Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Movie Review: Terminator - Dark Fate

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Action, a few nods for fans
Cons: Shallow characters, ruins parts of franchise
The Bottom Line:
This franchise returns
With chases, scifi action
Very little else

“You Come with Me, or You’re Dead in the Next 30 Seconds.”

When I first heard them talking about Terminator: Dark Fate, I was hoping for an enjoyable movie.  Then I started hearing the reviews, and I decided to skip this one until it hit Blu-Ray.  I’ve watched it now, and I think it was better than some of the reviews I’d seen made it out to be, but it’s not nearly as good as it could have been.

In order to bring back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, they had to forget all the sequels that have been created since Terminator 2.  Makes since because her character had been killed off a number of sequels ago.  However, I always find it funny when a film franchise suddenly goes “Just kidding, all those other events didn’t happen after all.”  It’s just messy storytelling and makes me wonder why we should care about a franchise if the events we are watching can just suddenly be undone.  But that’s a rant for another day.

A bigger problem with this film is that, in the first five minutes, it gives a giant middle finger to audiences, ignoring the basic premise of the franchise in the process.  No, I’m not going to get any more spoilery than that.  But again, it feels like the producers, including original creator James Cameron, aren’t paying attention to anything the fans care about.  Instead, they figure that explosions and chases and special effects will be enough to make the film a hit.

I’m getting ahead of myself a little.  What exactly is this movie about?  We meet Dani (Natalia Reyes) on what starts as a typical day for her as she gets ready for her job at a factory outside of Mexico City.  However, this day is going to be anything but typical when Grace (Mackenzie Davis) shows up in an attempt to save her from a terminator from the future (Gabriel Luna).  Will Grace succeed in her mission?

Notice who is missing from this teaser?  Sarah Connor and any terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Yes, they are both part of the film, and their involvement comes as the story progresses.  It’s easy to see Arnold’s terminator showing up long before he does, but that’s okay.  He gets the best lines when he does.

In fact, there are several fun nods to classic lines from the franchise here.  These nods made me smile, and I’m only a casual fan of these films.

And the action.  Hold on tight because the film starts with a bang.  Things do slow down eventually, but there are several edge of your seat action sequences before we reach the climactic battle.  The special effects are also top notch, which isn’t a surprise.

However, that isn’t enough to hold the film together.  Part of the problem is that it’s hard to get over the middle finger the film has already given the fans.  Frankly, another issue is that it is hard to come to care for any of the characters.  Even when the action scenes slow down, we don’t get a lot of character development.  The script tries half-heartedly, but it is really just going through the motions.  Even Sarah comes across as one dimensional.  The character with the most depth is Arnold’s terminator.  The acting isn’t bad, but the actresses aren’t given anything to work with, so they come across as wooden.  With no connection to the characters, we enjoy the chases and explosions in the moment, but there is nothing to care about when the action slows down or the movie is over.

Honestly, as I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel that this was intended to be a transition film, as the original cast members pass the torch to new characters.  However, it was sold as a sequel.  I think this bait and switch is a lot of the frustrating with the film.

Some complaints I saw were about the movie turning the franchise into a female lead movie.  It is true that the main characters are all female with Arnold’s terminator playing more of a supporting role.  However, if you go back and look at the first film again, it’s always made Saran Connor a strong female who can hold her own.  From a storytelling point of view, an argument can be made that a few of the choices that were designed to give us twists about anything else. 

I’m still torn on this film.  There are aspects I enjoyed, but I can’t help feeling like it wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been.  I know serious fans of the franchise were disappointed.  Maybe I knew not to expect much going in, or my status as a casual fan made me not as disappointed with the end result.

In the end, I think Terminator: Dark Fate is a mostly forgettable film in a franchise that has nothing new to say.  If you keep your expectations low, you might find moments you’ll enjoy, but don’t go out of your way to see it.

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