Released: 31st October
Seen: 12th December
SPOILER WARNING: In order to explain some of the major problems with this movie, I have to spoil a major moment that happens in the first scene. When I start talking about spoilers, I’ll open that paragraph with another warning but this is going to happen, you’ve been warned right up top.
When I wrote my review for 21 Bridges a few days ago, I opened by talking about how often I’d found myself avoiding going to see Terminator Dark Fate. Well, since you read the title of this review you know that my time avoiding it is finally up. For the official record I’ve never exactly been a huge fan of the franchise, I liked the first two movies and I saw a few episodes of the TV series but I never felt the need to go see the other movies. Their reputations preceded them, I wasn’t in a position where it felt essential to go out to see every movie so I can proudly state the most I know about the last three Terminator films is that Christian Bale lost his shit on the set of one of them. Fortunately for me then, Dark Fate is basically a total system reboot so prior knowledge of those three films isn’t required. Unfortunately for me, I’m so sick and tired of series from the 80s that refuse to die that it still felt like a letdown just because it exists. I wasn’t putting this one off because I thought it would be bad, I was putting this one off because I am 87 different kinds of DONE with these series that refuse to die with dignity.
Terminator Dark Fate introduces us to Daniella ‘Dani’ Ramos (Natalia Reyes), an assembly worker at an auto plant in Mexico whose life was going fine until, as one naturally expects in this kind of film, a mysterious man turns up one day. Did I say man? I mean evil killer robot because it’s a terminator, a Rev-9 with a nickname of Gabriel (Gabriel Luna). The Rev-9 tries to kill Dani but is stopped by another mysterious person, a woman this time who is named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Grace manages to help Dani escape from the Rev-9 long enough that eventually they bump into Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and they all try to stay alive, figure out how to kill the Rev-9 and keep Dani safe. Dani has some form of involvement in the eventual saving of the world and in order to keep her safe they must find a way to get this Mexican woman into America without documentation, I wonder if they’re doing political messaging here? Oh, and eventually the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarznegger) turns up in a moment that would’ve been a fantastic surprise if they hadn’t ruined it by putting him in the trailer and on the poster.
So, yeah, this story feels lifted directly from the original movie. Young woman whose life is irreparably changed when a bunch of robots turn up to try and kill her, eventually protected by another robot, lots of explosions, rinse and repeat. We’ve seen most of this before. What they’ve added is certainly interesting, things like having the entire story be about immigration is a great idea that gives the story a lot of chances to really push itself into commenting on the current issues with immigration that are everywhere and to an extent they try to do that in a similar way that T2 tried to comment on police brutality by making a cop the main antagonist. Here, our Terminator turns into a border agent and… and that’s about it really. He wears the costume and there’s one scene where he tries to use the border guards to get the job done for him, but that’s it. Come on guys, you literally have a scene where the main cast is up against a giant wall… how is this not being used better? Cos you’re using the same imagery you used last time with a different coat of paint, except the old version holds up well and this one won’t.
Here’s the paragraph where the spoiler stuff comes in so last chance to skip. This film does something plotwise that’s similar to the recent Halloween reboot, in that it ignores everything after the second movie and works from that point on. The problem? Well, it works from that point on by picking up three years after T2 and having a second Terminator turn up and finally kill John Connor. This is what carries Sarah Connor throughout the movie but it also raises a serious problem… the second John Connor is dead, Skynet wins. That’s the entire point of the entire franchise up to this moment, John Connor would lead the resistance against Skynet which is why they tried to kill him so many times. Well, they do that within 5 minutes here and we know that Skynet becomes a thing anyway, it’s literally been part of the franchise for decades now. Well, even though John Connor dies and therefore, logically, Skynet should win it turns out that his death actually makes a different evil supercomputer named Legion be the big bad thing that’s invented that ends up launching nukes, starting an apocalypse and creating all the terminators… so yeah, they kill off probably the most important character to the mythology of this series as though it was nothing, and never do anything with it. They retconned out years of story for no purpose.
I will admit that there are some good action scenes, it’s hard to go wrong with a massive car chase where a shape-shifting robot from hell driving a massive plough is chasing after a pair of badass women driving a truck. That’s a cool scene, as is the airplane battle scene and a few other interesting moments where large pieces of metal slam against each other and explode. I can enjoy that easily but there’s nothing here that’s special or even close to the level of previous films. I went in expecting to be wowed, shown something new that I’d never seen before from a franchise that, at its best, has literally changed the way we view the medium itself… and I got light retreads of the previous films done in a way that is pedestrian at best. I swear I only walked out of this film an hour ago, there is not one truly iconic image in any of the action scenes that’s sticking with me. I still have the image of Robert Patrick melting through the bars, of Arnie pulling out his eye, things from the original movies that have stuck with me even though I haven’t watched those movies in several years. Here I am, an hour after walking out of an almost empty cinema and god help me there isn’t a single memorable effect or image that stuck out as something I’d want to rewatch.
I’m not going to say Terminator: Dark Fate is awful, it has ideas that are interesting and a cast that’s at least trying. It’s hard to be too upset when I get another couple of hours with Linda Hamilton kicking ass as Sarah Connor. It’s not bad, it just has no reason whatsoever to exist. It’s not advancing the story of these characters, it’s pointedly reversing it. It’s not pushing the medium forward, it’s not radically changing just what the evil force is. It’s nothing, it’s a movie that’s there and can be watched and enjoyed in the moment before you forget it existed because it blends in so perfectly with its surroundings. It’s not worth seeking out, no one really did. Can we please just stop using these franchises past their use by date? Unless you have an actually interesting idea of what to do with the property and can make a film that’s exciting, please leave these franchises alone. I’m very tired of seeing watered down copies of movies from decades ago, it’s boring.