new generation of filmmakers, such as Tim Miller, but they still aren’t able to really find the secret sauce and recreate what was so magical about those original two films.

Credit where credit is due because Dark Fate does try to do some things that are different. From the outset of the film’s prologue, the slate is basically wiped clean. Skynet and the threat of the original “Terminators” are gone, but that came with great sacrifice. Meanwhile, a new rogue AI has risen up and taken Skynet’s place. The end of Skynet has given way to Legion, and Legion has sent a new killer machine, the REV-9 (Luna), back in time to take out the young and innocent Dani Ramos (Reyes).

Thankfully, another protector from the future has been sent back to protect Dani, a cybernetically augmented resistance fighter named Grace (Davis). Their fight for survival eventually brings them into contact with a grizzled Sarah Connor, still kicking rear well into her 60s. However, the REV-9 is stronger and more relentless than any Terminator that Sarah has ever faced, and they are running out of time and options in order to protect Dani.

Terminator: Dark Fate is not as awful as past failed sequels, yet it still does not come off like a worthy installment to the franchise that Cameron made famous. Due to the problematic elements of time travel, the premise for a future war movie really seemed like the last place the franchise could realistically go, except Terminator: Salvation totally failed in that endeavor.

The time travel ideas that Dark Fate use are rather confusing rather than ingenious like with the original. While the route the prologue takes is somewhat understandable, it also essentially ruins the events of Terminator 2. It’s ironic Cameron would go this route after the criticisms he voiced for Alien 3.

Unquestionably, the best thing about this movie is Linda Hamilton. She easily fits back into the role of Sarah Connor, and it’s great to see her back in the fight. She believably slips back into action mode without a problem, despite some of the flawed script and dialogue elements she is forced to play. The same cannot be said for Hamilton’s costars.

Mackenzie Davis has physicality and look down for Grace, who is essentially the Kyle Reese role of this movie. However, her line delivery and dialogue is awkward, flat and stilted. She lacks that same feral attitude of a soldier who has been fighting an almost hopeless war against nigh-invincible machines and computer AIs that made Kyle Reese such a memorable character. When Grace is the one saying an iconic line, it sounds forced. How Grace’s monologue comes together is bizarre and makes very little sense considering the setup for the film.

Natalia Reyes is adequate as the film’s basic McGuffin in Dani Ramos. The big reveal for her character is fairly predictable. Unfortunately, the so-called twist for Dani is massively telegraphed, and its execution is laughably bad. It’s somewhat ironic considering Tim Miller, who brought such a fresh, creative energy to comic book films with Deadpool, directed a sequence that comes off like a parody scene from a bad sequel. The sequence appears as something Deadpool would mock if he noticed it on television in his world.

The issue with the main plot is that it comes off as relatively pointless due to the events of the prologue. The flawed narrative raises the question if the writer’s room format for blockbusters such as Dark Fate really help? It certainly didn’t add any sort of meaningful improvement to the bloated Transformers: The Last Knight. If anything, the story of Dark Fate lacks a complete, unified vision. Instead, it’s a mish-mash of disparate ideas that never come together for a strong, cohesive whole.

It’s hard to nail down James Cameron’s contributions to the production. Recent reports indicate there were a lot of creative disagreements between Cameron and Miller in the editing room. This definitely shows in the final product.

Admittedly, making a sequel of this magnitude is not easy. Miller is clearly trying, but so much of Dark Fate has the sense of being another rehash simply trying to ride the coattails of the original two films and not really creating that spark or lightning in a bottle that made them so iconic. The narrative is basically a mashup of the first two films, complete with similar final acts. Arnold Schwarzenegger does appear again as a more benevolent Terminator, but this version of the character is identical to the one from Genisys. Why recycle ideas from the worst film in the series?

Besides Hamilton, Gabriel Luna is fairly decent and menacing as the REV-9. There are quite a few action setpieces littered throughout the film, and some of them are quite good and fairly suspense. Some are a bit too stylized in terms of their presentation and what’s expected for “good” Terminator films. Arnold does get a few amusing jokes and one-liners in here and there, despite the questionable subplot for his character.

Terminator: Dark Fate may not be as bad as previous installments, but it’s not the return to form fans were promised. Even getting James Cameron back into the mix this time added little. The movie is more or less a mulligan for Genisys. Dark Fate is an improvement, but it’s not worthy of this franchise’s past. At best, it’s a semi-watchable retread of the first two movies.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Terminator: Dark Fate is not as bad as some of the sequels that have come before, but it really still fails to live up to the iconography and class of the original films. It still feels like Tim Miller and his writer's room failed to come up with a unified vision to really justify this film's existence. Cameron's involvement only hindered the vision Miller wanted to get across, and Cameron did not appear to provide a beneficial storyline to really push the franchise forward. At least, it's not as offensively bad of a sequel as The Predator.