Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Review
A RETURN TO “TERMINATOR” GLORY
The Terminator franchise has definitely seeing its ups and downs since its initial release, but a far cry from how it all began. Before today’s age of dystopian futures and its fixation in mainstream pop culture, director James Cameron premiered his sci-fi adventure film Terminator. As a film, Terminator was hit and vacuumed movie cult popularity for many years along with character lines and imagery that have since become iconic by many. From there, a cinematic franchise was born as its sequel T2: Judgment Day premiered in 1991, gaining praise from moviegoers and furthered its iconic movie cult moniker. The franchise continued again with several sequel installments, including Terminator: Rise of the Machines in 2003, Terminator: Salvation in 2009, and Terminator: Genisys in 2015 Unfortunately, Rise of the Machines was met with mixed reviews, Salvation received less favorable ones, and Genisys, which was supposed to be a somewhat alternative timeline reboot of the franchise) garnished mostly negative reviews; spelling an almost certain doom for this once beloved series. Now, four years after the release of Genisys, Paramount Pictures (along with 20th Century Fox) and director Tim Miller release the sixth installment in the Terminator saga with the Terminator: Dark Fate. Can this feature film rejuvenate the franchise for a new generation to enjoy or has the future run out on this sci-fi movie tale?
Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is an average young woman trying to make a living in present day Mexico City, surrounded by her loving family that supports her. As an automobile factory worker, Dani is distressed when machines are introduced on the factory’s production line, her current concerns are instantly shattered the sudden arrival of the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), a Terminator from the future tasked with killing her. Coming to Dani rescues is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human also from the future, in charge of protecting Dani from harm. With the Rev-9 giving a relentless pursuit, the machine seems unstoppable, unfazed through the numerous obstacles as it tries to complete its mission. Eventually, both Grace and Dani receive some unexpected help from Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a self-proclaimed “Terminator hunter” who’s taking out threats from futuristic metal enforcers for some time. As Dani’s position as someone critical to the world’s survival against a new A.I. threat (dubbed “Legion”) slowly becomes clear, Sarah, who is haunted by her troubling past, lends her expertise to the group, while Grace’s enhanced prowess and combat skills are put to the test in trying to destroy the Rev-9 once and for all; securing a new future in her reality.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I mentioned above, the Terminator franchise has had a bumpy road. While many started the franchise by watching the original Terminator movie, I actually started the saga from its sequel (T2: Judgment Day). I liked the movie, gravitating towards its iconic moments and Arnold’s classic one-liners, but I wasn’t an uber fan of the series. From there, I watched the third installment (Terminator: Rise of the Machines) a few years after it got released in theaters, finding the movie to have an interesting story, a great ending, but not as good the 1991 film. In preparation for the release of the fourth Terminator movie (Salvation), I decided to watch the original 1984 film, which is a bit dated (to say the least), but still a great start to the series. The other two sequels were (like I said) a bit of a mixed bag for me. While I liked the premise of Terminator: Salvation (the movie taking place in the future and of Sam Worthington’s character Marcus Wright), the film itself was bland and not as exciting as I was expecting to be. Kind of a letdown. The same with Terminator: Genisys, which tried to provide viewers with a fresh reboot of the franchise, but ended up backfiring within its attempts; muddling much of what was promised for the fifth entry in this sci-fi saga.
As one can imagine, the idea of releasing another Terminator film was a bit on the leery side, including myself, which is what I felt when I read the announcement of Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth installment in the franchise. Given the rocky history that the previous three Terminator movies have made on the series (as well as the licensing deal of studios “owning” the rights), I wasn’t completely sure that a new movie would emerge anytime within the foreseeable future, yet Dark Fate emerged and quickly became a “hot topic” to discuss online, especially with a lot of “buzz” surrounding the movie being toted as “going back to its roots” as well as actress Linda Hamilton returning to the project (as well as James Cameron in a producer role). The film’s movie trailers certainly proved the assumption of “going back to the series roots”, which showcased plenty of exciting footage of the movie and living up to the stories of being more “genuine” to the first two Terminator films than the latter sequels. So, I was definitely interested in seeing where Terminator: Dark Fate and finally had the chance to see it. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, I actually liked it. While some formulaic familiarities and a few wonky decisions linger in the film, Terminator: Dark Fate is a solid return to the glory of what made this action movie franchise fun to begin with. It doesn’t break new ground, but provides a better cinematic storytelling presentation than the previous sequels movies have done.
