Terminator Dark Fate movie review: Dear Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s time to say hasta la vista to this franchise
Terminator: Dark Fate
Director - Tim Miller
Cast - Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna
Breakneck, blasé, and browner than usual, Terminator: Dark Fate is a prime example of sneaky Hollywood self-plagiarism. But in all fairness, a rehash was promised, and that is exactly what has been presented.
Two trump cards, however, add a necessary dash of freshness to this largely stale sequel, which erases the events of three films and a television series, in an attempt to restore the failing franchise to its former glory. The performances of Linda Hamilton (returning as Sarah Connor for the first time since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who never really left), serve as soulful anchors in director Tim Miller’s emotionally disengaged film.
Watch the Terminator: Dark Fate trailer here
The year is 2020, and two naked cyborgs with duelling missions have dropped out of the sky in Mexico City. Their target is a young woman named Dani. While a female cyborg played by Mackenzie Davis has been assigned the Kyle Reese role as a protector to Dani, a formidable new Terminator model, the Rev-9, engages them in an unending chase. Aside from the significantly increased presence of Hispanic characters, the plot of Terminator: Dark Fate is essentially an inelegant Frankenstein’s monster, fashioned out of the elements that made the first two films in the series such classics.
For all his faults as a filmmaker, James Cameron’s screenplays are a lot like the Terminators — streamlined and without an ounce of fat to slow them down. Dark Fate, despite Cameron’s creative inputs — he returns as producer after having vocally endorsed and rejected previous films — has a lot of unnecessary weight. It relies too heavily on large-scale action set pieces to truly let the intimacy of its story sink in.
The Biblical themes of the first two films have mostly been discarded, although a new Messiah is in need of protection. But Miller does a fine job of co-opting Cameron’s muscular directing style, his machine-like obsession with efficiency, and the idea of motherhood.
Another of the movie’s highlights is Arnie’s return, which, slightly disappointingly, arrives well past the halfway mark. Visibly older now, he talks about how, after having completed the mission he was programmed to carry out, he went about finding a purpose in life. I can’t possibly discuss the details of his mission, but the idea of a robot spending decades trying to assimilate into our culture, and developing a conscience, is instantly interesting. The manner in which the film addresses this, however, has the subtlety of a Schwarzenegger punch to the gut.
It’s equally interesting how, over the years, the Terminator franchise despite lukewarm audience reception and poor reviews has shown an almost robotic resilience. The last two films in the series — Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys — were intended as trilogy starters, but their subsequent box office failure put an end to those plans. And although at least one of those films had James Cameron’s blessings, neither had his creative insights.
So the fact that Dark Fate is less inventive than Salvation, which at least transported the story to a post-apocalyptic future, and Genisys, which tapped into themes of privacy and online surveillance rather potently, is monumentally disappointing.
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