*This article is a review of Terminator: Dark Fate based on the opinion of the author
Linda Hamilton – Sarah Connor
Arnold Schwarzenegger – T-800 Carl
Mackenzie Davis – Grace
Natalia Reyes – Dani Ramos
Gabriel Luna – REV-9
Diego Boneta – Diego Ramos
Stephanie Gil – Young Grace
Enrique Arce – Papa Ramos
Brett Azar – Young T-800
Jude Collie – Young John Connor
Tristan Ulloa – Uncle Ramos
Alicia Borrachero – Alicia
Fraser James – Major Dean
Tom Hopper – Hadrell
“More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother (Diego Boneta) and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator – a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani’s survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from Sarah’s past that may be their last best hope.”
James Cameron – (story by) &
Charles H. Eglee – (story by) &
Josh Friedman – (story by) and
David S. Goyer – (story by) &
Justin Rhodes – (story by)
David S. Goyer – (screenplay by) &
Justin Rhodes – (screenplay by) and
Billy Ray – (screenplay by)
Extra Credit for Character Creation:
James Cameron – (based on characters created by) and
Gale Anne Hurd – (based on characters created by)
R (U.S) / 15 (UK)
Terminator: Dark Fate was announced as being the true sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day and a continuation of the Terminator franchise, which started with The Terminator in 1984.
Directed by Tim Miller, whose feature-film directing debut came with 2016’s ‘Deadpool’, and written by James Cameron (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Avatar), Charles H. Eglee (Piranha II, Dark Angel, Dexter), Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, The Black Dahlia, War of the Worlds), David S. Goyer (the Blade trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel), Justin Rhodes (Robocop Returns – Pre-prod), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games, Gemini Man), and David Ellison (Uncredited for story)
The latest instalment in the beloved Terminator franchise made grand statements in its inception – of returning to the roots of the series and recapturing the grim and gritty realism that fans, old and young, had been yearning for for a long time; it promised to remind the fanbase that there was still life in the old dog yet – and not just life – a future.
With the return of Terminator legends; James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton to the franchise which made them all iconic household names, there was a sense of hope restored to loyal fans of a series which had been dealt some dud hands over the decades since 1991’s T2.
I picked a theatre which appeared to have very few seats booked for the screening, this suited me fine, as I like to absorb as much of the story as possible with as few distractions as possible, and, as I sat down to watch the sixth (touted 3rd) entry into the franchise, I admit, I felt a creeping sense of trepidation.
The movie begins with a clip of one of Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 Pescadero interview tapes, the footage clearly aiming at creating a sense of nostalgia whilst also acting, somewhat, as a kind of visual exposition – though I found it jarring and underwhelming, as it lacks the visceral punch of the same clip in-situ with T2.
In that purposely created sense of deja vu (which was engendered with the use of the T2 clip) and the consistent recreation of moments which were, and still are, integral to the franchise as a whole, ie, the mirroring of certain scenes and lines (including the sampling of Brad Fiedel’s music/using a sound from a scene in T2) – came a feeling of distaste at the strategically planned nostalgia trip and a burgeoning tension at what was to come.
The beginning of the movie manages to feel disjointed as it attempts to shock the audience with a scene that distorts the mythos of the franchise and lays waste to any meaning or goodwill that the first two movies painstakingly built up. It is a scene which leaves a sense of complete futility at the sheer pointlessness of everything which is to follow, whether good, bad or indifferent.
The dialogue mostly clunks its way along, finding new and awkward ways to stick in the wrong places, whilst the actors strive to humanise the dated writing with performances which, sadly, display a lack of conviction, despite valiant attempts to imbue one dimensional character development with depth.
There is a repetition to the story which drags through almost every scene, yes, we get it, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is just a “no-one” factory girl, and yet she seems to get many things right in the first few attempts – she’s a natural at driving but she can’t drive, she’s a natural at shooting, though she can’t shoot…
The same can be said of Grace (Mackenzie Davis); Grace seems to threaten her way through many of her scenes, mostly aimed at Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) “I will fuck you up” or “I could tear your throat out” etc (no-one talks to Sarah Connor that way!), as if, by the magic of monotony, the audience will find some semblance of something worth remembering.
The character with the most backstory is Grace and this is given to us via flashbacks to an overdone future war (where we get a glimpse of the talented Stephanie Gil), and then the ‘Augment’ programme. Though Augmented super-soldier Grace has clearly been on an extended ego-trip since becoming one with biotechnology, and this is yet another recurring aspect – the constant need for Grace to assert her dominant superiority over, well, everyone.
Sadly though, the almost constant need to repeat lines, or variants thereof, simply gets in the way of the performances and dulls any potential the story does have.
Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is the centre of the movie, and although the writing restricts what should have been a truly astonishing return for the iconic mother-of-the-future, she is still somehow able to be the most reliable component in a flawed story.
