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Terminator: Dark Fate

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Release Date: Nov. 1, 2019


Movie Review - 'Terminator: Dark Fate'

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 1, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.

If there is a definition of blockbuster, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is it. Released in 1991, the explosive action classic was not only the most expensive film ever made at the time, but it also set the records for both the highest-grossing film of the year and the highest-grossing R-rated movie to date. Since then, various filmmakers have tried to recapture the magic to varying degrees of success. With "Terminator: Dark Fate," "T2" finally has a proper sequel.

Calling "Dark Fate" a sequel to "T2" is true both from a story perspective as well as a thematic perspective. "Dark Fate" starts with a short recap of events in "T2," thanks to footage of the prior film run through a VHS-style distortion effect. It's not long, but it effectively sets up the impetus for Sarah Connor as a Terminator-hunting badass.

Thematically, "Dark Fate" is to the "Terminator" franchise what "The Force Awakens" was to "Star Wars." While "Dark Fate" isn't quite as obvious about where it pulls its inspiration as "The Force Awakens" was, the film doesn't shy away from Terminator lore. Director Tim Miller obviously knows what Terminator fans want, and for the most part, he delivers.

After the initial prologue, "Dark Fate" quickly ramps up the action in its first act. The fight in a car factory sets the tone for much of the film, with intimate and brutal, close-quarters combat. Gabriel Luna brings an almost sadistic quality to the dual-mode Rev-9 Terminator model, which almost seems to enjoy what it does thanks to Luna's subtle expressions throughout the film. He's never obvious about it, but a small look here, a hint of sarcasm there, and you get the sense that Rev-9 isn't just a killing machine going after a target. This machine is having fun while doing so.

The idea of emotion driving a machine isn't new to the Terminator franchise. In the original "Terminator," Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 was a cold, emotionless force of nature. In "T2," the T-800 returned as a hero character, and by the end of the film was shown to have learned the value of human life. Both versions of the character were driven by their initial programming, though. What if a Terminator had no objective?

That's the question that "Dark Fate" poses about Schwarzenegger's T-800 this time around. Unlike the prior films, this machine existed for years with no goal. It learned about humanity. It blended in. In order to survive, the machine became human. It's an arc across all three of the films that were produced under James Cameron, and while there are points to argue about the way that is explored in "Dark Fate," it's still an interesting question to ask.

It's also a question that has been poked at before in the "Terminator" comics. J. Michael Straczynski's "Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle" limited series explores similar concepts of man learning to be like the machines and machines learning to be like man. Although "Terminator Salvation" is no longer part of the "Terminator" canon, Straczynski's work is worth checking out, as he has a bit more room to explore the idea in print than "Dark Fate" does on-screen.

With that said, all of the characters mentioned so far are secondary to the two leading ladies in "Dark Fate," Mackenzie Davis as Grace and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Grace is a human resistance fighter from the future who has been augmented with technology to allow her to go head-to-head with a Terminator in short bursts. She's known nothing but fighting her entire life, so she's driven, but rash. Grace is dedicated to her mission, but she doesn't think long-term. She only knows how to deal with the situation right in front of her, which honestly makes a lot of sense for someone for whom "normal" is hoping you don't get shot every day.

Davis and Luna both bring a sense of weight and power to their fights. As Rev-9, he's always at an advantage over Grace, but she never recognizes it. If Rev-9 is all about overwhelming force, Grace is pure intensity. She's going to eliminate Rev-9 — or die trying.

The counterpart to Grace is Hamilton as Sarah Connor. She may be two decades older, but Connor is a badass through and through. She may not have the physical strength of Grace or Rev-9, but Connor makes up for it in wits and planning. Similar to the T-800's arc through the three Cameron films, Connor also has a growth arc. In the first film, she was the scared victim, the literal damsel in distress. In "T2," she was fighting both society and her fear of the future. Here, she is a confident fighter who has no problem taking the battle to the machines, even as she mourns what she's lost along the way.

Tying these two very different women together is Natalia Reyes as Dani Ramos, a regular teen whose biggest concerns in life are her ailing father and getting to work on time. For the first two acts of the film, Ramos is a background character who is simply there to be protected. She has her moments, but Reyes isn't really given a chance to explore Ramos until the third act of "Dark Fate," which is where she comes into her own. Ramos is a bit bland as a solo character. She is at her best when played as a foil to Connor's jaded outlook on life.

"Dark Fate" is at its best when it is focused on claustrophobic action scenes. Where it is a bit more hit-and-miss is in the exposition. Some of these scenes are focused and on-point (a joke about Grace and Connor being too white to blend in on a train of migrants), while others come across a bit too forced, such as Connor's rant about being the mother of the savior of the human race. It's not that the latter point doesn't have a place, but it was used as a bit of not-so-obvious foreshadowing rather than biting commentary. If you're going to deconstruct a trope, use a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.

On the flipside, Rev-9 as a border agent does present a subtle but direct commentary about the future war, where machines are controlling the undesirable human population. Here, humans are simply using machines to do the same to other humans.

My review screening for "Dark Fate" was in IMAX, but there didn't seem to be any real advantage to it. All of the action looked as though it was choreographed and filmed for a standard theater, so watching it on the IMAX screen was just watching it on a big screen.

"Terminator: Dark Fate" may not be perfect, but it does deliver a true sequel to "T2." Lingering questions are answered, the story is self-contained, and there's just enough of an opening to lead to more films, but they're not required. Cameron and Miller wanted to deliver a proper "Terminator 3," and "Dark Fate" does just that. No, it's not on the level of "T2," but it is the third-best film in the franchise.

Score: 7.5/10

"Terminator: Dark Fate" is rated "R" and has a running time of 2 hours and 8 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and IMAX.

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