Stripped of any grand expectations, TERMINATOR: DARK FATE is, at best, simply okay. Regardless of your feelings when it comes to a major storyline departure (more on that later), DARK FATE is a serviceable timewaster of a CG-heavy popcorn flick. While that may satisfy some, this is, clearly, the most this once-promising franchise can now offer.
The paint-by-numbers story is yet another rehash of the original — a killing machine from a post-apocalyptic, cyborg-controlled future is sent back in time to eliminate the ‘lone hope’ leader of the eventual human resistance — and one void of any suspense or sense of terror. With James Cameron’s herald return to the IP being limited to a producing credit, Tim Miller (DEADPOOL) was given the keys to this cinematic lemon (complete with a tank full of ten writing credits).
DARK FATE is a joyless enterprise that doesn’t attempt to understand what made TERMINATOR (1984) a sci-fi classic, or why T2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) is universally considered to be one of the greatest action movies of all time. Our never-ending love for Arnold aside, the true driving force of the original movies is the transformation of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor from hunted waitress, to survivor, to bad ass protector. Sarah earned our respect long before Captain Marvel demanded it because she was a fully-realized character based upon strong storytelling and Hamilton’s pitch-perfect performance. It’s no coincidence that the downfall of the franchise began with TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003); a.k.a. the movie that ‘featured’ Connor’s off-screen demise. Speaking of death…
The main focus of way too many angry YouTube rants, John Connor’s opening scene murder by another T-800 (also Arnold Schwarzenegger, and three years after the events of T2) is both shocking and, sadly, promising of an interesting change. With help of both a child stand-in and impressive special effects, Edward Furlong became the first actor to portray John in two different entries — and, ultimately, the end of his character’s journey is exactly what this movie needed. However, the promise made by this smart choice is never fulfilled due to a lackluster and convoluted screenplay.
How convoluted? According to this new canon, the second T-800 (Model 101) was just one of an unknown number of terminators that were sent back in time to kill John. Strangely enough, multiple versions of the one who looks like Schwarzenegger was given this task (as opposed to a more advanced and efficient model), but whatever — he got the job done… and, then, grew a conscious before settling down into family life while selling drapes and calling himself “Carl.” Oh, and a guilty Carl is the reason why Sarah is able to go terminator hunting for an unknown length of time. Because… movie.
If you are filled with rage (and regularly type out the letters “SJW”), DARK FATE was not made for you. With Skynet, John Connor, and that entire timeline no longer a concern, there is a new threat — the unfortunately named Legion — and a new future in the form of Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Gabriel Luna (TV’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.) takes the place of Robert Patrick as an advanced terminator (now designated Rev-9) who is after Dani, and TULLY’s Mackenzie Davis impresses as Grace; an “enhanced” human soldier sent back in time to protect our new ‘lead’. All of this is a source of contention for those who are threatened by diversity, of course, which is why many critics are celebrating DARK FATE’s dismal box office numbers.
“Get Woke, Go Broke” has become a rallying cry amongst overgrown children who dismiss the introduction of new female and minority characters (replacing their familiar white male counterparts) into established properties as being offensive. As ridiculous as that is, the awkward sadness of DARK FATE is that it actually provides those ignorant voices an air of legitimacy. Make no mistake about it, DARK FATE is an obvious attempt to capitalize on the growing trend of ‘progressive’ filmmaking. Our new John Connor is a Latina who undergoes Sarah Connor’s transformation is a fraction of the time (and without much effort), and Davis’ Grace is as androgynous as she is augmented. We could also go down a rabbit hole by discussing how Luna’s evil terminator morphs into a border patrol officer (not unlike Patrick’s police officer disguise in T2), but it’s DARK FATE’s insistence on screaming “GIRL POWER” that deserves plenty of eyerolls — a true tragedy considering this in the franchise that gave us Sarah Connor in the first place.
There are extended car chases that feel like warmed over leftovers from previous installments, and weightless CG-bloated battles that provide only brief moments of excitement. The creature design of Rev-9 is a positive (if obvious) extension of the previous T-1000 liquid metal terminator, but Gabriel Luna is never given a chance to shine. With the exception of Mackenzie Davis, the cast is either underutilized (Reyes, somehow, is both the main focus of the movie and completely unnecessary), or noticeably on autopilot (due to being tenured AARP members). We can either stick to R. Kelly’s ‘age ain’t nuthin’ but a number’ logic, or admit that Linda Hamilton is 63-years-old… and that Schwarzenegger is 72. This is a soulless cash grab that should have been made no less than two decades ago, but we are, at least, left with the welcomed knowledge that DARK FATE is the proverbial bullet-in-the-metal-head this franchise desperately needed.
One and a Half out of Five Beers (for John).