2 out of 5
Directed by: Tim Miller
Having no particular attachment to the Terminator franchise, I had no strong feelings towards the announcements that rolled out regarding the 6th entry, Dark Fate – each one a mix of positives and negatives: that James Cameron was involved (a great showman, but by no means a film genius); that Tim Miller was directing (Deadpool was a lot of fun, but that didn’t necessarily translate to a sci-fi epic); that David Goyer was involved with the script (lots of pluses and minuses in that career…); that T3 and beyond would be ignored (I enjoyed some of those, but the “timeline” of the series had never been great); that Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton would be returning (might as well add another familiar face)… When the film released, and the reception wasn’t great, with a lot of backlash regarding killing of John Connor in this T1-and-T2-are-the-only-canon-flicks-timeline, I’d say I became more interested: it sounded like the movie was favoring streamlined spectacle over trying to go all timey-wimey plotty, and without any of those aforementioned Terminator attachments, maybe that meant I could enjoy it as a popcorn flick.
And for the first section of the movie – one long, non-stop chase with bad-Termy-from-the-future Gabriel Luna versus good-human-from-the-future Mackenzie Davis and present-day-normie-to-become-important Natalia Reyes – that held true. Our new Terminator is a “Rev-9” model, and opts for some kind of liquid technology that allows for morphing, and disassembling, and creating clones; our future human has tech implants that give her super strength; and the movie just barrels through its setup rather hilariously, seemingly trusting that, y’know, you get it – robots bad; humans good – and sets up brawls and insane car chases within minutes, not letting up on the brakes whatsoever. It’s seeming like T: Dark Fate will be just all adrenalin, good guys running away from the bad, seeing as how Rev-9s gooey self is more unstoppable than all those previous unstoppable models, and I’m down for a Crank-like Terminator entry. When a wizened Sarah Connor (Hamilton) shows up and utters a classic one-liner, I crack a smile. This movie will be dumb, but fun.
Up until that point, anyway.
The next few scenes start to paint a different picture: of a movie that loses its sense of relative grounding of foot and car chases for increased spectacle with floaty, non-impactful CGI – there’s never any sense of thrill in these scenes – and that tries to backpedal into plotting relevance by playing story keepaway oh-so-obviously: when Reyes’ character asks why we’re running away from future robots, instead of going with the terse, no-bones-about-it route that the first few clipped dialogue choices went with, we get mysterious “don’t worry about it” type replies; Connor, who is wanted in 50 states and apparently has been tussling, successfully, with several Terminators over the past several years, is happily following around texts from an unknown source – oooh, who could it be? – that tell her where to find her prey. Flashbacks to Mackenzie’s past (our future) occur without consequence in the story; forced who-can-we-trust? drama between all the gals leads to more space-filling, cookie cutter dialogue; the one-long-chase potential gives way to stupid stops and starts that draw way too much attention to the complete lack of logic in the lack of planning of this trio, and the spotty way our liquid Rev-9 is either invincible or, like, not. I breathed a sigh of relief when we seemed to be getting to the final confrontation, only to note that there were still forty minutes to go…
Sidestepping the post T2 entries seemed, initially, to be a smart way of trying to clear the slate. Terminator was a well done B-movie; the series has been trying to clean up its logic inconsistencies from thereafter, and so stripping it back down could’ve worked. And for that breathless first chunk of the movie, Terminator: Dark Fate looks to be doing just that, and amping up the action for a modern day audience who’s seen it all, and knows the beats. But then the movie loses its confidence, and doubles down on plotting stupidity, and throws noise at the screen when the filmmakers are no longer really sure if they should be pitching to classic Terminator fans, or those who’ve maybe never seen the films before.
I don’t have any problem with them killing John Conner. But I have a problem with an unfocused action film that can’t even manage to be very distracting when it’s at its loudest.