The Terminator is back, and this time it’s newest model, Dark Fate, has quite a loud message to roar at you, THE FUTURE IS FEMALE. A message that can certainly be appreciated, doesn’t necessarily play out as resonant as you’d expect. For a franchise that has been dead since it’s second all-time classic entry in 1991, you can imagine that each and every subsequent installment has been met with groans of disdain and hesitation. For me, I did not hate Terminator 3, but it still starkly wrote it’s destined to degrade and wear away fate on the wall. And while you can yell all you want, it’s not shocking at all how desperately Hollywood has tried to capture the iconic magic of the first two entries, even more so after James Cameron departed, post Judgement Day. Like the endlessly regenerative T-1000, they just keep coming and coming, sprinting with fully extended fingers. So here we are, all grown up, and aged like 72 and 62 year old Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, six entries in, 35 years later, all to arrive at Terminator: Dark Fate. And you know what? Despite its safe and clearly studio approved vision, I liked it. But in the same vein, let’s close the gun-filled coffin for good, and globally agree that this should be the final entry into the Terminator universe, completing the revisionist trilogy for good.
Granted the bar you’re aiming for is, “Please, please, please, at least be better than Salvation and Genisys“, I’d still safely place Dark Fate at a comfortable third place. In similar fashion to other reboot franchises, Dark Fate looks to erase all the events that have occurred after T2: Judgement Day. So despite being quite a simple task to just erase that filler space from our minds, like a flaming thumbs up, Dark Fate ensures that it accomplishes it’s sole directive to rewrite history. Therein presents the very first complaint I had with the film, and how it sets us on this rerouted timeline, quite literally with one lazy uncreative, fell swoop. I dare not spoil it for you, but it’s immensely ironic when you read of how director Tim Miller left Deadpool 2 because he creatively disagreed with doing what he just committed to in Dark Fate. The date is what we can only assume is modern day 2019, Sarah is a fugitive of the United States, spending her days hunting down Terminators, and her nights getting black out drunk. Enter stage right, Dani (Natalia Reyes), the new maternal messiah for the future of mankind and the resistance. In standard protocol, the future sends an even more deadly and advanced Terminator to hunt Dani down and ensure that the future remains in the control of shiny artificial intelligence. The new model, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), who is literally the best of both worlds, fusing the brute strength and exoskeleton of Arnold’s T-800, and the gelatinous shapeshifting and escape-prone liquid metal form of the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). For added impact and depiction of modern day CGI, the Rev-9 has the ability to separate both of its forms at its own choosing, as well as being able to essentially go full on Venom/Prototype video game with its infinite arsenal and defence techniques. For those who have seen the trailer, you will be fully aware that our protagonists guardian angel is an “augmented” super soldier played by a household favourite, Mackenzie Davis. The plot and layout remain relatively identical to the originals’ structure, which may result in either a comfortable or disappointed reaction. Fans of the series will recall plenty of familiar scenes, with a slightly shifted perspective.
There are two strong elements to the film, the first of which is Tim Miller’s capable action direction, and the latter which we’ll touch upon later, is the human aspect. To those who have seen Deadpool, I’d like you to recall or rewatch the incredibly fun highway overpass sequence. Dark Fate is essentially that well choreographed and technologically assisted set piece, spread out three of four times, interlaced with moments of sincere and stripped back human emotion. Similar to Doctor Sleep, I wanted more of the latter, but come on, this is Terminator. “Duh duh dun duh dun!” For individuals like my good friend and colleague, Kern, the abundance of loud and explosive action may deter you or leave a sour taste in your mouth, but if you enjoyed that count your ammo “brown pants” Deadpool leaked footage, you will surely be welcome and casually entertained. There were some moments where I wish that Deadpool 2‘s David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) had taken over, particularly a missed long take opportunity inside a C5 airship, but I quite liked the close quarters combat sequences that Miller accomplished. Obviously, Dark Fate, lacks certain practical effects charm that James Cameron so perfectly and fluidly combined with Skynet, primarily in T2. But the hammer fight seen in the trailer, and a Ghost Rider reminiscent chain fight, hit the spot for me. It’s solid action for those who can abide it, but it is evidently clear that Tim Miller has insured that his career will be a safe bet for studios who just want a formulaic yet baseline enjoyable time. If you aren’t familiar with me, go read my bio…Now that you’re back, you know that I like to have my cake and eat it too: the thing is, my cake is layered, and each floor represents the varying degrees of schlock, indies, Bay-splosions, and awards contenders. So yeah, I’m prone to loving my occasional video game quick-time events action, and soda sipping blockbusters. I’m left wondering, why the hell didn’t Paramount/Fox Studios release this bombastic action film to a very well known franchise in the summer? This should have come out in the aftermath of Endgame.
