Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Genre: Action and Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.

Release Date: November 1st, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tim Miller Actors: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Arnold Schwarzenegger

 


 

L

inda Hamilton finally returns to reprise her role as formidable target Sarah Connor, after nearly three decades. But is it too late? As it turns out, yes it is. Seeing her with the same sunglasses, the same inflexible visage, and a hoard of heavy weaponry as she guns down metal juggernauts is lightly nostalgic – but mostly meaningless.

“There was once a future … without hope,” she begins, chronicling how she saved the planet from annihilation at the hands of ungovernable artificial intelligence. But humankind is doomed to repeat itself in one form or another; stopping Skynet has only delayed the inevitable. In its place comes Legion, which is essentially the same thing – a man-made computer system that decides that people are the root of all problems and must be eliminated. Almost comically, Sarah doesn’t actually stop the death of her son, who was supposed to grow up to lead the rebellion against the Terminators. She’s averted one timeline in favor of another, which merely reaches the same outcome via a slower path. In 2020 in Mexico City, young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is the new target for futuristic, murderous automatons. Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back in time to protect Dani, an Arius Motors car factory worker, while a hi-tech REV-9 model Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is sent to kill her.

The familiar electrical sparks, the glowing orb of matter displacement, and the fit, naked body of a time-traveler mark the introductions of the protector and the slayer, followed by action sequences of failed apprehensions and clothes-robbing. It’s clearly a nod to the other films (though it doesn’t make sense that time travel hasn’t changed at all – surely someone in the future would have invented a way not to send nude people in radiant blue balls), but the repetition isn’t a great start. It may establish iconic imagery, but it appears as needless reiteration more than a respectful homage.

Interesting – but not mind-blowing – are the notes about machinery replacing humans. At Dani’s job, her brother is laid off in favor of a more efficient robotic arm that can accomplish assembly-line work with fewer errors. And modern invasions of privacy and data collection are abused by skillful AI. Of course, this clashes with the film’s overuse of CG; rather than depending on more realistic practical effects, the occasionally state-of-the-art computer animation takes over for most of the action and stunts. But very few of these scenes are impressive; when everything is fake, there’s little reason to be amused by overwrought suspense. The REV-9 reuses liquid metal tricks (such as stabbing weapons, which have become more severe), with a couple of new additions, yet it’s disappointing to see that the writers haven’t really designed anything fresh. All of the advancements in technology can’t seem to surpass the same morphing techniques from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” And for every minimally updated Terminator gimmick, Hamilton painfully spouts a hackneyed catchphrase.

It’s tough to continue reviving this franchise when new story ideas are so plainly absent. The faces have changed (though some have not), the places have shifted, and the timelines have been altered, but the battles, conflicts, heroes, villains, and bleak future are virtually identical. No matter how many subsequent films are made, self-aware robots will eventually wipe out the planet. But even the perpetually echoing themes aren’t the biggest problems in “Terminator: Dark Fate”; overly convenient plot devices are indicative of terribly lazy writing. One self-reflexive moment attributes phone hacking to “future shit,” which is at least an attempt to inform the audience that things can happen with no explanation.

But the characters repeatedly call upon handy connections, encounter helpful allies, and benefit greatly from just-in-the-nick-of-time coincidences. One of the most pitiful is Grace’s high metabolism, which forces her to inject herself with medicine to keep going (like the Flash when he needs food to sustain his speed), a shortcoming created specifically to generate tension – only for numerous sequences to randomly solve the dilemma by having someone hand her a hypodermic needle that just happened to be lying around. Yet much of this is by design; when the technology is too sophisticated, the chase becomes far less fun. And so the getaways must be conducted at the last possible second and protagonists must always be on the verge of losing to their enemies. At countless points in the picture, one minute sooner or later would result in the deaths of everyone.

The big reveal of Arnold Schwarzenegger once again donning the speech and mannerisms of his star-making T-800 turn is no surprise at all, sadly, thanks to the marketing and publicity. But the tone definitely gets funnier once he shows up, primarily due to his casual human conversations, not quite authentically mimicking true humanness. But everything tends to feel pointless when the same end-of-the-world predicament boils down to one person versus an unstoppable shape-shifting steamroller. Also detrimental is when the action scenes – which this series often depends on – fail to outdo those seen in predecessors; they may be complex and protracted, but they’re hopelessly unrealistic, gravity-defying, physics-ignorant jumbles of chaos and fury. Unlike in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (which couldn’t live up to the anticipation of its 12-year wait), this sixth entry doesn’t even possess a single set piece worthy of revisiting. And when a Terminator film doesn’t have awe-inspiring action, it really doesn’t have anything at all.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10