Film Reviews

REVIEW: Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

This 2019 American science fiction action film is directed by Tim Miller. It is the sixth instalment in the ‘Terminator’ franchise but serves as a direct sequel to 1991s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ It stars Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta.

In the not-too-distant future, battle weary Sarah Connor (Hamilton) faces another test to prevent machines destroying the human race, all the while avoiding her past and the law chasing her down.

The future saviour and leader of the human resistance has been targeted for termination, and she must help keep them safe and guarantee humanity’s survival.

A Terminator has been sent back in time to kill, and an equal warrior has been sent back to protect. It’s just a matter of time as to which one will find their target first.

If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because I’ve relayed the synopsis of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’, the globally loved, praised and critically acclaimed sequel. It’s just a case of swapping words and changing names for this sixth in the franchise, but third in the original timeline of films.

Linda Hamilton is back to help protect young Natalia Reyes, the key to a new resistance movement that comes from another human/machine war in the future. Rev-9 model Terminator Gabriel Luna is sent back in time to kill her, and enhanced super-soldier Mackenzie Davis is sent back to protect her. With the help from Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Arnold Schwarzenegger, so begins a dangerous and explosive cat and mouse game across numerous states to prevent another grim outlook for mankind.<

So many elements in ‘Dark Fate’ make bold statements about the era we are now watching this in, and the state of the franchise itself. With James Cameron returning to write the story and produce, it has been highly marketed as the true sequel to T2, in theory now eradicating everything laid out and seen in ‘Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines’, ‘Terminator: Salvation’ and ‘Terminator: Genisys’. While losing the mess that was ‘Genisys’, it can be argued that ‘Salvation’ had some good ideas, but lost it’s way with the core story, and ‘Rise Of The Machines’ was acceptable as the third in an “original” trilogy that wasn’t up to the mark of it’s predecessors but still delivered an entertaining and well executed offering.

But that’s all gone now. It never happened. Your DVD / Blu-ray dilemma starts here – where do put ‘Dark Fate’ in your collection? As a 2.5 between ‘T2’ and ‘ROTM’ or bookending the whole franchise? It’s nothing but confusing and a muddle. This all coming from James Cameron, who back in 2015 voiced his approval and confirmation that ‘Genisys’ was a true sequel to ‘Judgment Day’.

It’s not just the timeline that has been shaken up, it’s also our leading stars and messages. No longer led by men, we have three leading ladies who take the fight to the Terminators. Hamilton, Davis and Reyes make it clear that no man is the future saviour; there is no birth of a hero. That hero is already here, and she is a woman. And the enemy of the Terminator? Her womb. Nothing like hitting home feminism!

Schwarzenegger returns as another T-800 as a favour to Cameron, who wouldn’t return to the series unless his old friend did, and sadly it shows that Arnie was put in here for the posters, promotion and the pairing of his name with anything Terminator related. Coming in over the one hour mark of this two hour film, Arnie gets the chance to say and do a little more than he did in ‘Genisys’, but at 72 is replaced mostly by CGI in an excess of CGI-led action, fights and physics-defying jumping and running. Gone is the simplicity and practical effects of old such as Arnie v Robert Patrick in a one and one hard-hitting fist fight. Once again in the CGI led blockbusters, everything and everyone is tossed, thrown and beaten around the screen like ragdolls that just adds to the underwhelming investment you feel.

It’s also jarring to now have a Terminator who has grown to understand and convey limited human emotions, feelings and physical actions. When you see Carl, our T-800, crack wise, offer out beers, sit crossed legged patting his dog or pulling more facial expressions than expected, it is difficult to see the Terminator ethos of old held up.

Every classic Brad Fiedel musical riff, now composed and replaced by Tom Holkenborg, is used as James Bond theme style nod to the past rather than a sense of fear or impending doom. The whole iconography of what made the Terminator series so memorable and exciting has become a nod and wink to just that in many of these sequels/prequels/whatever that has lost what it once meant. It’s all based now on nostalgia, and it proves there is little originality to offer in the pipeline.

Even the story is a shuffle of things we’ve already seen and experienced (better) before. A freeway chase. A police station / holding cell breakout. A factory battle. A hideout heart-to-heart and reflection of the future. A helicopter battle. Nothing in ‘Dark Fate’ is new. If it DOES try to be new, it goes over the top with more CGI effects and locations to try and compensate making things bigger and louder than before, but it just comes over as cartoony.

It also gets boring, not just because we’ve seen all this plot before, but because director Tim Miller seems to have a fetish with using the slow-motion effect every time a Terminator gets hit or falls over, especially Luna’s Rev-9. For what purpose? I don’t know, but by the 79th time he dramatically gets up again after being easily beaten down, there is little to no surprise left. Blending everything from Robert Patrick’s T-1000 and Kritsanna Loken’s T-X, the Rev-9 tries to offer something new and updated in the world of machines, but again, we’ve seen it all before and it’s just not new. Even with Skynet now gone, another AI has cropped up in its placed called Legion. It literally is recycling the past to present a future.

Not all is bad though.

When the film tones it down and remembers the core messages and nightmarish situation we are faced with, it works. When Hamilton and Arnie are back together, it helps stir up relations and emotions from two decades ago as their characters clash and help tie up the films. It’s hard not to relish seeing them back together in different ways.

The opening few minutes also present some near-perfect de-aging CGI (the new Hollywood fad) that is used well and really sends chills down your spine. It sets a tone, sadly lost during the course of the film, but reminds you of what has been before and the genius of how using music, slow-motion and effective editing can work to make a Terminator a true nightmare. It’s a real shame it’s over too quickly.

Where does ‘Dark Fate’ leave the franchise? The future is not set. But with a franchise that has tried to re-invent itself nearly four times now but maintain it does have the core story at heart whilst doing it, it’s not a convincing future. The originality has gone, and repeated themes and action are getting stale and no powerhouse of acting or cast can cover up these issues and problems.

Sadly, it feels Schwarzenegger has no place in the future of Terminator films now except to entice audiences to return for a nostalgia trip they started 35 years ago. But for many, it’s too little too late, and it will be hard to see what else can be done going forward that hasn’t already been done before.

Will he be back? If Carl says has anything to say about it…he won’t be back.

Rating: ★★

Directed by: Tim Miller
Written by: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Cast: Linda Hailton, Mackenzie Davies, Natalia Reyes, Anrold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna

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