Now as I mentioned earlier, Dark Fate had a sincere human aspect I enjoyed. One of the central themes of every Terminator film, has been human determinism. Just like the hero’s retort to almost any cinematic A.I., from Blade Runner, Tron, War Games, Minority Report, to Prometheus, Ex Machina, and The World’s End, the human will is always prevalent. Representative as both, one of our biggest strengths, and a predictable weakness, we just don’t give ever give up. We’re emotional, stubborn, thick-skulled, irrational, and we’re very selfish. Those are the very attributes that not only kept teenager Sarah Connor alive in The Terminator (1984), but also what would spawn John Connor, the destined hero of the future resistance. And the funny thing is that Terminator if anything, has repeatedly shown us that there is no predetermined destiny, except for what you make it out to be, through your decisions and actions. Dark Fate tackles that aspect of the willful human spirit and the ability to change your future, quite literally by introducing Mackenzie Davis’s, forcibly named Grace. Her super soldier character is the perfect embodiment of Sarah’s tireless humanistic maternal nature, imbued with the superhuman T-800 strength and endurance to carry out her free will. Together, her character is the physical representation that even when we’re bleeding out and outnumbered 100:1, the human will is capable of disregarding what hand the world dealt you, to carve your own path. Sarah had no clue what she would become, nor what she was capable of, that simple 80’s night when all she wanted to do was catch a movie with her boyfriend. Arnold’s specific T2 T-800 had no idea he would one day be sent back not only as friend not foe, but as the paternal figure that young John never had (the irony of that happenstance). The Terminator franchise has and always will be a big middle finger raised at fate, because each of these iconic characters has repeatedly told the world’s plans to “sit back, shut up, and watch me do it”. Your life is in your hands, however capable or not, and what you choose to make out of it, is solely up to you.
It’s true, Arnold Schwarzenegger does make a pleasant return to his beloved franchise, but the more I think about it, the more I actually feel that he could have easily been left out. It’s nothing against one of my childhood idols, and his now dad bod Terminator, but more so in a shoe horned nature. I mentioned that there was a distasteful and lazy decision made early in the film, and it’s that very same lack of innovation that begins a chain reaction that chains this entry to being stuck in the shade of its original two. To the film’s and ladies’ credit, I do have to admit that Linda Hamilton has still got it, and that Mackenzie Davis does a lot of the literal and figurative heavy lifting. Dark Fate presents three capable females, but Natalia Reyes’s key role ironically feels relegated to just being a vehicle driving our group to get to Arnold’s Terminator “Carl” (who is not quite exactly the same from T2). Up until then, Hamilton retains the same aggressive gravitas she’s always had, while Davis really commits to her action-heavy role and choreography. I’m uncertain, but it really seemed like Davis did the majority if not all of the possible stunt work and fights. It’s a bit funny that the film so audibly echoes that the future is female, and I do applaud the decision to have some more feminine and diverse inclusion. But let’s not forget that the true badass of the entire Terminator history, is and has been none other than, mom of the year, Linda Hamilton. Yeah, Arnold is the marketable and endlessly quotable legend, but Hamilton has the pleasure of being either the most iconic heroine or second right after Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Both of which have been graced and cemented into history in some part by James Cameron. So while the female agenda is wholly welcomed and reasonable, when Dark Fate throws lines like, “You’re not the threat, it’s your womb.” or “Fine, let somebody else be mother Mary for a little while.” Let’s not disregard that Hamilton has been sitting at the top of the heap for decades.
Terminator: Dark Fate is not without its plot holes and narrative inconsistencies, nor does it really try anything that die-hard fans have thought of before, but it’s a clear improvement from its latter brothers. If you’re a fan of the series, or returned to story James Cameron, you’re more than likely seeing this regardless of what you read and hear. For the rest of you, I strongly recommend checking it out this weekend, if you like yourself loads of action and competent special effects. Oh, and I figure it’s worth mentioning, but in case you have been wondering, no, it never gets as obnoxious or generated as the Transformers franchise. Dark Fate does rely on a handful of callbacks, and I genuinely believe that Miller, David S. Goyer, and Cameron tried as best they could to either avoid placing themselves in a corner due to it, or being dependent on them. But when the credits rolled, I asked myself if ol’ Jim Cameron, truly has any juice left in that massive tank of his…
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Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. I’m typically known for longer write-ups, and my eclectic taste ranging from awards darlings, European filmé, indie spirits, cinematic universes, and most notably 80s cult films. Hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and remember, watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.