As of late, I’ve been watching a lot of franchise movies to pass the time in these unusual circumstances. The latest one was the Terminator franchise, which was recently capped off by my first viewing of Dark Fate, the 2019 movie directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller. The movie reunited Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarnezzger for the first time since T2 and James Cameron actually worked on the script. So, is this a return to form?
Eh, not really. Dark Fate is essentially a sequel to Judgement Day and pretends that the three movies after that did not take place. It starts off extremely bold by killing off John Conner at the hands of an Arnold looking Terminator, who was sent to the past to kill him. This time, he succeeded and the unthinkable happened. It was uncalled for and unexpected. John Connor has been a critical part of this franchise ever since it began; he was the one who set things in motion after all by sending Kyle Reese back in time. So with John out of the way, I was expecting a new and unexpected journey.
However, Dark Fate felt largely like a remake of Terminator 2. After the death of John Conner, the movie jumps ahead a few decades to the present day and a new Terminator has been sent back in time with a target in mind. The Rev-9, played by Gabriel Luna, is essentially a seriously upgraded version of the T-1000. He’s a liquid-based hunter who can separate his alloy skin from the endoskeleton underneath, resulting in two terminators. Also with modern technology, like the internet, cell phones and even drones, he’s become a much more lethal hunter. But when there’s a Terminator, there’s a protector. The future also sent back Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human who can go toe to toe with a Terminator. Both are sent to protect or eliminate Dani, a Mexican national who is the key to protecting the future. Long story short, she’s basically the new John.
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor comes in earlier than I thought she would and joins the two women on the mission to protect Dani from the Rev-9. Unlike Grace and Dani, who I found uninspired and kind of bland, Hamilton steals the movie. She’s angry at the world, that she got sloppy and lost John and has lived her life hunting terminators and drinking. A truly well-done scene, where Sarah confesses she’s forgetting John’s face, brought some much-needed depth and humanity to these otherwise bland characters. Oh, and she’s a total badass.
Likewise, Arnold also shines in this movie. He shows up much later as Carl, the Terminator who hunted and killed John Connor. But a Terminator has never succeeded in its primary objective. What happens next? It can’t go back to the future nor can it get new orders. Carl, as he ends up calling himself, begins to learn about humanity and actually settles down and raises a family. He feels regret and begins guiding Sarah Connor towards future Terminators that are being sent their way. Arnold actually gets a lot of dialogue for his short amount of screen time and he’s utterly compelling.
It’s a bit ironic that the original actors, Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, play the characters that are the most original in the story, while the new characters feel redundant and samey. Grace just isn’t that interesting or memorable as Arnie was in T2 and Dani doesn’t have the screen presence to allow us to root for her in the way we did Edward Furlong. Sure, she cant throw down and is tough, but she lacks characterization. With the exception of Salvation, all of the Terminator films involve two individuals from the future being sent to the past with a target in mind. One to protect, one to kill. Action ensues and we eventually end up in an industrial building for the final showdown. Dark Fate is no exception.
But why couldn’t things have been more original? For instance, what if Sarah made a mistake and Judgement Day did happen and she and John have to navigate the post-apocalyptic wasteland together, along with their reprogrammed Terminator. I just can’t help but feel I’ve seen it all before with Dark Fate, which makes me wonder what’s the point? Much like the new Star Wars films, Terminator Dark Fate attempt to tell a new story in the guise of an old story. The problem with the Terminator movies is that they’ve been telling this story a few too many times already. Dark Fate is no exception. It has competent acting from its veterans, a bold intro and some entertaining action. But the overall story and uninteresting new leads brings the movie down.
So for those who are wondering, here would be my ranking of all the Terminator films, from best to worst.
-Rise of the Machines