There is a moment early on in “Terminator: Dark Fate” where anything seems possible; where it feels like the story truly could head anywhere. It is a false a hope; a lie. “Dark Fate,” the sixth entry in the “Terminator” franchise isn’t the worst film in the series—nothing could be worse than “Terminator: Salvation”—but it sits rather near the bottom.
Directed by Tim Miller and featuring the much hyped return of James Cameron as a producer and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, “Terminator: Dark Fate” does exactly what the first two “Terminator” films don’t do and it fails because of that. Simply put, “Dark Fate” plays it safe. It is a movie that is afraid to go out on a limb, that is afraid to trust its audience, that (except for that one early moment) is afraid to do anything new.
As a sequel, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” works so well because even if some of the action scene locales are similar to those in the original movie, the story is so very different while still aping elements from the first. Most importantly, obviously, is the fact that the hulking, utterly terrifying, bad guy from the original is now a good guy in “T2.” Then, the liquid metal abilities of the new Terminator are amazing. At the time of release they were unlike anything we had seen before. “Judgement Day” adds humor, moves the franchise towards action from horror, and ups the spectacle insanely.
“Dark Fate” can’t manage any of that. It follows all the necessary “Terminator” elements—two naked people sent from the future, one to protect, one to kill; a fight in a factory; a fight in a government run building; a fake death sequence; repeated dialogue from earlier films; lots of running from the bad guy; etc—but it barely bothers with anything new.
This is a movie where the new evil Terminator, a “Rev. 9” (Gabriel Luna), has a terrifying new Terminator ability, he’s able to split into two with one being a liquid metal outside and the other being a solid metal endoskeleton, but which can’t bother to actually stop and explain this ability. So, there are a couple of sequences where the robot uses his liquid metal ability to go through things, but if he always has the permanent metal endoskeleton that shouldn’t be possible. Perhaps there is a reason why this works, but the audience wouldn’t ever know that. The “Terminator” franchise has done a good job in the past explaining the abilities of robots and cyborgs, but here it can’t be troubled.
The movie also can’t take time to actually tell the audience what is happening in terms of the story. A quiet moment in an airplane stops during a refuel, but why are they refueling? When was that setup with this airplane that they stole? There are a plethora of questions here, but it feels as though Miller simply brushes them off and moves on because he wants to get to a fight sequence.
It is true that the fights in the movie are excellent, particularly those where Grace (Mackenzie Davis), our savior from the future, takes the lead, but they aren’t in service of much beyond reminding the audience that this is a “Terminator” movie. Fights are required.
**Minor spoiler here in this paragraph**The story that is allowed to be told is, essentially, that of “Judgement Day,” and one of the biggest surprises for Sarah Connor comes when she realizes that she’s reliving the sequel and not the original film. It is a ludicrous moment because everyone in the audience is well aware of what is happening, that Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos, the person being protected by Grace and Sarah, is this film’s John Connor. It is also ridiculous because it is “Dark Fate” fully acknowledging that all it is doing is remaking another movie, it’s just not the movie Sarah thought was being remade.**end minor spoiler**
All of this is such a terrible shame, because the return of Hamilton is wonderful, but it isn’t as good as meeting Davis’s Grace. People who have already seen Davis in things like “Halt and Catch Fire” will be well aware of her incredible capabilities as an actress, but she proves in “Dark Fate,” for those who may have been unaware, that she deserves to be a massive star.
In point of fact, no one on screen in “Dark Fate” does a bad job, they are all just let down by the script. This is a movie that takes a revolutionary work from nearly 30 years ago and regurgitates it. There is nothing cutting edge about that. Even the basic notion of the film—Judgement Day will always happen, it’s in mankind’s DNA to invent our destructor—is from other entries in the franchise.
Perhaps now that the return of two of the big reasons the first couple of entries in the “Terminator” franchise work has not resulted in a good movie, the franchise can die a peaceful death. I wouldn’t put any money on that occurring, but we can all hope.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures