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Terminator: Dark Fate Movie Review

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) movie poster Terminator: Dark Fate

Theatrical Release: November 1, 2019 / Running Time: 128 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Tim Miller / Writers: James Cameron, Charles Eglee, Josh Friedman (story); David Goyer, Justin Rhodes (story & screenplay); Billy Ray (screenplay)

Cast: Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800/Carl), Mackenzie Davis (Grace), Natalia Reyes (Dani Ramos), Diego Boneta (Diego Ramos)

 

Most people would agree that James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) was a landmark in science fiction.
Most also think highly of its first sequel, 1991's T2: Judgment Day, an enormous box office success and an Oscar winner for Visual Effects. After that is where things get murky. Arriving twelve years later, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines made plenty of money, but isn't particularly well-regarded. Terminator Salvation attempted to extend the franchise without Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became the Governor of California mere months after T3 opened. Its returns were not great considering its hefty budget and follow-up plans were dashed. Still, the franchise was revived again in 2015 with Terminator Genisys, which brought back Schwarzenegger and his virtually indestructible T-800 but underperformed domestically and drew the worst reviews of the series.

In light of that, it's not clear how just four years later we could be getting the sixth installment in the franchise. Terminator: Dark Fate is not a sequel the public was clamoring for, but it is making use of a recognizable and at least long-respected brand, something that Paramount Pictures has a shortage of to their disadvantage in these tentpole-driven times. Schwarzenegger is back in his most iconic role and though that isn't terribly exciting since he already reprised his character just a few years ago, he is joined by Linda Hamilton, who returns to the franchise for the first time since T2.

In many ways, Hamilton was the star of T2, playing LA waitress turned formidable badass Sarah Connor, a mother determined to protect her teenaged son from those trying to prevent him from fulfilling his destiny as future leader of the human Resistance against the Skynet uprising. Despite that film and the two MTV Movie Awards she won for it, Hamilton moved to start a family with Cameron and her potentially booming film career went bust after one high-profile credit (the 1997 disaster movie Dante's Peak). Her reprisal of Sarah Connor is undoubtedly the most exciting thing about Dark Fate, which speaks as much to the franchise's limited appeal as it does to Hamilton's lost decades.

Linda Hamilton returns to the Terminator franchise for the first time in nearly thirty years, playing the aging but no less formidable Sarah Connor in "Terminator: Dark Fate."

Rewriting its history yet again, Dark Fate opens not long after the fateful August 1997 day that loomed over T2. At a beach in Guatemala, the T-800 is sent from the future to murder the teenaged John (a digitally recreated Edward Furlong).

The rest of our narrative takes place in 2020 and focuses on Grace (Tully's Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically enhanced human soldier, trying to protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from an advanced Terminator prototype (Gabriel Luna) who's deadset on killing her. Sarah Connor, who has spent these past twentysome years hunting and killing Terminators both to avenge her son and prevent a future reckoning, joins the fray. As does Carl, a certain aging Terminator you might recognize as the Austrian-accented face of the franchise.

Directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool), Dark Fate credits its story to five men and its screenplay to three. Among the story men are Cameron himself (story), marking his first credited involvement with the franchise since 1991. The screenwriters, meanwhile, include David S. Goyer (the Dark Knight trilogy) and Billy Ray (The Hunger Games). Everyone with a hand in the plot seems to know what's considered hip, progressive, and marketable in 2019. Thus, Dark Fate is full of strong female characters and employs an international cast and Mexican settings to increase its global appeal.

The cybernetically enhanced human soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has a bigger role than Arnold Schwarzenegger's iconic T-800 in "Terminator: Dark Fate."

The goal seems to be to make the Mad Max: Fury Road of Terminator movies, but there doesn't appear to be any good reason to reconcile that celebrated postapocalyptic George Miller flick with this long in the tooth franchise
that keeps rewriting its timelines and recasting its roles. Schwarzenegger is absent from most of the first hour of the film and while these new characters hold our attention, their plight isn't nearly as concerning to us as it is to them.

There is enough money (a $185 million production budget) and talent here to ensure we get a polished and reasonably entertaining piece of action sci-fi. And the film earns the R rating that eluded the past two installments, restoring the edge that was always present in Cameron's original movies. But for the most part, this feels like a hopeless and pointless pursuit. The heyday of the Terminator universe stretched only from the mid-'80s to the infancy of CGI in the early '90s. Many have seen the subsequent efforts, but the franchise hasn't been lapsed enough to give this the excitement of resurrection that Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and even the puzzling Fury Road offered.

Dark Fate can endure comparison to some other expensive mainstream entertainment, like the recent Will Smith dud Gemini Man. But it cannot stand up to close scrutiny or make a convincing non-financial case for its existence. I'm not even sure its existence is a savvy business move after the last movie grossed less than $90 million domestically in a mid-summer release. Perhaps the US and Canada are just afterthoughts for this production. They're the only territories where Paramount is distributing, the rest are being handled by Fox (a.k.a. industry giant Disney), which has never before been involved with the franchise as far as I can tell.

Needless to say, when trying to make sense of where the money is coming and going is more interesting than trying to make sense of the story and characters, this is not a film I can recommend to anyone but diehard Hamilton fans who have been itching to see her kick butt in her sixties.

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Reviewed November 2, 2019.



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