Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – A Review

Terminator Dark Fate 2019 Mackenzie Davis Natalia Reyes

Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes in Terminator: Dark Fate

For those optimistic Terminator fans who hoped Terminator: Dark Fate would finally break the trend of subpar, forgettable, disposable, poorly made sequels that have been made since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day and THIS ONE….THIS WOULD BE THE ONE that would be the long-awaited real sequel that would reignite excitement and enthusiasm for the series –  I’m sorry to say, the meager offering streak from the Terminator franchise continues.

We get another Terminator sequel that is yet another affirmation that reinforces the long bemoaned refrain by fans of “Just let it go! Enough already!” towards this stubborn determination of continuing the franchise that is always ignored. Yep, we’re adding another one of these to the series legacy.

It has indeed been a Dark Fate for Terminator since 1991. They’ve reliably churned out these crappy sequels like a Skynet assembly line spitting out T-800 cyborgs. 

This time there are plenty of shiny hooks to try to lure fans in again. There’s the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. James Cameron being a co-writer and producer. Him spouting out “That this is the true third sequel” and giving his blessing to the film (even though he did the same thing with Terminator: Genisys). Director Tim Miller coming onboard with enticing quotes by him saying it’s the true third installment and will be rated R just like the original films. Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his iconic role. Well, that’s really not much of a surprise. Arnold never turns down a chance to be in these movies. 

There sure was a lot of hoped for hype and buildup for Terminator: Dark Fate, but it all ends up crashing onto the pile alongside all the other forgettable generic sequels that have been done. All those quotes that are floating around, “It’s the best Terminator movie since Terminator 2!” is faint praise and is essentially meaningless. The bar has been lowered so much in this series the embarrassing declaration that this movie is better than the last thirty years of crap we’ve seen has become a worthy quote to stick on the movie poster. 

*I’m really not going to worry about spoilers here. Quite frankly, there’s not much to spoil. If you’re a Terminator fan, the story will have no surprises for you anyway. But you’ve been warned. 

Terminator Dark Fate Linda Hamilton Mackenzie Davis Natalia ReyesAs long suspected, the story is a rinse and repeat of the same old story the Terminator films have lazily settled into doing for decades.

A killer terminator (Gabriel Luna) is sent back in time to kill a soon-to-be important person (Natalia Reyes) in the human resistance in the war against the machines. A protector (Mackenzie Davis) is also sent back in time to protect the terminator targeted character. 

The tired spin to this have been giving upgrades, tweaks and variations to the terminators in each subsequent movie. Liquid metal terminators, the ability to remotely control machinery, possessing nano-tech. The terminators have become simply cinematic iPhones with constant updates that are installed on them in each new outing.

This time the antagonist our heroes have to defeat is the Rev-9 terminator. What makes this terminator so different? Well, he can split in two, has liquid metal stuff and an exo-skeleton! He’s like a two-for one terminator! He’s got all the fancy extras they can squeeze on him – and has none of the presence that Arnold or Robert Patrick brought to their terminator roles.

I don’t see why they just don’t make a terminator who can fly and infect humans and can turn them into killer terminators. That could be cool. They could even install a coffee maker on his back.

Gabriel Luna Terminator Dark Fate 2019 Rev 9

Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9

Sadly, the filmmakers have focused on these kind of pointless upgrades, adding the latest cinematic visual flairs and special effects – and really not doing much impressive stuff with them anyway – and repeatedly neglect telling any kind of new story (it’s the same old one) or creating compelling characters (just weak variations on the original characters) to invest in. So, we’ve been something in a time loop when it comes to these Terminator sequels ever since 1991. Terminator: Salvation should get a tip of the hat for at least attempting to do something different.

As a result, the once popular sci-fi/action series, a series that once ruled the box office in the summer of 1991 with a movie that was talked about by everyone, have become tired, cheap looking sequels folks might take a peak at on a rainy weekend afternoon on cable television. Or if they miss it, it’s no big deal. 

