Where to begin…
I love almost every film that James Cameron has directed, going back to the age of 9 when he scared the shit out of me with Aliens, thus altering my entire view of ‘fiction’ and the creation of it, in any medium. This most certainly includes the first two flicks in the Terminator franchise, with The Terminator, released in 1984, and its masterful sequel T2: Judgment Day following in 1991. These two flicks, in my opinion, complimented each other beautifully and brought the story to a highly satisfying and logical conclusion. But money talks, and bullshit keeps trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Every single attempt at a proper sequel to T2 , without Cameron’s hand on the tiller, has failed to capture any of what made his first two movies instant classics in the sci-fi genre. Sure, there’s a scattering of cool action scenes and occasionally an inspired notion would pop up from sequel to sequel, but for me they largely come across as high-budget fan-fiction simply going through the motions and ‘sticking to the script’, if you will. MANY people, including close friends of mine, HATE Terminator Salvation (2009), but I have a guilty-pleasure level of appreciation for it, as it got me closer to what I REALLY want to see out of the Terminator franchise…and that is the war in the future done correctly.
Side Note – I would love to see someone with balls tackle a story set during the darkest years in the battle against Skynet, if not Cameron himself. I want the grit and misery that we glimpsed in T1 and T2, sick fuck that I am. Humans forced to eke out a desperate existence in the ruins while hunted by horrific things that show no mercy. Even the ‘Colorado Mission’ (if I recall correctly), the final attack on Skynet that results in the events of The Terminator. But I digress.
The point is that NONE of the James Cameron-less entries have really done anything for me, especially compared to my appreciation for the emotional core at the centre of both of those first movies, something which none of the others have been able to recapture, even with returning talent from the first two. But then…the rights to the Terminator franchise reverted back to Jim, and he, in a producer capacity, got the next attempt off the ground. When I first got wind of this, naturally I was intrigued…though also skeptical. I had been burned every time since T2, so my cynicism was high. But…I was willing to give it a chance. Director Tim Miller had impressed me with his debut, Deadpool (2016) and I felt that he may be a good candidate to deliver us a James Cameronesque flick, as Robert Rodriguez had masterfully done with the under-rated Alita: Battle Angel (2019). I figured with Jim controlling the puppet strings of the production, we would certainly get something closer in tone and execution to the first two films.
*shakes head sadly*
Just stop now, ok…guys? Just let Terminator go. Unless you can deliver me the bleak Future War dystopian epic that I, and countless other geeks, have been craving since we were first introduced to it back in the heady days of 1984, just shut that shit down. This constant repetition is getting tedious and desperate.
Which brings me to Terminator: Dark Fate…
I wanted to like this movie! I wanted this to be The One that kicks it up a notch and ties in effortlessly with the two stories it’s leaping off from (it wisely ignores the post T2 sequels) while both complimenting them, but also adding to the substance of the established lore.
That’s not what I got.
Before I delve into this, I will first apologize. In order to really give this flick a true kneejerkreaction, I do have to hit on some SPOILERS along the way. There is no way I can properly execute this review without touching on some spoilery aspects…so consider yourself warned.
Terminator: Dark Fate, after opening in 1998 with too young John Connor (a cleverly CG’d Edward Furlong) getting fucking Alien 3’d right off the bat, we fast forward to 2020 where, once again, two time portals gape open to shit out yet two more visitors from the future, this time some ‘augmented’ chick named ‘Grace’ (Mackenzie Davis) and a kinda cool T-800 / T-1000 hybrid (that is a bit more clever than that idiotic shit they tried in Terminator 3!), called a Rev-9. These two are searching for a Mexican girl of some great importance named ‘Dani’ (Natalia Reyes). Of course they cross paths and much destruction ensues (one of the few scenes I genuinely enjoyed), with the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) getting the upper hand, only to be thwarted by a very elderly looking ‘Sarah Connor’ (Linda Hamilton) with a comically-sized shotgun blazing away. From there they sniff out an elderly, undercover family-man T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) going by the name ‘Carl’ (I shit you not) and it becomes this tiresome REPEAT cycle of RUN-SHOOT-‘SPLOSIONS-HIDE- GET FOUND-RUN-SHOOT-‘SPLOSIONS etc.
