The new “Terminator” movie seems to think it changes everything, but changes absolutely nothing. I suppose that’s how I should view the franchise at this point. It’s the same premise each time, with the same callbacks, winks, and nods to previous entries. This one has an action sequence that could have been the best in the franchise, had it not been so dark that I couldn’t tell who was punching who. Perhaps that’s what earns it the title of “Dark Fate.”
If I asked the writers of this latest “Terminator” film to map out the timeline at this point, they wouldn’t be able to. If I asked James Cameron to do the same, he probably wouldn’t know what details to map out because he hasn’t checked in to this franchise since he last directed it. At least, he hasn’t taken it seriously. And that’s how I approach each “Terminator” film – with no seriousness and no expectations. It’s served me well for a franchise that has repeated itself time and time again. “Genisys” was hated by most, but I at least appreciated that it was doing something different, even if it destroyed any sense of continuity. “Salvation” looked like a pile of trash, and it was. It looked more like a cheap video game than a film, and I couldn’t have cared less about its characters. The third one was serviceable, but highly uninteresting. The first two are action/sci-fi classics that have been shamelessly copied by their own creators. Like the Terminators themselves, these films have lacked soul.
“Dark Fate” introduces us to new characters and old ones, and I have to say, it’s great to see Linda Hamilton back kicking ass. The performances are all quite good. Mackenzie Davis shines as an augmented human, meaning she is part machine, part woman. She has the strength and agility of a Terminator, but requires regular injections of chemical compounds to maintain her abilities. Natalia Reyes is great as Dani Ramos, who is essentially the new John Connor. Instead of Skynet, we now have Legion that has taken over the future. Remember how I said that nothing has really changed? There is one important moment at the beginning of the film that actually isn’t expected, and it’s sad to think that seemed the only way to take the franchise in a “new” direction. I understand the decision though to help drive the narrative forward.
I’ll give Tim Miller credit for making me invested in these characters. For having another recycled plot, the characters needed to be front and center. Arnold is ever-reliable in his most iconic role, and is much more respectable here than he was in “Genisys.” As he says, he has found purpose. The ending scene suggests that sequels are planned with Dani Ramos leading the way. Is there another “Salvation”-esque disaster in the works? Or will we just go with a T-7 Model 6 Work 9 Make 4 coming back to try to kill her?
I enjoyed “Dark Fate.” I enjoyed watching some well-drawn female leads kick some Terminator ass. I didn’t feel that the amount of femininity in the film was ever forced, and fortunately there aren’t any overly-cliched female moments. There is no social commentary or male put-downs. This is meant to be a fun action movie. I knew I had found it to be so when I thought I could hear the drums of the theme song being played through the bumps in the road on my drive back from the theatre.
Although I know I said that I don’t take the timeline seriously, there is one thing that nags at me – should I even act like the last three films existed? I wish “Dark Fate” had been the first retcon since “Judgement Day.” Things would make sense, and the franchise would probably still be bankable, if only for the nostalgia. Let’s hope they can come up with something original the next time around, otherwise I fear that this franchise will be terminated.