Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis
Synopsis: Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: R (for violence throughout, language and brief nudity)
Runtime: 2 hr 8 min
Release Date: November 1, 2019
When I first saw James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) five years ago in my science fiction cinema class in college, I was immediately captivated by the film. Not for its visual effects (for some of those are rather dated today) or strong action sequences but for its subtly complex and emotionally powerful story, as it centered around a seemingly ordinary, insignificant woman being hunted down by an unstoppable cyborg sent from the future to kill her. But like the killer machine itself, the positives didn't stop there. The film's commentary on the dangers of artificial intelligence and technology, and humanity's ignorant use of it and capability for self-destruction (which we have witnessed many times throughout history) strongly resonated with me, and the film quickly entered into one of my all-time favorites. Then there was the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), regarded by many as one of the best sequels ever created, and that film floored me just as much, as it did everything a good sequel should--bringing back elements you loved from the first film but expanding the ideas, themes, and world while further developing its characters and bringing even stronger action sequences to the table, along with pioneering computer generated imagery.
Then, James Cameron left the franchise and worked on Titanic (1997). And no one can really blame him for that, considering T2's finality of an ending. But since then, the franchise has floundered, producing 3 unsuccessful sequels, none of which Sarah Connor herself (Linda Hamilton) returned on screen for, that is until Terminator: Dark Fate.
Dark Fate is one of those sequels where you can see the potential for it to be great, but it doesn't quite get there. That said, Dark Fate is certainly superior to the previous Terminator sequels, definitely aided by Linda Hamilton's return. But the film's biggest error is not making her the center the story. Instead, Sarah is a supporting character to a new young woman Dani (Natalia Reyes) who, minus a few minor differences, is Sarah from the first film. At its best, the franchise has always been Sarah's story, and while some viewers may think there's nothing left to say about her, Dark Fate provides new material that, if executed better, could've made for a much better film. No spoilers here, but the opening scene delivers a shock--one that is used for character development later in the film, but one that would've had even more potency had this story been centered around Sarah.
Because of this, Dark Fate has a near-constant "been there, done that" feel to it, even though it still manages to provide some new, even thoughtful material (most of which comes from Sarah). The action and visual effects are the biggest issue here. For a $185 million budget, the film possesses some truly lacking visuals. It became apparent just how unconfident director Tim Miller was in showcasing them when Sarah first shoots the new Rev-9. The explosion from Sarah's gun is shown in the trailer, but not in the final cut of the film, no doubt due to how obvious the CGI is. One of the best aspects of Cameron's films was that so much of the action was in-camera, (he even blew up a building in the vein of the hospital explosion in The Dark Knight in T2). The film had astounding special effects (in addition to the pioneering CGI used for the T-1000). I have no doubt if Cameron directed the film, he'd probably use a lot of CGI (he loves it much more now since Avatar), but it'd either be better hidden to look realistic or he'd use practical effects to get his result. In Dark Fate, we neither get good CGI or good special effects, and it severely hampers the film's believability and re-watch value. Even the action sequences, helmed by Tim Miller (Deadpool) are shot so chaotically and with so many close-ups that you can rarely follow it, rendering them more laborious than entertaining.
The good with Dark Fate instead rests with its story. Yes, we've seen the young, seemingly insignificant woman getting hunted before, but the film also introduces Grace (Mackenzie Davis) a hybrid cyborg who was born human before being enhanced to have cyborg-like capabilities. The writers want us to ponder on her humanity more than we actually care to do, but it's still there, and it offers something new, and Davis gives a strong performance. But, as mentioned earlier, the greatest asset the film has is Linda Hamilton, whose character is older and wiser, but still struggling to find self-purpose in life. It's not until she meets Dani--the epitome of herself decades earlier, that she begins to see a reason for her still living, and that is where the film shines brightest. It speaks to our tendency to lose our reason to live as we grow older and seemingly more useless and reminds us that there are reasons to continue--to provide wisdom, understanding, and care to those who are scared and lost like we were back in our 20s.
Terminator: Dark Fate is by no means a great sequel--it fails in the technical department and its story, while still ahead of previous sequels, is hampered by its limited focus on Sarah. That said, it still provides some thoughtful material, while also being surprisingly funny and lighthearted at times, with most of the laughs coming from Hamilton herself. It's become obvious we'll never return to the heights of the first two films, and with Dark Fate projected to lose over $120 million, the franchise itself is probably terminated for the foreseeable future. But one thing is for sure, the legacy of the first two films will never die.
Written by Anthony Watkins, November 9, 2019