The predictable TERMINATOR: DARK FATE does nothing to elevate or redefine a franchise destined for the scrap heap.
By Matt Cummings
The Terminator franchise is a victim of its own success. Once a proud series that probably ushered in the dystopian subgenre, THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2 painted a grim picture of humanity’s future by suggesting that our reliance on machines would be our undoing. Unfortunately, that innovative element which birthed a franchise never matured beyond its original programming. TERMINATOR: DARK FATE fails to recapture the glory of the original two films, focusing instead on car chases and explosions, rather than a meaningful innovation to re-spark what’s become an all too predictable cacophony.
When a new Terminator is sent into the past to destroy Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), it’s up to fellow good-girl Terminator Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to defend her. The duo is joined by Sarah Conner herself (Linda Hamilton reprising the role), who knows about the attacks (and there have been several) via cryptic messages on her phone. The threat doesn’t come from Skynet, but a new corporation called Legion. With the renewed threat to humanity, the team seeks out the source of the cryptic messages, only to find out that an older Terminator model (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the sender. As the team learns about Dani’s role in the coming war, former enemies are forced to work together in a now-familiar struggle.
In addition to limiting itself to an action picture, DARK FATE makes another critical error in its conception: that humanity in the present is either too stupid or too divided to understand the ramifications of a connected world. None of the heroes seem willing to expose the Terminators in the present, even though literally hundreds of people in DARK FATE witness their power. This decision forces the movie into a series of overly-computerized run-and-hide action sequences, rather than focusing on the characters and their interaction with a world oblivious to the coming calamity. Meant as a palette cleanse of RISE OF THE MACHINES, SALVATION and GENYSIS, Director Tim Miller and Producer James Cameron simply want you to forget they exist. Unfortunately, neither sees the franchise for more than its ever been, and that begins to weigh heavily upon things as one opportunity after another for innovation is ignored.
DARK FATE suffers from the same problem that has infested STAR WARS, refusing to advance beyond its original programming of Rebels vs Empire. That leaves the generally decent trio of Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Davis to do little more than protect and react. There’s no discussion of humanity’s love affair with technology, no moment of the utter brutality of nuclear war and no wider effort to head off the crisis by exposing it. Even the explanation of John Connor’s whereabouts – which could have generated an instant visceral reaction by the audience – isn’t as effective as it could have been. People drop dead in such numbers that the newest Terminator actually loses our interest after one bloody encounter after another. He’s neither interesting to watch, nor does he exude the stage presence of former Terminators.
There are many questions about DARK FATE that have lingered throughout the series, chief among them is the decision to send single machines instead of an army into the past to kill our heroes. There are many times when our heroes barely seem able to defend themselves; imagine what adding just one more baddie could have achieved. There’s also no explanation for why only one is sent at a time. Another persistent question arises with the arrival of Schwarzenegger, who instead of barricading himself behind an arsenal should have been amassing an army of robots. Imagine a battle lead by humans, fighting alongside the machines who were destined to kill us. Now that would have been some worthy watching. Instead, Arnold tells us that he’s got a sense of humor and is excellent at selling and installing drapes. I’m not kidding here, these moments actually happen.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE does nothing to elevate or redefine a once worthy franchise. Its insistence on presenting humanity as doomed and reactionary, rather than hopeful and pragmatic, forces the audience into another predictable pattern of run and hide, hoping this time that the effort will stick. It doesn’t. Every franchise is destined for an ending; the trouble is knowing when to end things. DARK FATE reminds us how a great concept can be run into the ground. There is a rewarding ending here for the franchise, but Hollywood ever accept it?
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE is Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity and has a runtime of 128 minutes.