Welcome To The Day After Judgment Day
Long after the events of Terminator 2, the future has been altered significantly but man is still plunged deep into a war against machines. As with the first Terminator movie, a cybernetic being from the future (the Rev-9 played by Gabriel Luna) is sent back to our time to assassinate a person of significance in the future – this time young Mexican factory worker, Dani Ramos [Reyes]. But on her side is an augmented soldier, Grace [Davis], sent back from the future to protect Dani and Sarah Connor [Hamilton], the future artificial intelligence’s previous target.
Much like 2018’s Halloween, Dark Fate is a combination of both reboot and retread as much as sequel. It scraps the last three attempts at a continuation and brings back the common element from the first two that was missing from Rise Of The Machines, Salvation and Genisys: Sarah Connor, or more specifically Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. It’s frankly indisputable that this decision is hands down the best idea the film has. John Connor is an interesting subject but Sarah’s evolution is where the series’ true heart lies. And like Halloween, bringing an older, bitter, war-weary Sarah gives the audience and the characters a fantastic juxtaposition.
Sticking with Hamilton for a second, this film’s strongest component is its performances. The four key players have great chemistry and screen presence. Hamilton makes a welcome return to her most iconic role and frankly shines in every scene. Reyes has the fairly unforgiving task of being Connor 2.0 but brings enough urgency and self reliance to the role to allow her to break loose from this initial blueprint. Mackenzie Davis is also a fantastic addition, confident but flawed, desperate but determined and capable of going toe-to-toe with the veteran cast. And as for their pursuer, the trailers did Luna’s character a bit of a disservice, leaving him cold and boring but the Rev-9 has enough of a personality that makes him more than a faceless entity. But it’s hard not to compare these new characters with their 1984 surrogates. Even as I was typing the previous sentence I wanted to make a comparison to the T1000 and that’s where the film immediately starts to fall apart.
**spoilers from here on out**
Admittedly, to talk about paradoxes is always difficult with this franchise because everything outside of the first Terminator film is a contradictory nightmare. I have always maintained that while I love Terminator 2, for all its many accomplishments, it is a bad sequel because it sacrifices the neat loop of its predecessor for more action. So with that in mind, one could dismiss many of Dark Fate’s problems but that road leads to lazy writing and vacuous plot holes the likes of which sank Genisys, so we need to address them. The big twist is that the future war fought by an adult John Connor no longer exists. In its place, a new reality has formed where Legion (the carbon copy of Skynet) rises up and suppresses humanity. But the big hit of the opening scene is that yet another Schwarzenegger Terminator arrives and simply shoots a teenage John Connor in the chest. Despite everything that we have seen, all the preparations, John is killed in broad daylight and the Terminator saunters off. But in the time between that event and the bulk of the movie, Sarah Connor has spent years killing Terminators, by the sound of it, every two years or so. What are they hunting? Who is sending them? Which future are they coming from? The film makes no attempts to explain this, it simply has to be in order for Sarah to retain her grizzled view of the world. Then we have Carl. Carl being the name of the aforementioned Terminator that killed John Connor, wandered off, got a bit bored without a mission that learned to be more human by growing a conscience and raising a family. I’m not actually as bothered about this as I could be, I’m more irritated by the fact that this reveal is so rushed and haphazardly written (especially as it seems to contradict the events in Terminator 2, albeit the directors cut).
The film also withholds the knowledge that Dani is effectively the new John Connor for ultimately no reason. It is neither a satisfactory twist, nor a surprising reveal, it is merely manufactured suspense for those who cannot see incredibly blunt signposting. But even if this film were trying to elevate itself above what came before, it exists solely on the shoulders of its predecessors, never really expositing about the time travel technology, never furthering the story, simply rehashing what we have seen time and time again. This is why I always maintain that as derided as T3 was, at least it had an incredibly bold ending. Dark Fate simply resets with the same will they/won’t they return ominousness that is as painfully rote as it is predictable. It also flies in the face of the central tenant of what the film purports to be about: there is no fate but what we make. This phrase couldn’t be more nonsensical in a world where you stop a murderous AI, only for an identical model to take its place which has the same inevitable plan to stop its adversary, including skeletal time travelling terminators and aerial drones dubbed hunter killers!
To give Dark Fate its due, it is significantly stronger than the last two outings but the bar was so low to the point of franchise killing that it’s not saying much. But the real missed opportunity is that there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about this film other than it isn’t a complete disappointment.
25th October 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
For all this film’s strengths, it still commits some cardinal sins of robot fighting. Fights are dragged out in favour of prolonging set-pieces rather than taking the cold calculating mindset of an algorithm programmed machine and if I ever see a Terminator film where a machine is lying on someone with its hands around their throat but not a) crushing them under the intense weight or b) immediately mashing their esophagus with its piston grip, it’ll be quite the achievement.
Luna does a great job with what he has but like so many on-screen adversaries, he is both overpowered and weakened as dictated by the plot’s requirements. The rules of the Rev-9 shift between a ruthlessly efficient killing machine acting without hesitation and a sluggish dullard amnesiatically overlooking its own capabilities.
“Funerals don’t help them and goodbyes don’t help you”
In A Few Words:
“A surprisingly solid feature but offers a lot more of the same, proving itself more imitator than innovator”