If there is one movie I did not want to watch this year it was Terminator Dark Fate. The sixth movie in a franchise is rarely any good. After Terminator 3 through 5 crashed and burned I was done with the franchise. And yet, the movie is directed by Tim Miller who also directed Deadpool. Furthermore the movie stars Mackenzie Davis as the female version of Kyle Reese. And Mackenzie is quickly becoming the new queen of Science-Fiction. To top it off Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger return in their original franchise role. This at least piqued my interest. After all, how many duds need there to be for the creative staff to understand what the audience really wants.
A convoluted plot
So where to start? Terminator Dark Fate starts in Mexico city. Daniella (Dani) Ramos works in a car factory. Her brother and possible she as well are about to be laid of due to job automation. From the future soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis) arrives to protect Dani from the Terminator (played by Gabriel Luna). The latter has been sent by Legion, the A.I. that did succeed in nearly wiping out mankind instead of Skynet. Grace manages to save Dani, but her brother and family are killed. To top it off Sarah Connor shows up to help save Dani. I won’t go into too much detail of the plot but suffice it to say there are plenty of twists and turns. The end result does feel underwhelming and repetitive.
One turn I will mention. Halfway through the Sarah Connor discovers that the tip that led her to Dani and Grace came from a Terminator sent back just after events of T2 Judgment Day. It killed John Connor in Guatemala and since then has grown a conscious. This was one twist too far for me. The death of John I can understand even if it counters T3 and Salvation. Yet I find it hard to imagine a Terminator going against its own programming and seemingly adjusting to human life.
Continuity from T2 onwards
The deleted scenes of Terminator 2 Judgment Day show how by removing the memory chip from the ‘protector’ Terminator it can achieve self-consciousness and adjust. But who changed the chip of this terminator? Certainly not 90s era Skynet. But hey, Arnold is back for comedic effect. And that works even if it runs counter to the overall theme of the movie. And talking to themes. The trek the protagonists make from Mexico to the US is filled with references to the political situation between the countries and the border wall. In one scene inside a border detention facility Grace asks a doctor where the prisoners are only to be told they are called detainees.
Some have lambasted Terminator Dark Fate as being feminist oriented. It is, but I think there is nothing wrong with that. The only new thing in this movie is that protagonist Dani is revealed to be the leader or commander of the resistance. She becomes a stand-in for John Connor, she is not going to birth to a John Connor like hero, she is the hero. Three female protagonists are a bit much and Arnold brings more balance but overall the pro-strong feminist theme works even if it is on the nose.
What does not work in Terminator Dark Fate
What does not really work are the action scenes. They suffer from all the common flaws in modern action movies, they last too long, they are unbelievable and they contain too much CGI. Terminator Dark Fate is guilty on all charges. However it does not go overboard, it just didn’t do things as well as it could. The last showdown between the protagonists and the Terminator was an exception and made a lot right.
Finally the movie could not help but dosing out too much fan service. Snippets of scenes and dialogue are taken directly from the first two movies. Sadly the soundtrack was not memorable and wholly unoriginal. Composer Tom Holkenberg A.K.A. Junkie XL does not manage to shine like his previous efforts. There was a moment in which I thought there was similarity to the episode The Bells from the eight season of Game of Thrones. Alas that track was composed by Ramin Djawadi, though both are proteges of Hans Zimmer.
Overall, Terminator Dark Fate is a good movie, even a good Terminator movie. Yet, it does not comes close to T1 or T2. For that it is squarely on the wrong side of the quality chasm along with all the other Terminator movies. Dark Fate is also not that legendary Future Wars movie all Terminator fans have wanted to see. Salvation and Genisys had elements of that but ending up failing miserable. Has any of these directors even seen the intro to Terminator 2 Judgment Day? Instead of seeking a new path Terminator Dark Fate does not escape its ancestry.
The most memorable moments are those featuring Mackenzie Davis. Through flash-forwards we her journey of becoming a robotics enhanced super-soldier before she is sent back in time. In some ways it is easier to relate to her than either Dani or Sarah. Speaking of Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton’s performance is all over the map. Sarah is perpetually grumpy and for the viewer it does grow a bit stale near the end. Meanwhile you get the impression that between this movie and T2 Linda Hamilton has actually been Sarah Connor all along. It is difficult to say whether Terminator will ever return for that Future Wars movie. The budget for this movie is around 185 million and they need to at least double that to turn a profit.