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Review: Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Directed by: Tim Miller

Premise: Following Terminator 2: Judgement Day (and ignoring the other sequels), a mechanically augmented human being (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back through time to protect a young woman (Natalia Reyes) from a cyborg (Gabriel Luna) programmed to kill her.

What Works: 1984’s The Terminator and its 1991 sequel are classics of action and science fiction cinema. Since then the series’ output has been uneven from the acceptable (and underrated) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to the dreadful Terminator: Salvation. Dark Fate is a retcon sequel; it ignores the other films produced after Judgement Day and rewrites the narrative, with the filmmakers positioning Dark Fate as the true heir to the Terminator legacy. And this film mostly deserves that regard. Dark Fate is the best Terminator sequel following the second installment and it strikes a balance between fulfilling its brand while also moving the story forward. All the Terminator signatures are here—time travel, truck chases, and hand-to-hand combat in a factory—and Dark Fate succeeds as an action picture. Its set pieces are average but well done. But the filmmakers of Dark Fate also build upon some of the familiar themes of this series and take them to the next level. Science fiction is about ideas, usually regarding humanity and technology. The Terminator series is about the distinction between people and machines and the differences between them (or lack thereof). Dark Fate melds that concept to the notion of purpose. By the end of Terminator 2, the heroes had stopped the apocalypse and those characters no longer have a purpose to their lives. This is by far the strongest element of the film. Dark Fate reintroduces Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the waitress turned warrior from the first film, as now an embittered woman who is trapped by regret. The most fascinating aspect of Dark Fate is the return of the classic Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Again building upon the themes of the second film, the cyborg has learned to be more human but it has also encountered the limits of its ability to assimilate. This is an intelligent direction for the series and Dark Fate deepens its recurring characters and themes.
What Doesn’t: Dark Fate begins with a prologue sequence (one that contains some of the most impressive digital de-aging yet seen) that is troubling. Without giving it away, the prologue is reminiscent of the opening of Alien 3. That twist is more justified here than it was in the Alien threequel because the rest of the movie deals with the repercussions of that twist. But it also refutes the victory of Terminator 2. Dark Fate also suffers from new characters who are not interesting or well defined, namely Dani, the target of termination, and Grace, the enhanced solider sent to protect her. It’s not the fault of actors Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis who do what the script asks of them; the story is just overstuffed with characters and the newbies don’t get enough to do. As a result, Dark Fate is never as emotionally engaging as the first two Terminator pictures.

Bottom Line: Terminator: Dark Fate is a satisfying addition to this series. It’s nowhere near the excellence of the first two Terminator films and it suffers from some uninteresting new characters but Dark Fate brings a thoughtful approach to the sequel.

Episode: #775 (November 10, 2019)