Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest attempt at reviving the ailing Terminator franchise, has a lot riding on it. After three increasingly crummy sequels, reboots, retcons, whatever, the series is on its last legs. This one needs to be good. James Cameron, who brought us the original two Terminator films, returns, though only as a producer and with a “story by” credit (among five other people, mind). Linda Hamilton, the original hero of the series, who sat out the last three movies, was also convinced to come back. Their inclusion suggests legitimacy, but it’s a paper-thin veneer. This Terminator is no better than the wretched sequels that came before it.
The plot thankfully ignores the last three films completely. Well, more like “thankfully;” everything accomplished plot- and character-wise in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is undone within minutes of the opening credits. What follows is the same crap every Terminator film has done since part one. A terminator, a cyborg, killing machine (Gabriel Luna, bland) is sent back in time to murder somebody who will become important in the future, in this case a young Mexican woman, Dani (Natalia Reyes, whose acting ability is questionable). Luckily, she has protection: Grace, a cyber-enhanced, human warrior also from the future, played by Mackenzie Davis, who looks great in the part but isn’t allowed to register much personality. Linda Hamilton and, eventually, Arnold Schwarzenegger also show up, more haggard and grizzled than before, to help out. Uninspired action transpires, interrupted by long stretches of moping.
The Terminator films live and die by their action beats, and yet none of the subsequent sequels have come close to rivaling what James Cameron achieved in 1991 with Judgment Day. The action in Dark Fate is poorly framed, the camera often too close, and the editing too quick. If a giant tractor with a battering ram careens down a highway tossing cars left and right, I want to see that happening. Oh, and if you could use real cars instead of CG ones, that would be great. 30 years later and this is still the best we get?
It also doesn’t help that the action sequences are poorly parceled out, something director Tim Miller already had issues with in his first film, Deadpool. Of course, that movie was so much fun, you didn’t really care. Bookended by two lengthy action beats, one of them a mind-numbingly long finale, Terminator is nowhere as enjoyable in between. It’s just a lifeless affair pockmarked with short bursts of action that threaten to turn into fully realized sequences but never do.
Dark Fate is, yet again, the first part of a planned trilogy (fat chance that will ever happen). Of course, a planned trilogy these days just means the filmmakers have an excuse to barely include a story. Story, here, is just a blank to be filled in later. What’s left is a threadbare film that exists just to hammer our heads in with gunfire and explosions. And hey, I love gunfire and explosions, but the writing, credited to three writers no less (David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray) is shockingly bad. Example: Sarah Connor needs to unencrypt information on her phone. Grace takes the phone, pushes some buttons and gets the info immediately. When asked how she did it, she answers “Future shit.” Later, when the heroes need a special weapon to finally destroy their tormenting terminator, Connor just says, “I know a guy,” and next thing you know a military guy shows up and just hands her EMP bombs. Like everything in the film, it’s explained away with one flippant line of dialogue. I understand taking a few shortcut to get from point A to point B, story-wise, but when a movie is all shortcuts, what’s left?
The Terminator films have milked the same premise to spectacularly diminishing results, and Terminator: Dark Fate simply continues that trend. The budget has been upped again, but the inspiration hasn’t. Listless and generic, it makes something increasingly clear: this is a franchise that just shouldn’t be.