Tim Miller's entry doesn't breathe new life to a franchise that won't die.
October 30, 2019
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
The case for Terminator sequels has always been that, though they require much suspension of disbelief, they make for a wieldy business model. Over the years the makers behind the franchise have, for better or for worse, sucked every drop of star power from the deluge that comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. And they get away with it, if only because Arnie himself promises it in 1984 original—”I’ll be back.” We opened our arms to James Cameron’s vigorous follow-up, T2: Judgment Day, but after many rehashings and ret-connings that unfolded in the next handful of films, it’s hard to say that the Terminator movies have not outstayed their welcome.
With Terminator: Dark Fate, director Tim Miller makes an admirable if frustrating follow-up to the series’ once intriguing world overrun with sentient AIs and OP droids, one that sadly feels unconcerned and ultimately depleted. It doesn’t help to be aware of the film’s backstage kerfuffles, from ambush screenings to a whole year of delays from its original 2018 playdate. Whatever went down behind the scenes, the film seems to keep a self-approving “look at me I’m all kept up with the times” kind of schtick, one that almost sends it over the edge of exploitation. You see, it likes to remind us that at its center are three absolutely strong female characters, but beyond that, there’s little (if at all) that the film actually wants to say.
Set in the present, the film kicks off when a Rev-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is zapped over Mexico. This particular droid is programmed to be impervious and relentless, and its mission is a shoot-to-kill order against a doe-eyed young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes). Soon, Dani teams up with a woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human from a future that finds the world in ruins after an all-knowing and all-powerful AI called Legion. The film keeps the debunked logic of “if you kill Hitler the Holocaust won’t happen”, except we’re instead out to hunt the person who would head a future rebellion.
This extrajudicial killing by way of questionable quantum physics isn’t allthat hard to take. In fact, it’s interesting. The extreme lengths the powers-that-be go to silence those that dare oppose their way. What makes Terminator: Dark Fate the eye-rolling watch that it is are the throwaway lines, which range from shoehorned exposition to downright obnoxious rhetoric that once only existed in your aunt’s Facebook timeline. There’s boilerplate talk about predetermination, too, and the film labors this point to death. One can escape one’s fate, however dark, as the title suggests. Catch my drift?
That makes Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, who is absolutely incredible here) question her anger towards Arnie’s Terminator, who in this timeline killed her son, John, many years ago.Maybe her fate is to scale back from unforgiving badass granny to a Ruffles-loving softie who, for the love of Jesus Christ, has to spew out point-blank to Dani, “you are John.” You would think that the makers will settle for less sleaze than this, but sadly it gets worse. There is an active attempt to make Arnie’s T-800 cyborg “funny”, as if the character is not by default hilarious. In the film, he explains he becomes a dad (of sorts), so the writers pounce on the chance to tell dad jokes, much to our manic cringing.
But perhaps the most frustrating thing about Dark Fate is its action, which for all its sheen feels laughably cartoonish. The whole thing foregoes the basic laws of physics and operates with the same abandon as a ten-year-old out to decimate civilians, automobiles, and infrastructures in Grand Theft Auto. Not that it leaves us empty-handed. The scene with Linda Hamilton making a giant bazooka her personal little bitch is pure gold, feel free to @ me. The trouble, though, is that the action, rip-roaring as it becomes, leaves little to no room for us to assess and acknowledge its casualties. In short, the whole thing feels inconsequential.
Because let’s face it. The franchise is built in such a way that any character that dies in one movie can just as easily pop up in the next. And so, when T-800 tells us, pensively, that this time he “won’t be back”, our brows twitch to a towering arch.