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New Release Review - TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

terminator dark fate review
A human/cyborg hybrid soldier returns from the future to protect the future leader of the human resistance.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Tim Miller

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Tom Hopper, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna

terminator dark fate poster




Save for the under-rated and short-lived TV spinoff The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the Terminator franchise has found itself in dire straits in the decades since 1991's T2. I have to confess a mild fondness for the goofy 2003 sequel Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but its successors, 2009's Terminator Salvation and 2015's Terminator Genisys, are irredeemably awful. How can the Terminator brand be salvaged? Terminator: Dark Fate's answer is fan service. Lots and lots of fan service.

The advantage writers of the Terminator franchise have is that due to the series' time travel aspect, they can literally take this story anywhere through an alternate timeline. Initially it seems that this is the route Dark Fate is taking, as we're introduced to Dani Ramos (Birds of Passage breakout star Natalia Reyes), a Mexican car-plant worker blissfully unaware that in a couple of decades she will become the leader of humanity's resistance against our robot overlords.

terminator dark fate review


Hang on, didn't Sarah Connor prevent the robot apocalypse at the end of T2? She sure did, but while SkyNet might have been shut down, the robots rose up through Legion, a military Artificial Intelligence programme. So here we go again as both a Terminator (Gabriel Luna's 'Rev-9') and a soldier (Mackenzie Davis's human/cyborg hybrid Grace) are sent back from the future (2042 in this case) with orders to assassinate and protect Dani respectively.

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Freed from the shackles of the past, Dark Fate hooks you in with these fresh characters and their new gimmicks. Grace is a fantastic addition to the canon, a sort of cross between Arnie's T2 saviour droid, Michael Biehn's original protector Kyle Reese, and Joanna Lumley's Purdey from The New Avengers. So too Rev-9, an advanced Terminator with the ability to split itself in two like a metal amoeba.

terminator dark fate review


But just as the protagonists of Terminator movies just can't seem to escape the future, so too the franchise is continually held back by its past. Just as we're invested in Grace and Dani's attempts to outrun Rev-9, who shows up but Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, who has spent the past decades hunting down Terminators as they crash land on earth from the future. An explanation is given for how Connors knows their arrival point, and like most of this movie, it's very dumb. The movie fails to justify Connor's presence, and she just sort of hangs around looking miserable and getting in the way of the homoerotic heat between Dani and Grace.

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Then, to complete the fan service, Arnie shows up as a Terminator who has been living in Texas selling drapes since the '90s. No, I'm not kidding, that's his backstory. The former Governor of California is admittedly very funny in the role, but the humour is so cheesy and cringe-worthy that it's impossible to square this movie as taking place in the same universe as James Cameron's original gritty 1984 thriller.

terminator dark fate review


Terminator: Dark Fate suffers from the same issues as The Force Awakens. Its plot is essentially a rehash of the original movie, and while it introduces interesting new characters, it struggles to justify the reintroduction of its aging legacy stars. There's also the complete lack of threat generated by Rev-9, who along with being able to assume human identity, also seems familiar with the human art of wise-cracking, throwing out one-liners like Roger Moore's James Bond everywhere he goes. Unlike Cameron's films, which were pared down to relentless chase thrillers that barely gave you time to breathe, Dark Fate has a languid pace, with characters constantly stopping off to deliver backstory and trying their best not to tie the plot in knots. Cameron's touch is sorely missed in the film's action sequences, which are mostly rehashed from other movies - the highway attack from Mission Impossible 3 and the tank falling from a plane shtick from The A-Team. Director Tim Miller fails to imbue his movie with the sort of manic energy required, and most episodes of The Sarah Connor Chronicles were more visually interesting.

Of course, like Arnie says, this franchise will be back, and no doubt the same mistakes will be made again. How difficult can it be to write a half-decent Terminator movie? As Godard said, all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. When the gun is being wielded by a killer cyborg from the future, surely it shouldn't be as dull as Terminator: Dark Fate?

Terminator: Dark Fate is in UK/ROI cinemas now.




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