The movie starts with a lot of promise. The familiar Terminator theme evokes many nostalgic memories and feelings, even though it has been passed from the genre-defining first two installments into whatever those multiple studios churned out in this century. That haunting synthesizer tune is the one consistent aspect of this film series that will remain impervious to all the harsh criticism every new franchise-developing attempt receives. Terminator: Dark Fate begins with a pivotal flashback – the sequence in Terminator 2: Judgement Day where Sarah Connor hysterically proclaims what happens on Judgement Day in 1997. It’s not a lot, but it makes you wish you were young again, experiencing the franchise at its peak.
I see the first two installments – The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, not as the definitive and influential action, sci-fi pictures that they are, but as movies who explored, challenged and redefined philosophies about the relationship between humans and their instruments of doom. The eyes and ears would appreciate the action set pieces, whereas the mind would be deliberating, seeking answers. Morality issues surrounding the creation of artificial intelligence even before the existence of such technologies in the real world were asked and answered. These films dealt with fresh ideas and tied it all up in a plausible, well-written story that packed an unexpected emotional punch. You know you were grieving at the sight of a robot being lowered into a vat of lava.
Now though? Terminator movies are playing catch-up and failing miserably in a world they greatly influenced. In this age of Ex Machina and Predestination, new indie sci-fi flicks are being released every year to challenge norms the same way the original Terminator did. That is what every Terminator movie released in this century lacks – the drive to be stand out.
But maybe I’m being too harsh. I reckon I would’ve been happy with a passable action flick with witty one-liners and a serviceable plot. But what does Dark Fate do? Derives plot points, changes names, timelines and gift wrap it haphazardly. Skynet is now called Legion. Judgement Day has been postponed by another couple of decades. There’s a new Sarah Connor in the cast, along with the old Sarah Connor. Yes – it is all very creative.
There’s Natalie Reyes who plays Daniella “Dani” Ramos – the target. She’s being protected by Mackenzie Davis’s Grace, part-human, part machine from the future. They’re both being pursued by Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9, a new Terminator who has but one mission – eliminate Dani, the Legion’s future thorn. I’ll be honest, throughout this movie, I didn’t care about any of them. I’m not in awe of the Rev-9’s algae-like splitting feature. The CGI looks incomplete and distracting. Mackenzie Davis’s Grace, despite best intentions, doesn’t hold a candle to the 1984’s Kyle Reese. The jury’s out on Dani carrying forward the legacy of Sarah Connor, but I’m not holding my breath.
What’s disheartening to see is the disservice this movie does to the franchise veterans. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Model 101 tones down the robotic demeanor, adapts according to the script to bring in a little bit of humanity to the character. It doesn’t work. Reprising an iconic role after such a long time, Hamilton does manage to blow us away with her badassery. But the movie’s ditching her potential, downplaying her struggles in this new Judgement-Day-free world to accommodate the new cast. Unless they go back to the drawing board instead of rehashing and re-releasing this story-line, I don’t see any new potential. Dark Fate, indeed.
This is a Terminator movie that makes me doubt Cameron’s craft, even when he isn’t in the director’s chair. This age-old franchise needs to adapt to the world of today or be terminated.
Rating – 1/5