Terminator: Dark Fate is directed by Tim Miller, with his past directorial work includes the widely successful Deadpool movie. While Miller was originally gonna direct Deadpool 2, Miller departed the darkly humor superhero sequel and landed the position of helming Dark Fate in his sophomore directorial feature film. In that regard, Miller certainly does succeed in making his secondary theatrical motion picture endeavor to be quite effective in both being an entertaining piece of cinematic blockbuster action as well as rejuvenating interest in the Terminator franchise. With his previous knowledge on Deadpool, Miller, along with Terminator / Judgement Day director James Cameron (as the film’s producer), certainly knows what to make of Dark Fate’s resonate much more than the past three Terminator sequels have done in the past. The key to that is….” less is more”.
What do I mean? Like Deadpool, Miller removes a lot of the complex / convoluted storyline aspects that the past three Terminator movies established and instead goes back to the basic formula of the original premise: a group of humans fighting / standing up against a ruthless / cold-hearted cyborg machine hunter. In truth, Miller makes Dark Fate feel very much like a direct sequel / continuation to the first two Terminator films, especially with the idea of making the character of Sarah Connor return to the forefront of the feature’s presentation. Yes, the character of Dani is the true protagonist of the movie, but the inclusion of Sarah Connor seems more in-line with the first two features, which (again) focused on Connors struggles of dealing with T-800 model Terminator and trying to stop Judgement Day from happening. Thus, Miller’s “back to basics” approach is one that ultimately works for this long running franchise; making Dark Fate stripped of all its superfluous nuances and focuses more on the immediate threat of protecting Dani against the Rev-9 terminator.
Coinciding with that, the movie’s script, which was penned by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray with a story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, Rhodes, and Goyer, takes what worked in the first two films and utilizes that knowledge (and likeability) for Dark Fate’s story; reworking a few ideas and storyline beats for this new installment. Thus, a lot of the more futuristic sci-fi elements that played part is downplayed and offers more of an immediate threat of a group of humans fighting / evading the constant onslaught of the Rev-9’s pursuit. That’s not to say that the movie explores a little bit of the bleak dystopian future, with Dark Fate exploring glimpse of Grace’s life and how her and humanity battle against the new machine army known as Legion. However, that’s not the main aspect, with Miller keeping the feature more focused on the story of protecting Dani (as a more thriller action flick), with characters Sarah Connor and Grace discovering more about themselves / each other along the way. Additionally, the movie’s themes of technology continue to be presented as well as the enduring determination of humanity fighting back against machines, with Dark Fate adding more subtle notion that some of the previous entries have. In the end, the film’s script (along with Miller’s firm and clear direction for the movie) makes the feature work as a continuation / reboot for the franchise; making Dark Fate resonate with a more simplistic story that doesn’t get weighed down in world-building and focuses more on the thrilling action sequences.
As a whole, Dark Fate “looks” very much like a solid blockbuster action movie; something akin as to what I was expecting from this franchise. Of course, the latter Terminator sequels boasted plenty of sci-fi visuals for the movie’s narrative to explore and to showcase. Dark Fate does have some sci-fi nuances (including a few glimpses of this new future reality), but majority of the takes place in present day, with plenty of sequences of action scenes that feel fun, thrilling, and exciting to watch. Thus, the staging of all these scenes (and their ultimate execution) certainly has a great payoff and is definitely a highlight of the movie. There are a few visual effect shots that are a “iffy”, but majority of Dark Fate’s visual flair is fun and appealing. Additionally, other notable areas, including art direction, production, cinematography, and film editing are all well-represented in the movie. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Junkie XL, is a solid; presenting plenty of melodic dramatic beats within this thrilling action adventure that do work as a well as the iconic Terminator theme throughout the movie.
