You’ve seen great Terminator movies, you’ve seen terrible Terminator movies, now get ready for a Terminator movie that’s just average but may skew up or down depending on your preference. Let’s talk about Dark Fate.
This 2019 instalment of the venerable franchise is special as it’s supposed to be the canonical sequel to the first two movies. You know, the great ones. All other movies aside from this one are ignored and are potentially considered alternate timelines. On top of this Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger return, along with James Cameron who is a producer, with Tim Miller (of 2016 Deadpool fame) sitting on the director’s chair.
Make of this retconning time nonsense what you will. We’re sure some fans will be happy that a new film can do its own thing without being weighed down, while others will get flashbacks of the Star Wars franchise culling most external media following the buyout from Disney. We miss you, Durge.
On top of what’s old, we get a lot of new too. As you can see from the trailers on this page and the story details which have been shared around, the two returning faces team up with Grace (Mackenzie Davis) who is a resistance fighter from the future – a human soldier with future tech – that has been sent to the past to protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from the new Terminator in town the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna).
We’re not exactly sure that premise or the official synopsis makes that much of a difference, because if you were expecting anything different from “people and robots from the future are sent into the past to fight” you will be disappointed.
Dark Fate does try to make some changes to the Terminator formula but nothing is that different from previous instalments. All the plot beats, future tech and ideas just feel like cherry picked features of those past movies. It’s not terribly exciting in its concept or its execution, and saying anything more would constitute spoilers.
How the cast and CGI spins out the story is more important here, and that’s a bit of a mixed bag. Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are the big hitters here with the former returning after a long hiatus from these movies. Hamilton does a great job and we’re quite floored that she took this project on at 63. You actually believe that Sarah Connor has been keeping up the good fight all these years, even when you think “yeah, that punch or tumble would have killed a regular person of that age”.
Schwarzenegger is… fine. He didn’t phone it in or anything, and for its part the script did try to flesh him out, but he just feels a bit one note despite the fact that they try and do something unexpected with him. Again, no spoilers, but this character feels unnecessary to the story, his “twist” is an old trope, and it’s likely he’s only here for star power and his role in the previous movies.
Davis is the star of the new cast and she kills it. We totally bought her as a strung out resistance fighter who is willing to do anything, even augment her own body, to fight the machines. We hope we get to see her as the lead in more action titles in the future.
There’s a weird dichotomy here between Reyes and Davis in this movie. Reyes is pushed to be the “new Sarah Connor” with Hamilton, at one point in a trailer, saying “I was here”. The problem is that you’ll probably never buy Reyes as a battle hardened warrior that can live up to Sarah Connor, but you can believe that for Davis. Again, Reyes isn’t putting in a bad performance, she just wasn’t convincing enough to fit the idea for her character the script had by the end.
Luna, as the big bad here, suffers from a similar but different problem. Instead of failing to compare to another character in this movie, he doesn’t stack up against characters in other movies. We think the filmmakers here were trying to combine the rare humour of Schwarzenegger ‘s Terminator in the first movie with the cold brutality of Robert Patrick’s Terminator in the second movie. Unfortunately Luna just doesn’t capture either and you’ll end up just kind of shrugging when someone asks you about him in the future.
CGI plays a massive part here to make the various Terminators and action scenes works, and it varies wildly from absolutely stunning right down to “rubbery nightmare”.
Starting with the good and Dark Fate has the unique honour of featuring the best de-aging we’ve seen on film yet. There’s a short scene in this movie that blew us away with how accurately it brought some characters back in time. Even more impressive is the fact that this scene took place in broad daylight. Recent movies like Gemini Man have shown how far this tech has come, but it usually works best at night where you can hide the imperfections and uncanny valley-ness of the situation.
On the other end of the scale, in many fights where characters are throwing each other around like rag dolls, a lot of them get that rubbery fake effect that’s very apparent.
Thankfully the rest of the movie skews towards the better side of things and there’s actually some rock solid action and choreography here. That sledgehammer fight you see in the trailer is probably the highlight for us, but we’re sure everyone will have their own favourite.
Strangely, the decent action comes as a detriment to the movie. Instead of a three act structure, Dark Fate feels like it has a “three action sequence structure”. The beginning and end of the movie are mostly made out of two drawn out action sequences, and the middle is a long, flat exposition dump.
In terms of sound we’re once again stuck with a mix of okay to great. The music is entirely forgettable and they remix the famous Terminator theme so many times it actually becomes laughable. To balance it out the sound effects – especially of weaponry – is great and stuff like shotguns really hammer you in the chest, if you’re watching in a theatre.
You can’t depend on this either, as the effects aren’t impressive throughout, with the good points being dotted around the run time.
The best way to describe this movie is like a chocolate chip cookie that has an uneven mix of chocolate chips. It’s familiar and satisfying, but you’re not getting those good bits of chocolate on every bite, and it this point in your life you’re kind of tired of chocolate chip.
Terminator: Dark Fate is just fine, really. It’s not anything special despite having some special moments, and what it tries to do new still feels old.
Before ending it’s worth doing a quick power ranking to see where Dark Fate fits into the Terminator movies in terms of quality. As you may have expected from the rest of the review, it’s nowhere near the original two movies. We’re going to rank it above both Genisys and Salvation, but below Rise of the Machines.