With 6 movies, a television series and countless video game tie-ins, The Terminator proves to be the franchise that refuses to die. James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) was undoubtedly the high point of the franchise, which each ensuing addition to the franchise failing to capitalise on its success.
While Jonathan Mostow bravely attempted to carry on the franchise with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), it mostly turned out to be an overly expensive B-Movie, albeit one with a surprising ending that set it apart from typical action blockbusters of the time.
Terminator: Salvation (2009) tried to move the franchise in a different direction, finally setting the story in the future war that the previous movies only showed intermittingly. While it was a decent attempt, and certainly better than other films from director McG, it still failed to capture the audience the way Cameron’s entries had.
With the failure of Salvation, the franchise seemed to return to the tried and true formula of the earlier movies. On paper, Terminator: Genisys (2015) seemed to be the kick that the franchise needed, with a good number of call backs to the original.
Unfortunately this too ended up a failure, with major plot holes and changes to the series lore upsetting a great deal of the fans. After its release it was clear that Genisys was not going to be the series reboot the producers had hoped for.
This brings us on to Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate, the first Terminator movie since T2 to feature the involvement of series creator James Cameron. Although Cameron was working in a producer capacity, his involvement was enough to get fans excited, with many hoping that Dark Fate would be the return to form the franchise needed.
Sadly I have to say that this is not the case. While many critics are stating that this is the best sequel since T2, there is nothing in Dark Fate that sets it apart from the other inferior sequel. In many ways this is actually the most disappointing entry to date, as it had all pieces in place to make it a stand out, only to squander them into what is essentially an inferior copy of T2.
Ignoring all subsequent sequels after T2, Dark Fate picks up a few years after that film’s events, with Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) and her son John (Edward Furlong) now enjoying their life after averting the rise of Skynet and judgement day. Their happiness is short lived, with the emergence of yet another Terminator who quickly dispatches John and leaves Sarah sobbing over his dead body.
We then fast forward to present day Mexico City where we are introduced to Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who lives a seemingly simple life with her father and brother. Unbeknownst to her, a Terminator from the future, the Rev -9 (Gabriel Luna) has been sent back in time to kill her.
Fortunately for her, an advanced soldier called Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has also been sent back in time to protect her. After Grace barely manages to save Dani from the Rev-9 they are assisted by a world weary Sarah Conner who has now made it her life’s mission to kill terminators. As the three of them continue to be chased by the Rev-9 they finally come into contact with another T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who may be their only hope of survival.
Tim Miller had created a good deal of good will over his last movie, the R rated Deadpool (2016). With that film’s mixture of well-timed laughs and R rated action, it seemed that the Terminator franchise was in good hands. However, Miller seems to making this on autopilot, devoid of any of the style he showed in Deadpool.
While Dark Fate has its fair share of large scale action scenes, they ultimately feel soulless, with you finding it hard to really care about their outcome. An early car chase is well staged but pales in comparison to similar sequences in T2. Additionally, the action is filled with surprisingly sub-par CGI. Particular scenes look fantastic only to be followed by something emulating a video game cut scene.
Considering the humour involved in his previous movie, Dark Fate is mostly devoid of any sense of fun. I understand that the plot is essentially about the end of the world, but all other entries, even those from Cameron, found a way to introduce some level of humour. Only some admittedly funny dialogue from Schwarzenegger is able to alleviate proceedings.
It is good to have Linda Hamilton back in the iconic role of Sarah Conner, even if she is somewhat pushed into the background in favour of the new additions to the series. This version of Conner is considerably grumpier than when we last saw her in T2, with the years of fighting Terminators clearly taking their toll.
While many critics are stating that this is a triumphant return of the character, it still reeks of disappointment with Hamilton being laboured with some extremely poor dialogue. Considering Dark Fate features the work of five different writers you would think they would realise having a character say fuck every sentence isn’t exactly good writing.
Luckily Hamilton is able to do more with the role than what is written and throws herself straight into the action. It is just a shame that her return to the franchise could not have been in a better film.
Mackenzie Davis is the best of the new additions to the cast, with the augmented Grace being a force to be reckoned with. Playing a similar role to Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese, Davis is clearly the true star of the film with her owning the majority of the action scenes.
Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 is ultimately just a pale imitation of Robert Patrick’s T-1000. It is not the actor’s fault, but he just comes across as quite bland. There are also some silly inclusions in terms of his character. Would a Terminator that has one specific mission to kill really stand and try and negotiate before fighting?
The same is true of Natalia Reyes’ Dani, who is no more than a copy of the original Sarah Conner as she was initially introduced in The Terminator (1984). There are some revelations with her character later in the film that help separate their similarities, but some may find these hard to believe. Reyes does what she can with the role but I failed to invest in her character the way I had with Sarah Conner all those years ago.
Luckily, franchise mainstay Arnold Schwarzenegger still manages to make an impression with another variation on the iconic T-800, here nicknamed “Carl”. Unlike previous versions, this T-800 has lived a quiet family life, learning along the way what it means to be human.
Schwarzenegger only has limited screen time, with around an hour having passed before he is introduced, but he is still one of the highlights of the film, even getting his own fair share of the action in the latter half of the movie.
It may seem that I am being overly negative on the movie, but considering the talent involved I was expecting something special. I can overlook plot holes, as the franchise has been full of them, even with Cameron’s entries into the series. The major one being that if Judgement Day was adverted, John Conner would cease to exist as there would now be no reason for his father to be sent back in time.
Still, when a film is enjoyable such plot holes can be forgiven. Regrettably plot holes are not the only issue with Dark Fate’s script, with paper thin characterisation and an unneeded political slant that has been included to make the film seem relevant. While including contemporary issues is admirable, it comes across as a desperate attempt by the filmmakers to make this entry socially relevant.
It amazes me that it took five people to come up with the main story, one of whom is the series creator. After Cameron commented in the past of how disappointed he was in the sequels that followed T2, it is surprising that he has helped craft a story that still manages to pale in comparison. It would be interesting to know how much of the film Cameron actually worked on as it is not wholly evident upon viewing the completed film.
I know that many will disagree with my review for this, and I am happy for them if they gained some enjoyment from the film. For me this is one of the most disappointing blockbusters of the year, only second to X Men: Dark Phoenix (2019).
James Cameron has spoken openly about the possibility of Dark Fate being the start of a new trilogy, but if anything this entry could potentially bring about the death of the franchise which at this point is looking increasingly tired.