film & game reviews, the retro way.
The latest entry into the Terminator franchise saw James Cameron return as producer and Linda Hamilton come back to her iconic Sarah Connor role. This instantly gave Terminator: Dark Fate some oomph pre-release but, it turned out, not quite enough to make it the box-office success it set out to be.
The film opens with a new take on Sarah Connor's post-Terminator 2 story as a T-800 shows up and straight-up murders John Connor. Years later, a very different Terminator, a solid and liquid metal hybrid Rev-9 model (played by Gabriel Luna), appears and tries to hunt down young factory worker Daniella Ramos (Natalia Reyes). At the same moment, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented (read: cyborg) soldier from the Resistance in the future also appears. Her mission, however, is to stop the Rev-9 from killing Daniella at all cost. Along the way, Grace and Daniella meet an older, still just as tough as ever, Sarah Connor and they set out to get some help from an unlikely yet reliable source.
The easiest way to describe Dark Fate is to simply say it's Terminator: Genysis but for T2. Genysis went back to the first Terminator movie, younging-up good old Arnie using CG motion capture technology, and rewrote the script on that, and Dark Fate takes a similar amount of liberties with the first, some would say superior, sequel. Things were always going to get very convoluted with a long running time-travel saga like this but these last two films don't feel too complex, they just feel desperate. Piggy-backing on the best, arguably only two good films in the franchise, picking whatever gold nuggets it can pick in order to tell a new story of sorts, banking on that old quality to elevate a current lesser sequel being the overall strategy here, as it was with Genysis.
Unfortunately, every formula, no matter how good, starts to feel tired after a while and the Terminator franchise is exhausted, to say the least.
To be fair, there are some valid attempts in Dark Fate at telling a more coherent story than the last time, with slightly more engaging characters at the heart of it. Or, at least, characters with potential. Mackenzie Davis certainly looks the part as the super soldier protector and Daniella's evolution from strong-willed worker taking care of her family turned badass Resistance leader was a solid, if all-too familiar character arc. Sadly, performance-wise, both Davis and Reyes fail to fully convince in their respective roles, which isn't so much their fault as it is the screenwriters' whose dialog and by-numbers storytelling is lazy throughout. Not to mention the lack of any drama not recycled from prior, better movies.
It's great to see Linda Hamilton back as Sarah Connor but even she is given nothing meaty to work with. Her frankly Oscar-deserving performance in T2 was rich and nuanced. Sarah, in that film, was a beautifully complex, broken mess: a ticking time-bomb one second, a wounded animal the next, a cunning manipulator at times, always a fighter. Hamilton delivered the best performance in the entire franchise in that film and she made it look effortless. Here, she is given Arnie-style one-liners, the exact same bitterness towards the Terminator she used to have, a bunch of guns and that's about it. Plus, Daniella goes through the same emotional arc her Sarah Connor went through in two extremely well written movies, but within an hour of Dark Fate.
Oh and the less said about the T-800's ludicrous new character arc the better.
The action sequences don't impress either and this is, usually, where even some of the least popular films in this franchise excel. Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines boasted some excellent stunts and Terminator: Salvation's gritty future provided lots of cool human vs robot action. Here, admittedly there are some solid stunts in the genuinely fun, yet obligatory it seems, highway truck chase but most of the action just sees overpowered robots and cyborgs bouncing each other around like rag dolled sprites in a video game or a Looney Tunes cartoon. It gets instantly tiresome and the dull night-time and factory settings don't help keep your attention either.
While Terminator: Dark Fate benefits from a simpler plot and some better characters, it's still not good enough to revive what can only be described as a flailing franchise in dire need of a complete reboot, a brand new future-set story or a good long rest. This is a very silly, unexciting and underwritten effort you might want to skip altogether.