By Dominic Messier, Cyberdyne Critic Model Series 101
We heard the familiar advice, we ignored the common sense to keep running for our lives, yet here we are again, bearing witness to poor souls being hunted by an unstoppable foe hellbent on a singular mission to eradicate its target to ensure the downfall of mankind.
Hey, he always said he’d be back…..who are we to argue, six movies into the franchise?
Okay, so technically, Terminator: Dark Fate is the sixth film since the 1984 original, but actually conceived as a third installment to the original, along with James Cameron’s highly popular 1991 sequel Judgment Day. All but forgotten are the Rise of the Machines, Salvation and that Godfather III of sequels, Genysis.
The year is 2020, and a time traveling, cybernetically enhanced freedom fighter named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has come back from a dystopian, machine-ruled future with intent to protect a young woman name Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), whose presence in the later years poses a threat to a Skynet-type AI entity called Legion.
As one expects from this franchise, the evil AI sends back the most advanced Terminator model yet, a hybrid model called Rev-9 (Diego Luna), capable of morphing into liquid while separating from its prime skeletal frame, being able to be in two places at once in close combat.
The odds appear to be in the Rev-9’s favor, that is until Grace and Dani get some help from none other than Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, reprising her iconic role), still a fugitive but taking down terminators with the help of a secret helper via encrypted messages.
Together the trio attempt to stay one step ahead of their foe, unaware that more help might be on the way in the most familiar and unexpected of forms.
Okay, first, for the positives: yes, this latest entry keeps the same insane pace and sense of ominous dread at the approach of a menacing, unrelenting killer that never sleeps, eats or gives up. That well-worn formula has worked brilliantly in past installments and helps the movie keep its intensity and suspense.
Ditto the inclusion of a more-human-than-cyborg protagonist, a heroine that possesses enough of a skill set to give the villain a run for its money. Adding familiar faces like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, their first team-up since T2, is certainly incentive to check this one out, if not for a misplaced sense of nostalgia, at least to see what they come up with next.
No, the issue with this film is that, despite great special effects and CGI galore (especially Luna’s stoic yet pseudo-cocky Rev-9, not unlike Robert Patrick’s stone-faced killer from Judgment Day), Dark Fate feels all too familiar, essentially a slightly different rehash of past plot lines, right down to the beats where sacrifice for the greater good is needed and life lessons are freely dispensed.
This sequel’s evolution from the opening scene to its predictable climax resembles previous film way too much, almost as if the writers had realized the error of trying something new or from a different perspective (see installments 3 4 and 5) and figured it was best to stick with what works. Then again, creator James Cameron produced this one, returning to the well of sorts, but was probably too immersed into his Avatar sequels to truly cook up any new surprises, instead recycling chopper and highway chases, terminator on terminator confrontations, etc…
Problem is, what works has worked before, and the audience has a long memory, keeping detailed mental files of their favorite Terminator moments, apparently enough so to know when they’ve been tricked with a flimsy paint job to hide the kinks and dents in the chassis.
Despite a well-meaning subplot about free will and a machine’s ability to explore humanity, there’s very little brought on by the inclusion of the Hamilton/Schwarzenegger pairing, feeling tacked on rather than deemed essential to the plot.
Mackenzie Davis fares well enough in the first half as the war-worn resistance fighter who’s seen things, but by the time the screen veterans pop up, her presence is minimized, a big no-no that harms the final product.
The Blu-Ray combo comes equipped with deleted and extended scenes, a breakdown of key visual effects scenes from the film, a handful of behind-the-scenes clips and the like. Interestingly, the director’s commentary by Deadpool director Tim Miller and his film editor is only available via the digital version of the film. An odd move, considering the greater potential for such extra perks on a high definition disc. A sign of the times, I suppose.
With Ah-nuld getting ahead in years (an element which is explored to that advantage in this film) and a seemingly redundant plot that offers nothing new, it’s a mystery as to whether we’d expect another sequel. Then again, no one watching the 1984 original ever thought they’d see a murderous cyborg come as a liquid form. You never know…they might be back…