Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Written by David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, & Billy Ray
Directed by Tim Miller
After recently rewatching Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I became curious about the latest attempt to revive the Terminator franchise. At this point, we now have three separate timelines branching from T2 that all seem to fail to continue a story that feels finished. I watched the T2 Director’s Cut, and it has an ending scene with John Connor grown in the new future where he serves as a senator. It felt like the day had been saved; everything was wrapped up. But of course, Hollywood couldn’t let that be when there was more money to make. I had seen Terminator: Genisys, which is unwatchable, and wondered what damage control would be done in Dark Fate if maybe they had made a palatable follow-up.
Three years after the events of T2, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) and John are living in Guatemala when a T-800 shows up and kills the boy. Twenty-one years later, two visitors from the future arrive in Mexico. One is a Rev-9, an advanced Terminator that combines the hard metal skeletal model with a liquid metal skin over the top. The other arrival is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human, is the Resistance’s side here to prevent the Rev-9’s mission. The target is Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young woman who works in a car factory in Mexico City. Grace saves Dani, but the woman’s father and brother are taken out by the Rev-9. Then an older Sarah Conner shows up and reveals she’s been receiving anonymous texts giving her coordinates of Terminator’s arriving in her time. She assumes Dani must be in her shoes, the mother of the new savior. The trio of women teams up to discover who Sarah’s anonymous texter is and try to keep Dani alive.
The first part of this film wasn’t too bad. Of course, killing off John Conner stings, and I’m not sure that was the best choice from a character perspective. It was done so that they could simply do a soft reboot of the franchise. It would have almost been better not to include Sarah Conner and make this about Grace and Dani, a new reality with a totally different story of how the machines came to power. But, Hollywood needs fan service, so they will force familiar faces down our throats because they think that’s what will get people in the theater. This leads to Arnold’s inclusion in this movie that should never have happened and actually harmed the story.
Anyone with a brain knows that Sarah’s texter will be Arnold. We just aren’t sure how the story will justify his inclusion and what character he will be. The reveal is that he is the Terminator from the opening who killed John. We learn that this T-800, who has taken the name Carl, has been in a relationship with a woman after rescuing her from her abusive husband. Carl has even aided in raising her son, who sees him as his dad. We learn that after killing John, SkyNet had no self-destruct sequence planned. They just let the T-800 wander around forever? They want us to relate to this character like T-800 from T2, but it’s not the same character. We don’t know this person. Because he is played by Arnold, the studio thinks they can shorthand the connection.
This older T-800 living in a cabin in the woods is also way too reminiscent of a lot of what we saw in Terminator: Genisys with Pops, the reprogrammed T-800 who rescues and raises Sarah Conner. I think the series needs to be okay with not having Arnold in these movies. This was the first time Linda Hamilton had appeared as Sarah Conner since she was in the T2-3D ride film at Universal Studios in 1996. I think she does an okay job playing off of Grace and Dani. I don’t think her character works as well when Carl shows up. The film intends for this to be a significant moment of conflict for Sarah, learning how to forgive this T-800, but I feel like we got that arc in T2. This is just a rehash of those emotions in the absence of John, so it doesn’t have the weight Cameron’s film does.
T2 has a solid aesthetic to it, something hard to tell because so many movies that came after copy-pasted that style. The reverse is happening here, with Dark Fate mimicking the tone of recent action movies of the 2010s/20s. The result is that the film is incredibly bland & uninteresting to look at. There is such an abundance of CG that nothing feels like it has a presence like the stunt sequences in T2. It’s hard not to think about that because the movie spends so much time trying to recreate similar moments. You have a high-speed chase that puts the Rev-9 in the cab of a semi-truck. The Rev-9 regularly forms his hands into blades a la the T-100. There are just so many nods to the older film in a way that isn’t paying tribute but trying to just regurgitate rather than create something new.
All that said, Dark Fate isn’t terrible; it is undoubtedly leagues above any previous Terminator sequel since T2. I just wish that instead of feeling the need to provide fan service through the presence of Hamilton and Arnold, they had just given us a new story with fresh new characters. The dynamic between Grace & Dani is an entirely different one than between Sarah and Kyle Reese. That opens up new directions for this story to explore. When you weigh it down by making sure too much time is devoted to Carl sacrificing himself heroically, it takes away the characters the story should focus on.