How else are things ‘different’ this time with Terminator: Dark Fate? Well, it finally happens – a terminator manages to kill John Connor. The importance of the character is wiped out by them killing him off immediately at the start of the story. I started to think of the repercussions of doing this for this move. Not only the fallout from fans for killing a character that fans have invested in for so long and negating the stories of the first two films, but also – wouldn’t John Connor’s death really mess up the time travel timeline in the series?

Eh, best not to dwell on that because we get replacement parts in the story to give the illusion that there’s new stuff happening. In reality the same old story simply gets a shoddy facelift.

While Connor and Skynet have vanished, a new future savior gets introduced and who needs protecting in the present, it’s Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos who will one day fight against the future entity known as Legion. Instead of Kyle Reese being sent back in time to protect said savior it’s Mackenzie Davis’ human enhanced Grace.

Throw in Hamilton and Schwarzenegger to lend a hand for nostalgia’s sake and once again we have a movie that is trumpeted as ‘the true third movie the series and fans deserve’. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger cast Terminator Dark FateDo not fall for it! The fans who still remember being burned so many times before with these sequels have already been clued in on this ceaseless pattern. The ones who desperately cling to hope that Dark Fate will finally be the sequel they’ve been waiting for will be setting themselves up for another disappointment.

We’re back at the ‘Do-Over Approach’ in Terminator Land – again. Remember how Terminator: Genisys tried an alternate timeline story branching out from the original film? This time they’ve upped their game by completely disregarding everything we’ve seen from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to Genisys. Much like 2018’s Halloween, they’re wiping out all the crap sequels that have come before and this one is a simply a continuation to the only films that fans all like – Terminator and Terminator 2.

However, the joke is on the filmmakers, who have unleashed just another crap sequel in the series that fans will want to ignore going forward. 

Mackenzie Davis Grace Terminator Dark Fate 2019

Mackenzie Davis as Grace in Terminator: Dark Fate

Davis’ Grace states she’s a “human just enhanced”. So she has added strength and speed. Maybe a side effect from these enhancements she was given explains why she has as much charisma as an electronic typewriter. I found her quite arrogant with her constant threats to Sarah Connor that she’ll kick her ass. She’s nowhere near as interesting as the film thinks she is and I simply didn’t care about her.

Her physical ‘enhancements’ at times were confusing, they mattered very little throughout the movie and are never fully explored or explained. They could’ve just as easily made her full blown human or a complete robot. But her being an ‘enhanced’ human was thought to be something new this movie would have I guess. Even though, fans saw that idea in Terminator: Salvation. So Davis ends up being simply a bland stand-in for the required ‘protector’ role a Terminator movie needs.

The protect-ee that is Ramos is also a lightweight stand in. She becomes increasingly grating when she speaks, and when she doesn’t I forgot about her altogether. She doesn’t have the presence required to be the center of this sci-fi/action story. She’s about as badly miscast here as Emilia Clarke was as Sarah Connor in Terminator: Genisys.

Terminator Dark Fate 2019 Natalia Reyes DaniTo add a bit of a trendy ‘girl power’ message, it is Ramos, not her unborn child, that is to become the true savior in the future war. Sarah Connor’s survival instincts of protecting her unborn son have been replaced to simply a woman who must fight for and protect herself. Being a mother is no longer as important as it once was I suppose. I imagine this change will open the film up for the anticipated criticism to getting ‘woke’ by fans. There are also elements dropped in of wife beatings, border protection, illegal aliens, the independent strong women trio leading the charge. It all plays hollow with little meaning. 

When we do get a glimpses of Ramos’ ‘strong leader’ evolution that she will become, it’s more comical than dramatic. Seriously, it’s not convincing in the least. It’s the funniest part of the entire movie watching the petite Ramos act like a grizzled war veteran who will rally humanity behind her. It’s more chuckle worthy than any of the corny lines they give to Arnold!

She’s not a compelling central figure for this movie or going forward – if that’s their plan. Dani is quite a downfall from John Connor. 

