Terminator: Dark FateReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/03/19 14:19:19
This "Terminator" is such a nullity and retread that I can't even bother to type a joke I've been making to friends about just what sort of retread it is again, like it would make me just as lazy. "Dark Fate" somehow manages to be a paradox of pointlessness - a sequel that draws what life it can from its predecessors but which has nothing new to offer, even as it explicitly notes that it's just doing the same thing with different names.So now "Skynet" is "Legion" and they've sent a Terminator "Rev-9" (Gabriel Luna) back to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who works in an automobile plant in Mexico and seems as innocuous as Sarah Connor was thirty-five years ago. The rebels send back Grace (Mackenzie Davis), whose cyborg augmentations allow her to put up much more of a fight than most humans would against a killer robot - though they probably still would have been dead in fifteen minutes if Connor (Linda Hamilton) didn't show up. She's been hunting Terminators full time since one that had apparently been around for years found and killed her son in 1998, after "Judgment Day" was supposed to have happened. She's been receiving text messages about where time-traveling killing machines will materialize for years, but coordinates tattooed on Grace's body will finally lead her to the person sending them.
It would take depressingly little editing to tweak that description to describe four other Terminator movies or the TV show, and while it's not inherently bad to follow a formula, this series has spent the past twenty years having no idea how to handle the way it has lived past the date of its future doomsday and just doing the same thing anyway. A more ambitious movie could do something with that, making a point of how the point is not a single savior but rather the steady work of pushing the apocalypse back, or playing with how The Terminator was the product of Cold War fears of Mutually Assured Destruction, so maybe by now we're talking about troll-bot server farms hastening environmental disaster, but this is not that movie. The filmmakers do the minimum to upgrade to the twenty-first century, and why bother when the first couple movies are out there?
What's kind of amazing in terms of how the filmmakers lose their way is that it directly quotes Terminator 2 during the opening but whiffs on what made that movie work - not just in how it upended expectations but in how for all Sarah had made herself hard, she was still painfully human and emotional. The heroines here have the same hard efficiency but none of the vulnerability until a moment comes to remind the audience that they're the good guys. Mackenzie Davis brings none of the awed romanticism Michael Biehn have the first, nor the desperate urge to be more than pragmatic Hamilton have the second; her character never feels more than mission-oriented. The same goes for Hamilton; she delivers the sarcasm and bitterness fine, with moments of something more personally painful, but most of the time, they're just badass, and it makes the movie hollow. Natalia Reyes never gets enough to do to either convince the audience she's important to the future or convince the audience of the importance of human kindness; that's left to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sometimes appears to see the potential of his character better than those behind the camera, while Gabriel Luna is the latest actor cast as a Terminator to show how what Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick did twenty-five years ago in creating inhuman but captivating villains is not as simple as it looks.
The film as a while looks enough like a big, slick action movie to keep one's attention as it goes, but director Tim Miller is no James Cameron or even Jonathan Mostow, whose action scenes had grandeur, hanging back to show off how big and amazing the movie magic was. This movie's action is big but misses its chances to really set a mood rather than just do Terminator stuff (for instance, the Rev-9 always looks like a digital stuntman when doing things the humans around him can't, but Miller and company don't lean into that enough to make it inhuman and horrible for more than fleeting moments). Some of the big moments are choppy as heck despite being complex enough setups to make that an especially bad idea. Compare what this movie does in the cargo bay of a free falling plane to what Donnie Yen does in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, for instance, and wonder why it's not better.And that's the thing, isn't it? This movie is heir to films that did big things, and unlike many franchise entries, the filmmakers have a unique opportunity to reinvent the series but resist doing it with every fiber of their beings. There's nothing new here, and not even much done to rearrange the familiar parts in interesting ways.
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