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Review: Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) is the latest attempt to breathe some life into the Terminator franchise, which has struggled to find an identity after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). When this movie was first announced, I was pumped. James Cameron was involved once again, and this was supposed to erase Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), and Terminator Genysis (2015). In that way, Dark Fate would be able to act as a direct sequel to Judgment Day. Additionally, it was announced that Linda Hamilton was coming back as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenneger would be back as the T-800. In my mind, this was the perfect recipe to finally get this struggling franchise back on track. Unfortunately, the only thing this movie achieved was adding yet another awful sequel to the trash heap this franchise has become. I won’t say the story is terrible, it’s just incredibly lazy. Within the first 5 minutes, the story completely cancels out any consequences the events of the first and second movies had. Sure, that pissed me off a bit, but I understood why they did it. Doing that gave them the freedom to take the story in any direction they wanted. Instead, they used that freedom to give us nearly the same exact plot as T2, with some additional touches “borrowed” from the other sequels. The end result felt like a highlight reel of the franchise, rather than a new, original idea. They just changed the names of a few things and changed the gender of a few things and called it new. In Dark Fate, future Earth has been taken over by an AI called Legion (totally different from Skynet). Legion sends back a REV-9 (basically a combination of the original T-800 and Robert Patrick’s T-1000) model terminator to kill Dani Ramos, a young woman who will grow up to lead the human resistance against the machines (which is DEFINITELY different than John Connor from T2, the young man who would grow up to lead the human resistance against the machines). To counter, the future humans send back a protector to stop the terminator from killing her. I know what you’re thinking, that sounds just like Arnold’s T-800 from T2. Well, you’re wrong! See, this protector is a girl and she’s only part machine. . . way different. Ok, so the story is uninspired and bland, but I can get past that if the execution is exciting and the action is done well. Yet again, though, this movie falls flat. I think the concepts that they came up with for the action scenes were solid, and for the most part, they were filmed pretty well, but nearly every action scene is completely ruined by an overabundance of terrible CGI. I don’t want to sound like the old grumpy “get off my lawn” guy. I’m not immediately against the use of CGI. I understand that in many cases it is necessary, especially in a movie like this, I just think that practical effects and stunts should always be used when possible. Instead, many times throughout the movie, entire characters, locations, and even some entire scenes are created with a computer, and they don’t even come close to looking like physical, tangible creations. On top of how awful it looked, most of those CG characters seemed weightless, like they aren’t adhering to the rules of physics, which completely took the impact of the action scenes away and completely took me out of the movie.

Speaking of the characters, they were a mixed bag to me, mostly because there wasn’t much depth to any of them. I loved seeing Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor again, but I couldn’t help but feel like she was much more of a one-note character in this one. Pretty much all she did was shoot things and say lame one-liners. She was relegated to being the grumpy old lady, instead of the complex human the first two films explored. Hamilton was great, and she did her best, but she could only do so much with the character that was written for her.

I also loved seeing Arnold reprise his role, and I even enjoyed what they did with his character. In this one, he plays a Terminator that was sent back to the 90s to complete a mission (I won’t spoil that mission here) and, when that mission is over, he was stuck living in a world he didn’t fully comprehend with no more purpose for existing. When the new characters find him in the current time, his physical form has aged and they find out that he has spent the last nearly 3 decades attempting to learn and understand human behavior. As the movie puts it, he developed the equivalent of a human’s conscience. I was ok with all of that. I like the idea of exploring a terminator that has been observing and learning human behavior for more than half a century, and it’s a clever way to bring Arnold back and explain his age. I also like the idea of a terminator being forced to examine its purpose for existence and the morality of its previous mission and actions, and, to his credit, in the moments that these ideas were explored, Arnold was fantastic. The problem is, those moments are few and far between. The writers came up with an interesting idea to evolve the character, something none of the other movies after Judgment Day were able to do, but they dropped the ball. Instead of treating the character seriously, most times he is used for laughs as the butt of a joke.

The rest of the characters were completely dull and forgettable due to either poor writing, bad acting, or a combination of the two. Natalia Reyes does a fine job as Dani Ramos, A.K.A. Female John Connor, but she is miscast and 100% unbelievable in the role, and her dialogue doesn’t do her any favors. Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) is Grace, the enhanced human sent to protect Dani, and, once again, she is hurt by the writing. Like most of the characters in the movie, she mostly consists of expository speeches for the audience and one-liners. I know that sounds hypocritical, me, the guy that loves 80’s and 90’s action movies above all else, complaining about one-liners, but hear me out. A character needs to be more than just one-liners, even if that “more” is nothing other than a likable personality or an abundance of charisma. In this case, Davis has nothing. She is dull and comes across as wooden.

Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays the villainous Rev-9. He is an effective villain in the sense that he is a near-unstoppable foe that poses a real threat, even against the combined forces of Sarah Conner, Grace, and the T-800. Understandably, there isn’t much to the character since he is just a machine on a mission. Unfortunately, unlike Arnold in The Terminator or Robert Patrick in Judgment Day, Luna isn’t able to bring anything more than the required minimum to the role. He does the whole blank stare and machine movement thing, but he isn’t able to make the role iconic, or even memorable like those two were.

Overall, I found Terminator: Dark Fate to be a mess. The writing is mostly horrible, the acting is dull, and the action, while exciting at times, is the fake feeling, video game CG bullcrap we get in almost every summer blockbuster movie these days. I enjoyed seeing Linda Hamilton and Arnold reprise their roles, and both were If it weren’t for Arnold and Linda Hamilton, this would feel like a poor knock off version of a Terminator movie. Gone are the days when a Terminator movie was focused on telling a great science fiction action story that engaged us from the start. Gone are the interesting characters that were fully developed, and who we could easily connect to. Gone are the grounded, violent, gritty action scenes that blew us away with their intense stunt work and effects. Instead, we get Dark Fate, an unoriginal mash-up of elements we already saw in the previous films, forgettable characters, and stock, tame action scenes that feel more suited to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the Terminator universe. This is yet another disappointing sequel that seals it for me, this franchise is dead.

SCORE: 4 out of 10 (D-)

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