Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Though improving on its unwatchable T3-Genisys kin with sharp VFX, badass Davis + Luna choreography, & Hamilton, D.F.’s a tired reboot of the same plot, miscast new lead, & Last Jedi-level self-sabotage/series-malign. Hasta la vista, franchise. 5/10.

Plot Synopsis: In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos. Also sent back in time is Grace, a hybrid cyborg human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. But the two women soon find some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected allies — seasoned warrior Sarah Connor and the T-800 Terminator.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review: 1984, Hollywood. The theater is packed, popcorn popped, & refreshments ready for a young director named James Cameron to unveil a sci-fi cyborg flick that would change history like its premise’s characters did. Inspired by a bizarre mechanistic dream he had (& the work of horror legend John Carpenter’s methodical 1978 slasher Halloween), Terminator redefined the blockbuster – spawning franchises, sequels, TV series, comic books, novels, etc. But where does it stop? At what point do you go from loving Schwarzenegger’s inimitable badass machismo.. to being sick of the sight? That’s about the point we’ve arrived at, and the most ironic thing is: Hollywood seems to have been creating the daggers tailor-made to end (& possibly: ruin) their own franchises. Though an improvement on its unwatchable T3-Genisys kin with sharp VFX, badass Davis and Luna fight choreography, & Hamilton’s return, Dark Fate is a tired reboot of the same plot & movie with a poor Reyes-miscast new lead & Last Jedi-level series-damange/malign. Time to bid ‘hasta la vista, [franchise].’

Sharp VFX & badass Luna/Davis choreographed-action. Starting with the positives: the VFX are great with some smart upgrades for our Terminating adversaries. The Rev-9’s can seamlessly liquify & re-materialize to get out of tight spots, hide in plain sight by cloning their kills, weaponize any part of their morphology (including hydra-like tentacles radiating from their backs and making their arms into freaking spears/blades), & duplicate themselves for even more bedlam & efficacy than thought imaginable – for a glorious (albeit not pass-worthy due to the advantages modern technology affords it over its ancestors) vision of what the concept could be morphologically. These enhancements are put to good use in the *sensational* fight choreography by director Tim Miller’s team (who, with Deadpool/superhero backgrounds, I suspected would at least deliver on battle sequences) plus badass castings in Mackenzie Davis’ show-stealing punk girl protagonist Grace and our newest (fast & capable) Terminator: Gabriel Luna.

Return of Linda Hamilton & diversification. Besides the exhilarating action brought to life by stellar VFX & a thrillingly-paced digital-dominant score, the biggest difference this entry has over its unwatchable T3-Genisys kin is two words: Linda Hamilton. A presence that just screams nostalgia with power and snappy line delivery rife with sarcasm & wit reminiscent of the franchise’ (eons-ago) glory days, Hamilton’s volatility changes the mix in the best of ways at least doing her part in the mix. Arnold is also ‘bahck’ – with a family, (funny) dad jokes, maintained power in duel scenes, and some surprising emotional development as well – giving the machine almost a heart and experience of what it means to be human. Also, I appreciate the diversity of filming locations in spectacular Mexico City and giving Latinos some rightful film representation finally, & (while it’s far too under-explored) the social commentary of the labor sector getting replaced by machines in the beginning was a resonant, applicable point that was a nice touch it could’ve had more of.

Flaws: basically everything else. The film runs a solid 30+ min too long, sacrificing any semblance of intellectual fortitude for an overblown, explosion-filled final act I could feel my brain cell-count drop during. Natalia Reyes is absolutely *awful* as Dani – a deal-breaker by how prominently she’s featured. I’m convinced Birds of Passage was a fluke (although come to think of it, her character did little to nothing acting-wise – maybe why she escaped any criticism in the Colòmbian masterpiece), because Reyes can’t act or deliver a serious line to save her life. As stated, I absolutely adore the diversification of filmic roles – especially in blockbusters wherein the acting is usually of little consequence (and Luna is fantastic as the latest cold & calculating Terminator), but it does a disservice to everyone on both sides of the aisle to cast someone who’s clearly shaky and inexperienced as an actress being unable to command a presence like Reyes.. especially in an intense, storied franchise like Terminator wherein her character is essentially to be the entire face of the franchise after killing John Connor (don’t even get me started on that yet..) the entire human race is supposed to rally behind in dark ages.

