Terminator Dark Fate (***1/2) No Fate But…

Terminator Dark Fate – 2019

Director Tim Miller
Screenplay David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta

So much of the history of this franchise revolves around who owned the rights of this film. Essentially, the trick was to try and get it’s true father, James Cameron, to bless the effort. The last time around, someone paid him enough to salute the start of the film. His language, in retrospect was rightly specific. Eventually, the ownership lined up so that Cameron came back on as producer and he even pitched in on the story. Then, in the ultimate coup, they brought back Linda Hamilton.

This brilliant move helps to ease the conscience of those who have been put off by the many attempts to bury or replace the character of Sarah Connor. None of these efforts worked particularly well, outside of the tv series with Lena Headey playing her as a rightful heroine. The last film is an unmitigated turd that punctuated the post T2 film’s biggest weakness: there’s only so many ways to keep retelling this story.

Well, here’s another attempt. Cameron famously watched the last three films to find out what not to do with Terminator Dark Fate. The resulting story feels like threading the needle through failure in hopes of finding something that might work. The story is just so so. The success or failure of this version depends on who you have cast in the film.

The best of the cast is Hamilton’s Sarah. She has somehow turned yet another corner in the development of her character. The years after freeing the world from judgement day have not been easy for her. She still plays the soldier and through an indeterminate source she continues to find and destroy terminators. Hamilton is a good actress and this is a great role that she created, then evolved.

Mackenzie Davis is Grace, the soldier sent back in time this time to protect someone different. She’s “augmented,” which makes her able to fight the terminator (Luna) for a little while at least. The target this time is Dani Ramos (Reyes). She lives in Mexico City working for an auto plant with her brother (Boneto).

The augmentation means she’s part machine. It allows her to see farther, fight better and such. It also means that she needs some serious help regenerating after battles. After the first of these battles, she’s assisted by Connor, but is less than grateful for the help.

Dani is surprised to find her life is in danger, and we’re supposed to be surprised at who she ends up becoming. The transition is a little bit clunky, especially when she starts to show her potential.

Much of the film is more concerned with moving from battle to battle. Davis is good at providing a manic intensity required to give the film the urgency it had in the first two parts. She plays the part of the true soldier valiantly and without the winky smiley irony that destroyed the last film.

Schwarzenegger comes along at some point. When he does, it’s interesting seeing the version of the T101 that he plays this time in contrast with those decisions he allowed to be made for him in the past. The dialogue is a mixture of “simulated” emotion and programmed assurance that takes a back seat to the women who provide the bulk of the exposition and uses of the F-word through the last half of the movie.

The action on the ground is pretty solid. Luna is the third best Terminator in the franchise, after Arnold and Robert Patrick. He’s given enough opportunities to show the mechanical approximation of human when needed. The turn from folksy to dangerous is entertaining enough.

There is a scene that takes place in the air which is so bad it should have just been shoved into another film. The last act falters a bit for search of a definition to the phrase “kill box.” The conclusion feels more like just a bunch of stuff that happens than something of any real plan.

Saying this is the third best of the film series isn’t a huge compliment by now. There’s a big drop off after the first two and this is only a little better than Salvation.

After the last movie, the desire for future sequels was sapped. Hearing the phrase “There is no fate…” for the 7th time brings one to the realization. They’ve been re-making their own fate time and time again, hoping for us to buy in each time. Well, here we are again. And it’s good enough this time, it’s not so hard to imagine another. Let’s just hope they have something more to do then run from a terminator. Instead, maybe we could have the them undo something, like the middle three films.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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