There used to be a time where having James Cameron’s name attached to a sci-fi action film meant something. That time is no more it seems. Returning to the franchise (as a producer) he started back in 1984 with The Terminator and then proving sequels can be better than the original with 1991’s T2: Judgement Day, there was hope his involvement would fix the malfunctioning Terminator franchise with Deadpool director Tim Miller after the poor reception for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Genisys (2015).
Well I’m sad to say the magic is gone. Even with the return of Linda Hamilton, reprising her iconic role as Sarah Connor – the poster child of a strong female lead character – Terminator: Dark Fate proved to be the most disappointing addition to the franchise yet. Yes, it’s worse than Genisys. The franchise is terminated.
Terminator: Dark Fate is billed as a direct sequel to T2: Judgement Day and ignores the events of the three other films. Set in 2020, we’re introduced to Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young woman living in Mexico City with her family and as a factory worker with her brother Diego (Diego Boneta). The setup is familiar: an advanced terminator called the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) is sent back in time to kill Dani in order to change the future where humans fight against machines who have wiped out most of humanity. Fortunately for Dani, the human resistance in the future have sent back Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically enhanced super soldier, to protect her. But despite Grace’s enhanced and impressive combat abilities, it’s not going to be enough to protect the spirited Dani. It never is.
Just when Grace is about to fail early on in her mission to protect Dani, none other than Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) turns up to help fight against the advanced killing machine and helps them to safety. With Connor’s experience of evading the authorities (she’s a wanted criminal in all 50 states) and the physical combat superiority of Grace, the two work together to try to keep Dani alive. But it’s only a matter of time before the seemingly indestructible Rev-9 will find them and complete its mission. They must figure out how to terminate the killer machine from 2042 with the limited weapons they have in 2020.
To help with this task they have access to one more ally: Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a T-800 who has lived amongst humans for the past 22 years and became more evolved once separated from Skynet. But will the assistance of the outdated terminator model be enough to ensure the safety of the future of the human race?
The most exciting thing initially about Terminator: Dark Fate was the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. She was amazing in the first two Terminator films and I was ecstatic to learn she was returning. However, if you ignore the terrible script, you realize very quickly once she appears that she’s now the most disappointing element of this film. How do you ruin such an incredible character? Dark Fate found a way. Hamilton is woeful. It pains me to write this but she’s terrible here. What was once an inspiring, fully realized character – complete with flaws and vulnerabilities – who finds the strength to push herself beyond her limits to defeat what felt like an impossibly powerful adversary has been reduced to little more than a two-dimensional cartoon with bad one liners who may as well be a robot much like the machines she hunts.
It’s cringeworthy to watch. The filmmakers are trying so hard to make her a badass that she simply comes across as comical with her wooden, tough persona and unbelievable reactions to life and death situations.
Gabriel Luna also disappointments as the advanced Rev-9 terminator, but not because he gives a bad, implausible performance. In fact, he gives a pretty solid performance as an infiltration robot because he seems like a regular guy and that’s what you’d expect from an infiltration assassin. And there lies the problem: there’s nothing special about him. He’s not menacing, he’s not intimidating and he’s not charismatic. He’s just kind of there. He lacks the presence or menace of what I expect from the main antagonist in a Terminator movie and so he’s just not cinematic or interesting to watch. And that’s pretty much the same of Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis. There’s nothing special or memorable about their performances. They’re all just kind of there.
The only person who manages to salvage some kind of interesting performance is Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Carl, the off-the-grid T-800 who lives a normal life running a business called “Carl’s Draperies”. This T-800 has lived amongst humans for 22 years with a family he’s protected since completing his last mission. He’s noticeably aged, and this setup is interesting as it gives Schwarzenegger something different to work with even though he’s once again playing a model T-800 cyborg. Due to Carl’s evolved state of consciousness he’s actually quite funny and provides some much needed laughs to offset the woefulness of everything else.
The comedy doesn’t really suit the movie, but I welcomed the laughs because of how terrible everything was up until he’s introduced. Despite the ill-placed comedic relief, Schwarzenegger’s performance – and iconic presence – isn’t enough to save Dark Fate.
Director Tim Miller has definitely dropped the ball at bringing new life to the Terminator franchise. So much focus has been put into the special fx (which really aren’t that special) and action sequences that it has come at the expense of telling a decent story and getting decent performances from the actors. I mean, how is it possible to make Linda Hamilton suck in Terminator movie?
There isn’t enough setup for us to care about the new characters before the action starts and to be honest it just felt like a parody of the first two films. Cheesy dialogue. Recreating essentially the same story but with a different evil computer in the future. I mean, who thought replacing Skynet with a system called Legion was a cool idea? It doesn’t even feel like a terminator movie and it offends me as a Terminator fan to even call this a Terminator movie – even with Hamilton and Schwarzenegger’s involvement.
Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t just a disappointing addition to the Terminator franchise, it’s quite frankly the worst Terminator movie ever made. Despite the so-called involvement of James Cameron back into the fold this feels like a total miscalculation about what a Terminator movie should be, not unlike any of the subsequent post-Aliens films were to that franchise. Even looking past the return of its two biggest stars (one great, one not so much) Dark Fate feels like a parody of the first two films, wasting whatever lingering good faith remains of the original setup with boring characters and forgettable action. Perhaps the next film should involve sending someone back in time to prevent the creation of this abomination.