Film & TV

Film Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

“The thing that won’t die, in the nightmare that won’t end.” In 1984, this was one of the taglines for James Cameron’s The Terminator and sadly in 2019 it has become an apt description for the franchise itself.

“2015’s Terminator Genisys is the only truly unforgivably dreadful film in the franchise (0/10) and at the start of this review I’d like to look on the positive side and say Dark Fate isn’t as bad as that”

Following the original science fiction thriller, James Cameron directed a truly great sequel in 1991’s genre-busting Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Sadly, after that it all rather went off the rails. Sequels Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) now seem quaint in how the only major objection one can make to them is that they’re boring and not particularly original. 2015’s Terminator Genisys is the only truly unforgivably dreadful film in the franchise (0/10) and at the start of this review I’d like to look on the positive side and say Dark Fate isn’t as bad as that.

But it often comes close.

Discounting all but the first two Terminator films, Dark Fate tells the story of Dani, a young factory worker who finds herself menaced by a new terminator and protected by a futuristic freedom-fighter, as well as a returning Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original killing machine.

“With this film the reasons he [Tim Miller] might not be an ideal director begin to become clear”

When buzz about this film began to come out, I wanted it to be good. For some reason, I’ve come to believe that something interesting could be done with the Terminator franchise in the hands of an able director. Tim Miller is demonstrably not this director. After 2016’s self-indulgent but sporadically entertaining Deadpool he was notably ousted from the director’s chair for the improved sequel, and with this film the reasons he might not be an ideal director begin to become clear.

Whilst calling Terminator an action franchise might be a stretch, the action is often the highlight of any given film. In The Terminator the violence inflicted feels acutely real and dangerous, whereas in Terminator 2 the action scenes are thrilling indicators of a director at the top of their game.

“In Dark Fate, the action scenes feel rather like watching a subpar cartoon”

In Dark Fate, the action scenes feel rather like watching a subpar cartoon. It looks ugly, and lazy. When a film is filled with constant explosions it becomes difficult to care about contrived scenes that only exist to set up the next.

Mainly, I feel sorry for the actors. Linda Hamilton’s much vaunted return to the franchise should have been this film’s great triumph but instead it’s somewhat hollow. In the film’s brightest points she captures some of the incandescent rage and fear of her Terminator 2 portrayal of Sarah Connor, but this feels like an achievement in spite of the film around her.

Mackenzie Davies is sadly also wasted by this film: what should have been a star making turn in 2016’s standout Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” has been followed by bit-parts in bloated sci-fis (this being her first blockbuster role since 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 which was a better film than this by far, but similarly neglected her).

“Her augmented human warrior feels convincing in the quieter scenes but less so when lost in the aforementioned action”

Her augmented human warrior feels convincing in the quieter scenes but less so when lost in the aforementioned action. The other characters are so neglected it feels pointless to even begin to explain how shoddily the script treats the actors. At least Arnie is still getting paid every time a new Terminator film is churned out.

“A cowardly attempt to ape much of what worked about Terminator 2 without understanding why it worked”

Perhaps to some, this won’t seem as big an issue but the crux of the Terminator franchise to me seems to be that you have to actually care about the characters being hunted by the killer robots otherwise why care about the film at all?  Whilst this film has been lauded by some as a return to form, what it really seems to be is a cowardly attempt to ape much of what worked about Terminator 2 without understanding why it worked.

“Much of the promotion for this film was based around nostalgia for that film, but this soon begins to fall apart”

Much of the promotion for this film was based around nostalgia for that film, but this soon begins to fall apart. Linda Hamilton is back! (In a thankless role). Arnie is back, but this time he’s a goodie! (As in Terminator 2, Terminator 3, and Genisys). James Cameron is back as a producer! (But he also was happy to endorse 2016’s awful Genisys).

Perhaps it’s simply time for the franchise to be terminated.

 

1/10

Gareth Bourne

Featured image courtesy of  Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Skydance Media, Tencent Pictures, Lightstorm Entertainment and TSG Entertainment via IMDb.

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