Let’s take another look at the troubled franchise.
Dark Fate does perhaps the wisest thing the Terminator franchise has done in nearly three decades and rejects all the sequels. Instead, we pick up some time after Judgment Day and find ourselves in a new present with a new future threat.
Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, which was widely marketed and meant to entice viewers to show up. However, not a lot did. Well, a lot did… The film made about $260 million, which should have made it a success, but with a budget of nearly $400 million, well you can see the problem.
I think the reason this one failed is twofold: one) it was never going to make that large of a budget back and two) audiences are reasonably wary of the franchise.
The bummer is that this isn’t only the best Terminator film since Judgment Day, it is the only other Terminator film that should be considered part of the canon. If this one would have come out without the sequels, I think we would see it as an interesting trilogy that has some potential areas for discussion. However, with the sequels existing, this one feels a little too familiar.
Another thing that hurt the film is that apparently men are too sensitive to have Grace (Mackenzie Davis) be a badass character. Seriously, go read the complaints about how we have a woman as a badass (despite Linda Hamilton being a badass in the second one…). Also, Davis is fucking cyborg (they call it augmented human) so the whole weight argument (that idiots make) is pretty much garbage. Personally, I think the folks who bitch about this probably wouldn’t last ten seconds against any female MMA combatant and most of their complaints come from insecurity. The most hilarious part is folks who are complaining about this stuff in 2019 would be the same who would have hated Aliens or Judgment Day. They only look at those films with rose colored glasses because of nostalgia. If you have a problem with women having roles in films don’t hide behind your childhood crushes, just admit you’re a fucking sexist.
I get that I am probably beating this drum a little too hard for people who regularly read this blog, but the fact that supposed fans of science fiction are leading the charge against women in leading roles hurts my brain. The worst part is that Davis’ character is underwritten, but for a criticism to be valid it needs to come from someone who has actually seen the film. Radical concept, I know.
Anyway, let’s talk about the film. Tim Miller (most known for directing Deadpool) proves to be a competent but sometimes muddy director in the action sequences. Gabriel Luna plays the REV-9 machine that seems to have damn near limitless power. He hounds them across Mexico and the southern U.S. as Davis and Hamilton try to keep Dani (Natalia Reyes) safe. Our trio is added by our good friend Arnold Schwarzenegger who actually expands the philosophical questions about machines in this one.
The film is relentless as our heroes are never given a break. However, this pacing leaves a lot of the characters underdeveloped. Luna doesn’t have as much time to be sinister (though he does seem to be the most efficient killing machine in the franchise), and Grace’s motivations come through as a little too convenient at some points. Grace is robotic in her mission, but still human—and we don’t get enough of an exploration of this tension. If we see a T-800 become more human, we should have been given more of why an augmented human might become more robotic.
While the storytelling front is problematic, at least this entry doesn’t shove in dozens of poor decisions. For me, a flawed but competent story is better than a mess. Also, the action sequences are tasty to watch (mostly). With Miller, it seems like they are either a treat for eyes or sometimes too overcut.
I suppose another issue I do have with the film is that Luna is simply too strong. The whole idea of going back to the past to kill a resistance leader implies that the humans are making ground in the future. There is no way an army of REV-9 terminators could be stopped without nuclear weapons. While this does make for some intense scenes (he literally is a wrecking ball) it doesn’t make sense narratively.
The series has always been messy. Even Judgment Day has its share of problems. However, Dark Fate showed that there might still be some life in this series (though the failed box office probably killed it for good). If they make another one, they need to reduce the budget. They were wise to give this one a hard R rating, but now they need to trim the budget.
Give this one a rent if you’re looking for a fun action film. The original Terminator was my favorite movie growing up and I think fans will like it. However, if you’re scared of women in positions of power, might want to avoid it.