As silly as I always thought it was that Arnold kept returning to the role of the T-800, he’s back yet again. They continue to explain his presence by having his robot constantly being reprogrammed, age and just have him be yet another model they uncrated.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Dark Fate 2019I always thought the T-800 was the ideal part to easily recast each time out. I never understood why Skynet would make so many models of a T-800 that look exactly like Arnold. The terminators purpose is to be an infiltration unit, so why make so many robots that look like the same Austrian bodybuilder? Why wouldn’t they change the faces on these guys? Once the cyborg is destroyed in a movie by Sarah, move onto using another actor as the next one.

Even here, we’re told Skynet has sent back a whole pack of terminators to kill John Connor and finally one of them accomplishes their mission. Guess who that terminator looks like? After Sarah and John see this particular terminator once, wouldn’t it be wiser for Skynet to send back terminators that look different than Arnie? You know, maybe ones that wouldn’t get immediately recognized as a killer robot by them?

Maybe, but, he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s a big star and we have to figure out a way to get him into the movie, no matter how illogical or desperate it might be.

This time Arnold has aged and his T-800 somehow developed a conscience. He has a family, runs a drapery business and now goes by the name Carl. After some reflection he feels bad for killing John Connor and offers to help protect Dani as sort of a penance. There’s his motivation and reason he’s in this.

When I first watched the original Terminator way back in 1984, I never would have imagined I would see that scary killer robot be used in this way.

Linda Hamilton Natalia Ramos Terminator Dark Fate 2019Sadly, the return of Hamilton doesn’t payoff with the rewards fans might’ve hoped for. I’m not even sure why they had her back really. Once John Connor is eliminated from the story what purpose does Sarah have? Her importance in the Terminator Saga as the mother of the future resistance leader has been wiped out, her life mission is to no longer protect her son, and in Dark Fate she’s now going to protect the Savior of Humanity 2.0 Dani and just join the gang! And why would she want to protect Dani? “Because I was her.” 

And there you go. Her motivation as a mother protecting her child is gone and Sarah could have just left the story when her son is killed. She’s not even allowed a personal payback on Arnold, who she tells she will kill when this mission is over. That might’ve been interesting to see. In the end when the dust has settled Sarah goes about killing Arnold, unleashing all the pain he’s caused her onto his metal body.

She won’t get that here. They go with the standard Terminator ending fare with Arnie making an unemotional sacrifice again. What a way to change things up.

Linda and Arnold are more supporting characters in the story here and really thinking back on this, I can’t think of any truly memorable moments either of them are allowed.

Linda Hamilton Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Dark Fate 2019

Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger

It was a strange decision to approach this ‘true third sequel’ this way. Here you have the two stars of the series that all the fans love. You finally get them back together and what do they do?

They kill off John Connor just to give him a weaker character replacement with Dani. They immediately negate Sarah’s story that evolved her character over the course of the first two first films by making the Skynet saga disappear and simply creating a substitute with this Legion thing. The story that once belonged to Sarah has been taken from her and given to Dani and Grace. As a result Sarah gets sidelined in this story.

Dark Fate doesn’t do anything new or move the Terminator story forward in any way. Plot conveniences like Grace’s limited alotted time of strength, Arnold’s conscience and some logic leaps help the stale story along. This group works together and relationships or camaraderie between them is never earned. It’s just a group of characters thrown together who go through the motions of a Terminator story. 

None of the characters are written well or make you care what happens to them or the struggle they’re fighting for. None of the actors stand out and it all comes off as a lifeless exercise for everyone involved. I could say there are small moments that work, but they’re so brief that they make zero difference in the end. There’s really nothing new for the old or new characters to do or give fans a reason to watch this. 

This movie was already broken at the first pitch meeting.

Terminator Dark Fate Genisys worst movie posterThinking about it, I’m debating which I’d say was better – Dark Fate or Genisys. I never thought I would say that, since I thought Genisys was awful! It’s a really close call!

Genisys was so bad that at points it was startling to watch and try to think of reasons why anyone would’ve even bothered to make it, shocked by all the awful decisions it had and how badly it damaged the series. It was kind of a fascinating mess. Dark Fate I thought was bad…just very boring, extremely bland bad. I have no desire to see this again and am ready to forget about it. I guess, I’d just flip a coin between the two,.  

