As a generic sci-fi action movie, Terminator: Dark Fate
is completely serviceable. The fights are engrossing, the chases are frantic,
and the science-fiction is interesting enough. Those aspects of the movie aren’t
standout performers among other sci-fi action movies, but they won’t disappoint
while you’re in the theater, either. Regrettably, Dark Fate is not a
generic sci-fi movie – it’s a Terminator movie. As such, it has some
things to live up to, but can’t.
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Conner (Linda
Hamilton) thought only two Terminators had been sent back in time for young
John Conner. It turns out there was at least one more – another T-800 that looks
just like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1998, this Terminator catches up with Sarah
Conner to complete its mission. Flash forward to present day and a future resistance
fighter named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent from the near future to protect a
high-value individual targeted for termination. This time it’s a Mexican
national named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Like Sarah before her, Dani is the
key to the resistance against the killing machines of the future.
The film doesn’t waste much time before throwing audiences
into the action. Within a few minutes of the future-warriors arriving, they’re
already duking it out with sledgehammers and chasing each other in bulldozers. While
the action is welcome, there’s little time to care about these new characters that
are introduced into the franchise.
The action is above par even though it’s largely pointless.
Audiences understand how difficult it is to kill a Terminator. The first Terminator
had to be crushed by an industrial hydraulic press. The second Terminator had
to be melted in molten steel in a factory. So, when Grace fends off this Terminator
– the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – with some rebar, it’s obvious that the combat is
futile. Nevertheless, it’s all choreographed well and is visually fun.
Unfortunately, that’s where most of the positives end.
In a bold move, what the filmmakers have done here is erase
all of the movies and other properties between T2 and Dark Fate.
In effect, this film is a direct sequel to T2. Fans of the John Conner
storyline will be disappointed.
With the film focusing on a brand-new character – Dani – the
film should have given audiences time to get to know her and the people close
to her so that her personal losses would feel greater. Her motivations would be
clearer. And the new bonds she forms with her new family (Conner, Grace, et al)
would be more meaningful. Sadly, all of the humanity that elevated Terminator
and Judgment Day beyond their genre is missing here.
The casting didn’t do the film any favors. While the
filmmakers did an admirable job of toughening up Mackenzie Davis’ look, there’s
still just enough softness about her to make her role incredible as a
hard-bitten survivor in a post-apocalyptic world fighting killing machines. Natalia
Reyes, at 5’1” is hardly an inspiring figure no matter how feisty she gets. And
when she’s forced to take on a Terminator with nothing but her bare hands, it’s
Regarding the plot, there’s a lot of unnecessary complexity
that doesn’t matter within the film. For example, Grace needs a cocktail of
medication to stay in fighting shape. This convention seems like a setup for a
later scene where Grace needs the medication but there’s none to be had, but
that critical moment never arrives. There’s also a mid-movie MacGuffin that ends
up being another unnecessary distraction.
In fact, the entire film feels unnecessary and forced. Some
of it defies logic, like a geriatric Sarah Conner that somehow thinks she can
defeat Terminators by herself with conventional weapons when audiences have
watched two movies with her requiring not only a teammate but also an
industrial setting with industrial options for disposing of metal machinery. Other
parts feel propagandistic, like having the key person for the future resistance
as a Mexican national – subtitles and all – instead of an American. Of course,
the plot requires the good guys to sneak into the United States with the aid of
helpful and friendly human smugglers. And who is the obstacle preventing the
good guys from succeeding? Customs and Border Protection, naturally. It’s of
particular note that the Border Patrol guards get slaughtered by the Rev-9 in
gruesome fashion rather than the Terminator simply slipping by since the Rev-9
can look like any of them and easily avoid conflict.
Terminator: Dark Fate does its best to recreate Judgment
Day but with a mostly female group, and the film fails to capture the same
emotions and surprises that James Cameron’s masterpiece had in abundance. The
new characters can barely be tied to the Terminator lore, and the
returning franchise actors do little to add to a film that feels largely like a
retread of familiar territory. Audiences that were craving another Terminator
film (which is a very small minority) will be better served by watching Judgment
Day again to get their fix.