It seems weird saying this about a Terminator movie, but there were moments in the theatre where I found myself feeling legitimately bored. That’s not good. Just like the last few flicks, there was nothing that emotionally pulled me into the story or the plight of the main characters, which is one of the undeniable strong suits of the first two films. And that’s just the script…the editing and pacing also left something to be desired. It felt very clunky and episodic. There was no sense of scope or passage of time. The choppy editing also allowed the Rev-9 to be able to locate the main characters in no time flat, with seemingly no effort. There was no build up, no tense detective-like search as previous time travelling characters had to undertake. He / it just appears somewhere / anywhere that gives him access to surveillance / computer equipment and he’s got them in seconds. This happened more than once! Going back to problems with the script, much of the dialogue I found to be borderline cringe-inducing, and that’s not just due to Hamilton’s gravelly throat-cancer voice. So much ham-fisted, clumsy dialogue, often for the sake of cheap exposition. And humor…they tried, I’ll give them credit there. But almost every joke they attempted fell flat, cheapening the scene. I may have heard a couple chuckles in the half-full theatre I was in…but that’s it. But how’s the Action? – you ask. There’s an extended fight / car chase sequence in the First Act that I thought was actually pretty sweet but almost all the rest of it is already forgettable (saw the flick about 7 hours ago). There’s a scene involving a mid-air collision of two monstrous military planes that was rendered ineffective given how ‘CG’ much of the shots looked. It was distracting and worse, dull. Even the music is dull and that’s saying a lot considering that it’s by Junkie XL, a DJ / EDM producer who has successfully made a name for himself with impressive music for flicks like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Deadpool (2016). Here, there is no life, nothing iconic, to the tunes. The original music by Brad Fiedel for T1 and T2 is classic but this, much like the other sequels, just lacks personality.
All in all, Terminator: Dark Fate for me was yet another disappointment in the growing line of disappointments that have been every Terminator movie post-Terminator 2. This one also gets in a bit of a ‘Fuck you, T2’ with how it unceremoniously dealt with Edward Furlong’s ‘John Connor’ in the opening minutes, which again just reminds me of how they’d coldly off’d fan favorites ‘Hicks’ and ‘Newt’ during the credits of Alien 3 (1992). A real kick in the head for those fans. Not much different here. Overall, the dialogue is weak, the acting is wooden, the music score unremarkable, the Why and How of Schwarzenegger’s ‘Carl’ / T-800 is laughable and desperate, and there’s a surprising amount of piss-poor CG layered on an uninspired story that recycles plenty from the previous, better installments. There are a couple decent action scenes but that’s really about it. I won’t even bother touching on the ‘woke’ aspect, which isn’t as obnoxious as it could’ve been, but was definitely obvious in a couple lines of dialogue. Even if there was some ‘agenda’, the flick overall isn’t impressive enough to support it. To sum it up…I think they fucked up. Again. This is STILL not the story or execution that I’ve been wanting from this franchise, despite James Cameron’s name being back on the poster. I can only recommend checking out Terminator: Dark Fate if you happen to come across it on Netflix on a boring Sunday afternoon. In that capacity…it’s a decent enough time-waster. Nothing more.
*Edit – OK, now that I’ve had a couple of days to dwell on it, and after some discussion with coworkers, I now realize that I have some more shit to say about this flick, mostly bad but some good.