However, despite the positives, Dark Fate does suffer from a few glaring problems that the both the movie makes as well as being the sixth installment Terminator franchise. What do I mean? Well, first…the former criticism. As mentioned, the movie is sort of continuation of the first two Terminator features (of sorts) and a sort of “reboot” refresher for the franchise itself; both are of good quality and well-intended. However, the movie sort of retcons a lot (if not all) of the narrative franchise cannon from Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys, with Dark Fate being more a direct sequel to the events of Terminator and Judgement Day. So, does that mean the events of the past three Terminator sequels never existed? Do they take place in an alternative timeline? It’s really unclear as to the answer. Some will argue that this tactic seems like a good thing as the first two Terminator movies were the best of the franchise, so it works out in the end. However, erasing roughly 60% percent of the already established narrative of a franchise can be a bit hard to chew on. Well, look at 2018’s Halloween movie and how that particular film overlooked the rest of the Halloween franchise and just be a direct sequel to the original 1978. I guess the Terminator took a page from that franchise when framing Dark Fate…at least in an attempt to invoke nostalgia and a more “return to basics” I guess.
The latter criticism is, more or less, about a sort of “franchise fatigue” that the series faces and it clearly shows in Dark Fate’s story. What I mean is that the movie (as well as the past several sequel installments) have pretty much done the same thing with material that’s presented. Looking back, the Terminator main storyline premise is good one, but it’s not exactly the most substantial story to keep on revisiting over and over again. Yes, it definitely works within the first two Terminator movies, but the more the franchise continues the more the overall arcing Terminator storyline gets thinner and more wear as each entry continues further. Yes, Dark Fate interjects some new ideas into the mix and adds more of a somewhat reboot to the series (more so than Genisys was able accomplish), but the movie is still pretty much the exact same as it was before with many of the same players still a part of the main storyline. There’s just simple only so much that reworked and retooled in this franchise and Dark Fate, despite showcasing plenty of former glory, clearly shows that this franchise might need to retire soon. Additionally, while the film is better than its past three predecessors, the movie can’t quite measure up to the same level as James Cameron was able to achieve in the first two Terminator films.
The cast in Dark Fate also plays an instrumental part of the overall entertainment appeal of the movie, with the main primary characters leading the charge for majority of the feature’s runtime and do have to say all give solid performances in their respective roles. Of course, it goes without saying that the true MVP star of the movie is the return of Terminator character Sarah Conner, with original actress Linda Hamilton returning to the role. Hamilton, known for her roles in the Terminator franchise as well as Dante’s Peak and Chuck, is terrific in Dark Fate, easily sliding back into the role of Sarah Connor. However, Dark Fate provides a new layer for this iconic Terminator, with Connor as a battle-hardened / battle-weary woman who feels tremendous guilty and filled uneasy resolve. Thus, the character growth is interesting as Hamilton quickly embraces that persona fully heartedly in her acting talents; making the character of Sarah Connor more complexed and intriguing from start to finish. Definitely a big positive highlight of the movie…. for sure.
Along with Hamilton returning to her Terminator role, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to once again reprise his most iconic role as the T-800 model terminator. Schwarzenegger, known for his roles in the Terminator movies (obviously) as well as True Lies, and Total Recall, has certainly made a name for himself in his career, but perhaps his role in the Terminator movies is what he’s mostly famous for. Of course, seeing Schwarzenegger back as the T-800 model terminator is terrific and (unlike Genisys) is sparsely used and not the full main attraction of the feature, which is a smart idea. Naturally, Schwarzenegger is up to the task to reprise the role as the robotic / steely demeanor of the T-800 as well as providing a few bits of comedic levity her and there. Without spoiling the movie, Dark Fate does go into some interesting with the Schwarzenegger’s T-800 character; providing a new layer of character growth and symbiotic humanity that such a being can cultivate in time. Plus….to see Schwarzenegger and Hamilton back together again is quite awesome.
