Directed by Tim Miller
October 23, 2019 (Europe) / November 1, 2019 (United States)
John Connor was terminated in 1998 but Terminators keep coming back and now Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) must help a soldier from the future protect the new savior of humanity.
Dark Fate is a great action movie but the worst of all the Terminator films. They decided to take 35+ years of film lore and dump it. But that is not entirely what makes it a bad Terminator film. They replace John Connor, who inspired humanity during their darkest hour to put aside differences and join together to fight a common foe, with a character whose sole inspirational moment in the film comes down to “Machines bad. We should fight them!” and somehow that inspires droves of people to pop out from the rubble like gophers in a desert and follow her. As if nobody else thought that. It is quite possibly one of the worst motivational speeches put the film.
For the past few decades John Connor had been really built up. In the world of the Terminator the character was Christlike. He was an infallible leader. He was wise and caring and born for a single purpose. How do you dump that for Dani (Natalia Reyes)? John Connor from birth was molded by his mother to be a leader. The character of Dani magically becomes one. She states the obvious and people put her in charge. Skynet was such a terrible threat that only someone unique who had been groomed from their beginning could stop it. Legion can be beaten by anybody as evidenced by Dani who has nothing in her presented background that she could take charge of an army to defeat a genocidal menace.
At the end of the film Dani suddenly takes charge from the three more experienced tacticians present at the dam and starts barking orders. And it occurs with little to no discussion. Even Sarah Connor who has been kicking Terminator ass for decades is cool with it after a movie where the character of Sarah has been largely combative with every character the group has encountered. She just suddenly rolls over and goes along.
Arnold returns for what amounts to a secondary part as yet another Terminator. I am not sure if he should even have to come back for this movie. His presence is solely for nostalgia. Skynet has just one face now to use for its advanced infiltration unit? In Kyle’s dream sequence in the first film and as implied by that character there were a few faces used. Skynet cannot be so dumb as to think a Terminator with the same face will be successful each time-especially if it must keep sending them back.
And why did they make this Terminator model have a drapery business? Why the joke as it was clearly intended in a film that lacks the usual action film jokes? They could have given him any number of other professions that fit his skill set but they try to be funny here for some reason. I have no issue with a Terminator trying to find a purpose once its mission is over. It would be a logical outgrowth of the concept. I have a problem making it a joke that felt forced.
They were trying to use all sorts of weapons to kill the new Terminator, but it was established in Terminator 3 that Terminators have a power cell that when it becomes unstable gets quite explosive. Blow the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) to kingdom come. Did this Skynet Terminator not have that very explosive power cell within its body? And if not, what was it powered by? For me they ignored an important part of the lore when their original plan fell apart. I know they wanted no part of anything beyond the second film but was using even a bit of technical info too much for Tim Miller and the gang?
In this movie we got what amounted to two Sarah Connors. We got the original Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton who did not blink a whole lot through the whole film, and we got the future Sarah Connor in the form of the enhanced soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Grace is supposed to have this deep personal connection to Dani from the future but unlike Kyle Reese with Sarah you never feel it. It is not romantic like it was with Kyle Reese but there is no emotion there. Perhaps that is because the character keeps referring to what she is doing as her mission to the point it’s beaten into your brain and the personal connection is barely referenced.
Grace’s whole plan to keep Dani safe revolves around running from the Rev-9. She talked about being rebuilt to kill Terminators yet all she does is run. She is to protect the new savior of humanity but even the character seems to understand she cannot run forever given the limitations of her enhancements and the aftereffects of using them. Why didn’t she stay and try to kill it in their first encounter? Staying to fight is what she is built for.
How is anybody still left alive in this new future? The Skynet replacement called Legion appears to have vastly superior technology to humans and has started off its assault on humanity much more effectively than Skynet ever did yet there is an effective human resistance going on against it. The new Terminators alone shown in the future sequence were fast-moving morphing killing machines that were way more lethal than anything shown before, yet humanity seems to be making out pretty good.
A great deal of the film is spent building up Dani. At least trying to build her up. The character never quite reaches the level of messianic. She just ends up feeling like the leader from a Terminator wannabe with a much smaller budget than this movie has. There is no reverence for the character as there was initially for John or even Sarah Connor. Both were seen as mythic by Kyle Reese even though he had a serious crush on one of them. Dani was just a girl from Mexico City.
The dialogue is not up to snuff. Action films are not generally filled with deep or sophisticated dialogue. The dialogue here is just meant to remind you of the switcheroo and drive home Sarah Connors bitterness. It never works though to actually establish Dani as the next John Connor. Instead it serves to point out in this latest iteration that any person that finds them chased by a Terminator will be the next leader of humanity. That is the way it comes off to me.
It is a good action film. The movie is more or less one long chase with the characters continually running. It is always cool to watch Terminator battles and these are satisfying here. The action scenes are this film’s only saving grace. They are well choreographed and visually impressive. But that is all Dark Fate really has. The story is bad. The characters are boring. And as a fan that has been invested in the lore since the mid-80s this is not a good or welcomed direction. This is not an expansion of the mythology. This is a complete dumping of it.
And that is unfortunate. Because this should have been a great Terminator film with James Cameron returning to the film series as a producer that put him on the map as a director but instead it was a film more akin to a Terminator knock off than it was to an actual Terminator movie. Action film fans that do not discriminate will enjoy this movie, but Terminator fans might be hard pressed to like it. I fall into the latter.
Dark Fate is not without its moments, but it is a significant downward turn in the franchise. As much as I would like to see more Terminator movies it might be time to stop. Just skip this.