How does the villainous REV-9 compare to its predecessors? Gabriel Luna is charismatic but barely used, as his screen time is mostly absorbed by the CGI rubber face of a bad Spider-Man movie, bouncing an uncanny torso over and under anything and everything the special effects team could manage, all at the behest of Tim Miller.
The REV-9 doesn’t seem to be a very clever or particularly threatening design of Terminator model, and it simply can’t outshine Robert Patrick’s T-1000, as it appears rather frail and easily immobilised whether united or in its autonomous state. It really is a shame.
You get the impression that with a better script and better director, that the cast would have been able to make a decent Terminator movie – one with a much lower budget and less CGI. Practical effects, anyone?
… and, since I’m on the subject of special effects…
The CGI breaks immersion at almost every opportunity, with few exceptions, faces slip and look doughy, bodies fly all over the shop – as if gravity doesn’t exist, and darkness appears to be utilised to hide any possible imperfections – though, in a movie so CGI-heavy, this makes for some instances of feeling almost night-blind simply by attempting to follow the action.
There are instances of potential, yes, down to the actors (I’m looking at you Linda Hamilton and Natalia Reyes) really digging in and giving the tired script and poor character development some serious oomph in order to get things feeling more like a real movie and not just some straight to VHS jobbie that no-one has seen.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is drowned out by bad writing (though Arnold did admit to ad-libbing certain lines himself); I found the character of ‘Carl’ to be completely joyless, despite the attempt at humour from Schwarzenegger – if Carl were to have a catchphrase in Terminator: Dark Fate it would be “Alicia”, again the script repeats lines for no discernible reason, unless the reasoning is that repetition can be humorous in some instances. This was not one of those instances, at least not for me.
There are moments in the movie that clearly imitate previous instalments, or homage them – as an example (aside from the more obvious), a plane falls from the sky in a scene which is reminiscent of one omitted from Terminator 3: ROTM, due to the fact that the film was released in the wake of 9/11 and the studios had to work around the socio-political ramifications of the terrorist act.
Also there is a scene involving the REV-9 which leans heavily on Terminator 2: Judgment Day nostalgia, again – “but it’s a sequel to T2! It’s allowed!” Why homage a movie that you’re making a sequel to?
Then there is Dani Ramos uttering a bastardisation of a line immortalised by Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in The Terminator (1984), we won’t tell you which line it is but it fails to meet the bar set in the original and doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of emotionality.
Now we get to the score and music of Terminator: Dark Fate, as composed by Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL…
The music and its themes were highly anticipated by many fans (especially in regards to the previously published false information of Brad Fiedel returning to compose the score, which was edited onto IMDb by some unknown person). There were moments, musically, in T:DF that had me wondering what I was watching, as they were so commonplace and run-of-the-mill that it could have been any movie.
This was not what I was expecting from a composer who went all out for the score of Mad Max: Fury Road. The score for Terminator: Dark Fate barely seems to move, its peaks and troughs blending seamlessly together to create an almost indistinct and rather flat sound.
The REV-9’s theme was a cumbersome track of scraping, clanging and wheezing – which is easily comparable to an asthma attack in a cutlery drawer.
The story and characters are thinly written and slapdash; as an audience we are not given real explanations as to why specific aspects are as they are, or why we’re supposed to care about the new characters when the writers clearly don’t.
The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day were imaginative and pushed boundaries but they were also incredibly intimate movies; they kept the cast tight, the plot clean and allowed us to bond and invest in the characters on-screen. They had big moments but those big moments didn’t feel like a bombardment – they felt like a natural progression, they didn’t feel forced. Yes, they were chase movies, horror movies, Sci Fi movies, action movies but they never sacrificed plot development for the sake of effects. It was never spectacle for spectacle’s sake, and this is what T:DF failed to grasp – it’s not just all about the whizz bang gloss and polish. No. It’s about story, heart, performance and care.
Many of the problems with T:DF could easily be attributed to the studios rushing the movie into production – remember, James Cameron was touching up the script the night before the next day’s shoot, the production began without a script and (in some cases) the cast didn’t get a script until the day of shooting and the script was then whisked away. This would clearly have a huge impact on performances of the cast and crew.
The same could certainly be applied to Junkie XL; how much of the finished movie did the composer have access to, and did it affect his input in the project?
Not to mention the sheer amount of writers and story credits – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… too many cooks spoil the broth. The amalgamation of too many conflicting ideas and personalities – the late edits, the polishing, the studios adding their two (ten)cents for ease of marketing the movie to a wider audience and avoiding censure… these are all fairly understandable scenarios to explain deficiencies in the movie – my point? If the urgency had been removed by the studios… these problems wouldn’t exist.
It would have been great for the “back to basics” approach to have been fully realised with a return to the dark beginnings, the depth, the emotion, the risk, reward, consequences and brutality but sadly this movie fails to recapture the tension or intellect of the first and second movies and lacks the imagination to start anew with fresh ideas, as it throws a sacrificial lamb of a franchise legend upon its pyre of its self delusion.
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