When the best thing that can be said about yet another attempt to recharge James Cameron’s classic sci-fi/action ‘Terminator’ franchise is that it’s not THAT bad compared to past attempts, it’s probably best to retire it. ‘Dark Fate’ is the sixth film in a series that started in 1984 on a shoestring budget and succeeded because of the unbridled imagination of its creator. It’s 1991 muscular sequel, ‘Judgement Day’, is not only an action masterpiece, it changed movies forever with its seamless introduction of computer effects. Its three sequels (‘Rise of the Machines’ in 2003, ‘Salvation’ in 2009, Genisys in 2015) paled in comparison, losing Cameron as an active participant in any substantial way. Cut to present day, ‘Dark Fate’ has been rather unceremoniously dropped in theaters, touting Cameron as producer and story generator, and featuring the returns of both original stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The end result is a pretty flat retelling of T2 with a few added twists, modern special effects, and a few timely story elements that beg the question of purpose.
Thematically, within the film, and literally, at the box office, ‘Dark Fate’, wrestles with the ideas of the justification of existence. Nullifying the three sequels prior, this movie starts off with some de-aged versions of T2’s main players in a scene that unceremoniously (and laughably) undoes all the work so hard earned by its predecessor, so much so, it seems like a feint. If it’s believed that Cameron had some direct influence on these events then it would seem he didn’t mind what the writers behind ‘Alien 3′ did with the characters he created in another of his masterpieces. It then becomes difficult to engage with the rest of the film, one that wrestles (occasionally pretty effectively in the guise of the grizzled performances by Hamilton and Schwarzenegger) with the drive for living and how to move on after the mission is over.
The basic plot is a familiar one – just as in the first three films, two time travelers are sent back to present day, one to protect and one to hunt an individual. This time it’s Natalia Reyes’ Dani, a young woman making her career in a Mexican auto plant alongside her family, lamenting over the very real threat of automation replacing the factory worker. As with John Conner and Sarah before him, she plays a pivotal role in humanity’s war against sentient machines in the near future, and therefore becomes a target for Gabriel Luna’s REV-9, a graphite-hybrid terminator who combines the shape-shifting abilities of the T-1000 and the skeletal chassis of the classic version. The design is sleek and menacing, if completely derivative, and when viewed in the larger narrative, rather nonsensical. In ‘Dark Fate’ Dani’s protector is an enhanced human named Grace, played by Mackenzie Davis, who, unlike Micheal Biehn’s Kyle Reese, can go toe-to-toe with the relentless robot. Due to her internal cybernetic upgrades, niftily represented by precise scarring all over her soldier’s frame, she can match blows like Arnie’s reprogrammed robot did in T2, although unlike that tireless sentinel, it’s only in bursts that debilitate her for extended periods of time. Davis is a game performer who gives an exhaustive physical performance, that just like Hamilton’s and Schwarzenegger’s, deserves a better movie . . .
Directed By: Tim Miller
Written By: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, & Billy Ray
Running Time: 128 min.
* * (out of 4 stars) -OR- C