Of the newcomers to the franchise, actresses Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis fill out the rest of the main protagonist roles as Dani Ramos (the new somewhat John Connor of Dark Fate) and the futuristic enhanced cyborg human Grace. Reyes, known for her roles in Birds of Passage, 2091, and Cumbia Ninja, certainly might seem like the “damsel in distress” for the first act of the movie, but she certainly makes the character her own as the film progress; revealing more about Dani (and the role she has to play in the future) and start to come into her own. Yes, there are some franchise clichés in the character, but Reyes seems capable in making Dani a strong female architype lead; easy to root for and would be interesting develop into a new Sarah Connor like character (of sorts). Likewise, Davis, known for her roles in Blade Runner 2049, The Martian, and Halt and Catch Fire, gives a fine performance as Grace and sort of humanizes the character in an interesting way. Like Reyes’s Dani, Davis’s Grace is somewhat like the new Kyle Reese for the movie (acting as the protector of Dani against the Rev-9), but Davis makes Grace a fun and battle-hardened guardian of the young woman. Plus, the scenes with her and Hamilton are great. To me, Davis’s Grace is probably my favorite character in the movie.
In the villain category, Dark Fate finds its cold-hearted / relentless machine cyborg assassin in the character of Rev-9, who is played by actor Gabriel Luna. Much like a lot of the antagonist in the previous Terminator franchise (from the very beginning), the character of Rev-9 is more of a “physical” presence / threat to the main heroes than a well-rounded / complexed villain. Thus, the character of the Rev-9 (like the ones before it) are very straightforward, which is not necessarily a bad thing, with the character deadly silence and meticulous pursuit of his target proving to be quite effective. That being said, there isn’t exactly anything new or creatively innovated in this new hunter killer future assassin since the groundbreaking T-1000 from Judgement Day, but the Rev-9 still ultimately works, with Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Bernie) giving a solid performance in the role (again, more of a physical presence than a dialogue driven antagonist).
With the movie focusing heavily on those particular primary characters, Dark Fate doesn’t really have time devoted to minor supporting players, which (in hindsight) is kind of a good thing. Thus, there are only a handful, including actor Diego Boneta (Rock of Ages and Scream Queens) as Dani’s older brother Diego Ramos, actor Enrique Arce (A Long Way Down and Money Heist) as Dani and Diego’s father Vicente Ramos, actor Tristian Ulloa (Sex and Lucia and Open Your Eyes) as Dani’s uncle and coyote runner Felipe Gandal, and actor Tom Hooper (Black Sails and I Feel Pretty) as Grace’s commanding officer William Hardell, which are very minor roles in the movie and, while they might not make a strong / lasting impression on the feature (or even its viewers), they are (at the least) acted well.
The future might have changed, but humanity’s fate hasn’t as a group of humans battle back against a futuristic cyborg assassin in the movie Terminator: Dark Fate. Director Tim Miller’s sophomore film returns to the Terminator franchise for its sixth entry in the series; returning to the “roots” of this long-running sci-fi action saga and providing a quasi-continuation / reboot refresher. While the movie does suffer from “franchise fatigue” (can’t outshine the first two features) and offers up a confusing retcon its own cannon (ignoring the events of the past three sequels), the film does shine within its “back to basic” formula with a more simplistic (and focused) narrative, solid / thrilling action set-pieces and sequences, strong character representation, and well-acted by many of the acting talents (Hamilton, Davis, Reyes, and Schwarzenegger). To me, I liked this movie. As mentioned, I thought it was much better than the past Terminator sequels and was far more entertaining and just more engaging within its story and presentation. Yes, I agree it can’t outshine the first two Terminator movies, but Dark Fate is probably my third favorite in the franchise. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one as it does deliver tighter and more fun action endeavor for the Terminator series and leaves the door open for a potential (and more intriguing) sequel. Whether or not that sequel materializes in the near future is unclear. Still, even if it doesn’t, Terminator: Dark Fate stands a returning to the franchise’s former glory; showcasing that an exciting action feature that proves that there is still some cinematic life within this franchise.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 1st, 2019
Reviewed On: November 18th, 2019
Terminator: Dark Fate is 128 minutes long and is rated R for violence throughout, language, and brief nudity