The latest entry in the Terminator franchise, after the less than stellar Genisys, is certainly the most divergent. The cast is now mostly female, making up a fierce trio of various ages. There’s a shift in the location that favors more of the dusty and gritty landscapes of Mexico and Texas. There’s even just a dash of updated societal commentary. This sounds great if only Dark Fate had the metal guts to go the extra mile and not fall back on the rusty, old trademarks of the saga.
A New Future
In classic Terminator fashion, we’re introduced to a distorted timeline that takes place after Terminator 2. We learn that Skynet has been defeated so there’s no more future of time-traveling robot hunters. Well, not THAT kind of future anyway. In its place is a dark future of better Terminators developed by the Legion company. A forgettable name for a company you won’t find out much about.
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), however, has been waiting. Even after being absent from the franchise for so long, she has aged like a fine wine of a Terminator-fighting warrior. Her latest mission finds her trying to defend the young Dani (Natalia Reyes) from a T-1000 (Gabriel Luna) from the future. Though Dani has help from the time-traveling cyborg Grace (Mackenzie Davis), she could still use the help of someone who knows the lay of the land enough. Oh, and the T-800 is present as well because it seems we can never escape having Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Terminator movie.
A Soft Sequel
The film proceeds through a lot of the familiar routes. Dani is pursued by the T-1000 in a similar chase to Terminator 2, complete with a car chase of a lumbering truck. Sorry, this isn’t a T-1000 but a Rev-9, more or less a combination of the Terminators from the first two films. Hamilton shows up just in time to deliver the obligatory order of following if you want to live. Exposition is delivered of the day that Earth falls to the machines. Details about how Legion did this are not important. All you need to know is that the future depends on Dani and most likely her child.
So, yeah, Dani is the new John Connor. And that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the film has to literally point this out. This is probably my biggest gripe about the film in how blunt it goes for the themes. Hamilton even has to state at one point that the Terminator’s real target is Dani’s womb being a dangerous weapon. She’s not wrong but must it be blasted so shamelessly obvious? Are audiences really that dumb not to see it? Even more maddening is that the film also presents aspects of automation and immigration. These themes are treated more like mild ingredients than strong parts of the film.
With Age Comes Grit
Of course, most audiences are not coming to this picture for commentary most subtle. The real draw here is Hamilton kicking ass once more and it’s hard to not dig her performance here. Hardened and snarling, she’s an exceptional action hero the way she leaps onto the scene with plenty of guns and explosives, ready for battle. Her introduction is nothing short of mesmerizing and awesome, the way she casually chucks a grenade and smirks.
Hamilton easily steals the show but that’s mostly because her supporting female players are rather generic. Dani has her moments but mostly goes through the emotions of being terrified of Rev-9 to triumphantly defeating the machine. Grace can hold her own in a fight but she holds more energy than personality. As for Arnold, well, he’s Arnold. He shows up, makes some dead-pan one-liners and merely serves his purpose as the machine-muscle. And the Rev-9 melds too well into the role of an unfeeling machine he rarely carries a menace the computer graphics don’t supply him with.
I wish I could feel more for Terminator: Dark Fate but it always feels like it comes up short with such strong components. Hamilton has action star written all over her but is essentially handed a ride she’s been on before. There is some unique restructuring to the staging but it merely feels like swapping of locations and names for how little it takes advantage. I even dig the new take of shifting the focus of the heroes. The protagonists are now a Mexican woman and what is essentially a cyborg diabetic.
Any grace within such a narrative, however, is stripped for bluntness as big as the action. Yes, the action is big and vicious with plenty of explosions. There’s just something so empty, however, about watching Hamilton and Schwarzenegger together again for little more than a standard Terminator scuffle.