Let’s get the Good outta the way first…
-I will admit that I actually liked the character of ‘Grace’, the ‘augmented’ Kyle Reese-like character played by Mackenzie Davis, more than I anticipated. I also liked the ‘crash’ element, where she would essentially shut down after fierce, super-human activity, and needed a drug cocktail to ‘reboot. BUT…again reflecting on how devoid of originality this script is, just like Kyle Reese in T1, ‘Grace’ is written to heroically sacrifice herself to help kill the Rev-9. Go figure.
-Even though it pisses me off that these flicks maintain little continuity in the ‘science’ of time travel, specifically the light storm entrance in the past, which differs in every single movie, I did like the freezing element, where we see objects in the time portal area instantly drop to subzero temperatures, announcing the impending light show. But again, just like the Alien franchise and their constantly changing fucking cryosleep ‘science’, there is no continuity. C’mon people, a little consistency goes a long way!
-Some of the cinematography is nice and the action scenes are well filmed, even when ‘bolstered’ by sub-par CG. That being said, it didn’t feel much like a stylistic sibling to the first two films, to which it is supposed to be a direct sequel. Even just more use of the color Blue, which Cameron loves. Robert Rodriguez did a slick job with Alita: Battle Angel in lighting and color grading it to look like Cameron’s ‘finger-print’. With Dark Fate, Tim Miller didn’t make much effort to tie it in visually and it hurts the presentation, in my opinion.
Now for some more bullshit…
-The fucking conveniences! There are a ton of stupid ‘conveniences’ that pop up to aid the protaganists at the most convenient moments. There’s one sequence where it’s determined that the only weapon that they can effectively use against this new Rev-9 Terminator is some suit-case sized EMP device. It JUST SO HAPPENS that one of Sarah’s underground contacts is some conveniently high-ranking military official who can access one of these things at the drop of a hat, right when Sarah asks. This same dude also manages to gain them instant access to, and control of, an Air Force transport plane and they just take right off with NO problems, despite being wanted criminals and fugitives. I just shook my head. It was so fucking lazy in the writing!
-Really not happy about the shotgun blast-to-the-chest death of young John Connor in the opening minutes. Overlooking the potential tastelessness of the scene, what with the US’s disgusting and barbaric frequency of gun-related murders among young people these days, the scene is a colossal Fuck You to the story that it’s continuing on from. It renders all of the sacrifice and pain of T2 to a cheap after-thought, and given just how good that flick is, that’s not cool.
-Speaking of young John Connor, as impressive as the de-aging CG is on Edward Furlong for his Oh So brief appearance, it’s stupid that they made him as young as they did. He looks exactly like he did in 1991, when the character was supposed to be 10. Dark Fate opens in 1998, therefore lil Johnny Connor should be about 18 or so. So why the hell does he look like a damn kid still?! Does he not age any more?!! C’mon people!!
-They made the Rev-9 all cocky n shit! One of the cool aspects of Robert Patrick’s iconic portrayal of the T-1000 in T2 was the cold and slightly alien presence he had. The way the character is written here, he speaks and emotes like any of us. The previous, better movies touched on the fish-out-of-water element for all time travelers, Terminators included. Not here. The ole Rev-9 just fires up a cocky Southern accent and bullshits his way to where the hell he’s going. It was lazy.
-Why the hell would you ‘end’ Skynet and just replace it with another enemy, that happens to be EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME AS SKYNET!! The whole ‘Skynet becomes Legion’ is just a little too close to how Disney Star Wars brazenly rebranded the Empire into The First Order, without actually changing anything. added to which, isn’t that basically what Genisys was all about? Been there…done that. Again…lazy.
-The comparisons to nu-Star Wars are apt. Just like how Disney is killing off all the legacy characters in order to get out of paying George Lucas royalties, and to form their own, lame-ass, cash vacuuming plot lines, Dark Fate seems to be following that same blueprint by changing / removing everything JUST ENOUGH so that it’s still Terminator…only not. Put Dark Fate next to The Force Awakens, and many of the cheaper, artistically bankrupt similarities begin to show themselves in these soft reboots.