REVIEW: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate,’ Revitalizes The Franchise

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool) is the latest entry in the Terminator franchise and the third attempt to continue the franchise. After the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, two travelers arrive in the year 2019 in pursuit of a young girl, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). The first, Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is an “augmented” super-soldier who intends to protect Dani as she has a vital role to play in the future. The other is a Rev-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) hell-bent on killing her. Grace and Dani soon find their paths intertwined with that of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who in the years following Judgement Day has been tracking down and hunting Terminators, scarred by an unspeakable tragedy. With the help of a rogue T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the trio resolves to protect Dani and destroy the Rev-9.

Dark Fate is the first Terminator film since Judgement Day to be produced by James Cameron, who also developed the story with David Goyer, Josh Friedman, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray, and Charles H. Eglee. The final screenplay by Goyer, Rhodes, and Ray learns from the mistakes of the previous Terminator films and chooses to hew close to the spirit of the first two films. This includes a legitimately terrifying antagonist, characters the audience is willing to invest in, pulse-pounding action sequences, and ruminations on the nature of time and fate. Miller works wonders with his action sequences, whether it’s a frenetic car chase through Mexico or a gunfight inside an airplane. Each sequence only escalates further and further, as if he’s trying to see how much he can get away with.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Yet it is the characters that drive this film, particularly Sarah, Grace, and Dani. From the minute she arrives in the film, cooly lifting a rocket launcher to her shoulder, Hamilton proceeds to steal nearly every scene she’s in. She remains every inch the hardened warrior from Judgement Day, and age has not dulled her edges. Yet, there is a sadness that lingers in her eyes and her words. The war against the Terminators has cost her dearly, and we see that price being paid in the opening scene. Hamilton’s Conner has always been the heart of the series, and it is a joy to see her back in action.

Likewise, Davis is a steely-eyed, commanding presence; much like Kyle Reese in the original Terminator, she ends up forming a bond with the young girl she’s sworn to protect and is haunted by the ghosts of a horrific war. And while she possesses cybernetically enhanced strength and senses that make her a formidable combatant, they take a toll on her body. This helps to humanize the character and make sure that the heroes don’t have too much of an advantage.

Schwarzenegger, whose role is rather small, adds a new layer to his iconic performance as the T-800. Having settled down and assumed the human name of “Carl”, he has a wife, a son, and even his own business. Most importantly, he has developed a semblance of a conscience. The Terminator films have always debated the nature of free will versus fate, and seeing a literal killing machine attempt to grow beyond its programming is an inventive way to touch on that.

Terminator: Dark Fate

However, the standout performance of Dark Fate belongs to Reyes as Dani. Her character starts off as an auto factory worker, gradually evolving into a capable fighter who turns the tables on the monster hunting her. It’s also refreshing to see a major genre picture with a Colombian lead that fully embraces Latinx identity.

Dark Fate features entire conversations in Spanish between Dani, her brother Diego and her father, while the second act finds our trio trying to cross the border to get to a location in Laredo, Texas. There’s also an entire fight scene that takes place inside a migrant detention center, where our heroes are imprisoned and/or wounded in Grace’s case. The film also doesn’t shy away from the fact that Dani is arrested due to the color of her skin, and the Rev-9 taking the form of a U.S. border agent is especially chilling, given that Luna is Mexican American. According to Luna, the scene brought Miller to tears, and I don’t blame him. Seeing people being arrested and locked in cages due to their ethnicity is especially haunting given that this happens far too often in real life.

 

If there is one fault with Dark Fate, it is that the action sequences, while inventive and thrilling, tend to be heavy on CGI. I’m not against visual effects, but there are sequences that feel like I’m playing a video game, rather than watching a movie, as characters or rather digital versions of characters leap into the air.

Similarly, while Luna makes for a terrifying antagonist, his Rev-9’s ability to regenerate and form weapons seems far too similar to the T-1000 from Judgement Day. Even though the Rev-9 can seperate itself into two different forms including its base Terminator form and a human copy, it joins the T-X from Rise of the Machines and the T-5000 from Genisys in a long line of shapeshifting Terminators; I feel like something new could have been done with this model.

Terminator: Dark Fate goes back to the franchise’s core concepts, while also trying to carve out a new direction for the franchise. Even if some elements feel well worn at this point, it mostly succeeds due to strong character work and inventive action sequences.

Terminator: Dark Fate is now playing in theaters worldwide.

Terminator: Dark Fate
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Terminator: Dark Fate goes back to the franchise’s core concepts, while also trying to carve out a new direction for the franchise. Even if some elements feel well worn at this point, it mostly succeeds due to strong character work and inventive action sequences.