Any worthwhile special effects to make note of? Nah, not really. Unlike Terminator 2 (the movie every Terminator sequel aspires to) where Cameron used new CGI effects for his story that added something revolutionary for audiences to witness, here it’s the same old tired CGI effects we see in countless movies. Miller doesn’t bring anything unique to the action scenes. 

Any kind of grounded violent threats that Cameron established and the lethal looking robot Stan Winston created are long gone. Dizzying over-the-top action rules the roost with planes, helicopters, car chases, underwater fights. Outlandish set pieces of characters bouncing and flying around with no weight or reality to any of them like they’re in a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s punctuated with the required slo-mo shots of explosions, characters flying through the air and the Rev-9’s liquid metal face reforming. There’s nothing new, nothing creative that is done with any of the effects and nothing you’ll remember. This is a big nothing of a movie. 

Oh, and for all those Terminator fans who saw the trailers and felt confident that the special effects weren’t fully completed and they would look so much better in the final movie – I am sorry, none of it looks any better. There are poorly done greenscreen backgrounds and wonky CGI that makes the Rev-9 look silly. This is not really any better than what we saw in Genisys

Terminator Dark Fate Gabriel Luna Arnold Schwarzenegger 2019I always thought that was a crazy rationale by fans too, the ones who are scrambling for a defense for poor looking special effects in trailers. They see these trailers with rickety looking special effects and try to convince themselves and argue that the final product will look better. It rarely does.

And what would it say about a film studio that would release a trailer of their film – a trailer, which is meant to entice audiences to go see the movie – and the special effect shots they show aren’t fully completed??? Why the heck would you even include unfinished shots in the trailer then? It would be like a restaurant putting out uncooked appetizers before the main course. 

The pace and editing barrels through the story so when we do get to the big finale there’s no buildup to it. Not that it matters anyway. It’s the typical ‘Terminator type of climax’ – an industrial setting, terminator red eyes visible, sacrifices made and a partridge in a pear tree. And it all made me feel nothing. 

I suppose the best I could say about Dark Fate is that Arnold and Hamilton do fine with what they were asked to do and I would’ve liked to have seen the story center more around them than what it ended up as. They’re basically wasted in this. And Dark Fate doesn’t really ruin anything in the franchise because to me it’s been a smoldering ruins for a long time now. Now, my interest is solely watching how each sequel will subsequently destroy the series further. It’s simply perverted curiosity that holds my interest in this franchise now.

Terminator Dark Fate 2019 exoskeleton robot cyborgSo, Dark Fate is another Terminator bust. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to most fans. How funny is it that a lot of fans predicted this when they saw the first photo of the film. Heck, many expected this when this movie was first announced!

How sad is it that the fans have a better grasp of the series than the ones making it do? It’s frustrating to see time and time again another one of these movies that doesn’t live up to its potential and becomes just another lazy boring rehash.

Perhaps Termiantor: Dark Fate will convince those longtime hopeful Terminator fans that Cameron lending his name to these movies means nothing. Let’s face it, he doesn’t care about it anymore, he’s only willing to help provide positive sound bytes to help out his friends, trick fans, get an easy check and get back to making his Avatar movies.

It’s a fruitless effort filmmakers and audiences are chasing to recapture the glory and high of Terminator 2. How many more times can they wipe away mediocre films, do a new movie, promise it will be the start of a new trilogy when they can’t even make one decent film? And can we all accept the bizarre realization that the Tremors film series has been more creative and more consistently entertaining than the Terminator one? At least I think so.

What does the future hold for the franchise now? It’s clear the filmmakers are creatively bankrupt and the Terminator series has hit enough brick walls to make any sensible person feel it’s been more than enough and to just let it go. Take it out behind the barn and just shoot this thing!

That’s not likely to happen. There’s no sense to be found in Hollywood. They can’t just let a once popular IP flicker out like one of those red terminator eyes at the end of every one of these movies. So, I guess the next step will be a full blown remake of the original film? An all child version of this story? Maybe a musical version is next? Have they started planning that out yet?

It won’t surprise me at all. 

 

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