The film also reads exactly the same plot-wise as the original Terminators – in a tired, subpar slosh/rehash of the concept: T-model sent back in time from future, tries to kill girl, hero figure saves them, they run then confront terminator, the end. I mean, 6 films in, you’ve got to be able to at least change the plot or concept a little, right!? Besides its yawn-inducing unoriginality as a problematic modern trend of studios wanting to avoid any risk-taking for shameless profiteering off n-teenth reboots and remakes at the expense of the artform, this one manages to even somehow insult the originals it’s copying – for a PTSD-inducing flashback to the unspeakable dread I felt watching TLJ last winter.

The Last Jedi all over again. What’s most unforgivable about this new Terminator – which I’ll bet will incite the fandom and bring about a thankful end to this franchise at the box office – is that it spits in the face of the original series, with a slanderous malign so shocking, I thought I was sitting through TLJ again. They decided to kill off John Connor.. yes, JOHN CONNOR: the hero we’ve spent 35+ YEARS rallying behind as the central character to the entire lore/franchise.. within the first five minutes of the film. I could not believe what I had witnessed – and it makes zero sense too. After the events of T2 wherein Cyberdyne is erased from existence, John Connor should have been erased from existence as well in the timeline – as would the T-1000’s sent back to stop him by a company which would have never existed in the future.

The entire premise of T1/2 – that Dark Fate seems to fundamentally-misunderstand – is that you have agency, you can change fate & save the world. Now they’re retconning/backtracking saying you can’t and that he was always destined to be killed (either ensuring that Cyberdyne had no resistance leader thus promising their totalitarian dominance, or a new timeline wherein his (somehow) existence afterwards is still being sent Terminators to kill.. from a timeline event that never existed and didn’t even matter?) The film is shockingly messy plotwise, riddled with holes & illogic that are not only entirely unnecessary & wildly-irresponsible – but attack the premise and institution of the originals – all to make some ‘woke’, virtue-signaling feminist point I thought Hollywood had learned by box office takes is not working when done so abrasively. Constantly harped upon in the film (seriously, like 6-7x) is the one plot point that the originals’ future-savior of mankind is a man: John Connor – insinuating some kind of sexist agenda Cameron & co. had undertonally because it was a man.. completely oblivious to the fact that the main character of the series’ best entries in T1-2 is Sarah. This smear/alienation attempt of its originals, exactly akin to Last Jedi’s “killing the old” Star Wars – we saw how that turned out – is all in order to reboot the entire franchise under a new PC-lead. The only problem is the casting and cringiness of the character herself – one who can apparently move crowds of people who have lost their entire families and civilization to a race of cybernetic master-killers.. with Powerpuff Girl-like ‘we can do it’ motivational speeches straight out the dimlit halls of Holiday Inn seminars or children’s soccer games.

Overall, I had immensely high hopes for Dark Fate going in. On paper, the film looks fantastic – directed by Tim Miller of Deadpool fame, return of Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis choreography, & modern VFX. However, the film and franchise sabotaged itself, likely putting an end to the premise once and for all in the biggest (illogical, unnecessary) self-induced implosion I can remember since TLJ last winter. Though an improvement on its unwatchable T3-Genisys kin with sharp VFX, badass Davis and Luna fight choreography, & Hamilton’s return, Dark Fate is a tired reboot of the same plot & movie with a poor Reyes-miscast new lead & Last Jedi-esque series-damage/malign. Time to bid hasta la vista, franchise.

Official CLC Score: 5/10