Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times, you’re the Terminator franchise.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” is the sixth installment to the long-running franchise, and features Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to their original roles from the first two films. Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta also star, Tim Miller directs and James Cameron returns to the franchise as a producer and co-writer.
The first two Terminator films are renowned among the best action films of all-time but ever since 1991’s “Judgment Day” the series has been on the decline, with each sequel getting progressively worse and sloppy. What used to be “grounded” shoot-em-ups and chase scenes mutated into CGI throwdowns and explosions, and if “Dark Fate” isn’t as bad as 2015’s “Genisys” then it’s damn close.
The bar for a Terminator sequel is pretty low nowadays, especially after the cluttered mess that was “Genisys.” But “Dark Fate” has been touted as the return of founder James Cameron to the franchise, and in the day and age of the reboot/remake/sequels like “The Force Awakens” and “Halloween,” maybe this is just what Terminator needed, to get back to its roots. Maybe that is what it needed, I couldn’t tell you; this film is as messy and ugly as any other of these films.
The film just feels like a studio checklist, from safe and calculated nostalgia drops (most of which aren’t even good and are just lazy pandering) to over-the-top set pieces. On the most basic level of popcorn thrills, sure, maybe there is enough here to satisfy. On one occasion when Mackenzie Davis’ half-human, half-robot character was hitting Gabriel Luna’s Terminator with a sledge hammer I thought “oh that was a cool shot.” But for the most part this action just feels stale, like there are no true consequences or stakes because everything going on is just ludicrous. Each action scene starts and ends the same way, with our heroines having slowed down the Terminator, who then turns to the camera and slowly begins to stand as the score gives us a “buh buhh” before cutting to the next scene.
For being a $185 million blockbuster in the year 2019, the film doesn’t even look all too good. Whenever Gabriel Luna is having his skin re-form over his Terminator exoskeleton, it looks so incredibly fake to a distracting degree; like PlayStation 3 cutscene level bad.
The performances are, fine; about as much as you can hope to get from a film like this. I’m sure older generations will get a kick out of seeing Linda Hamilton onscreen once more in her iconic role, and as far as Arnie goes… like, he’s playing the same dry robot he was in “Genisys” so it isn’t the same rush to see him in the role. I personally wasn’t a fan of how they have the Connor character portrayed, she is just rude and grumpy to everyone all the time so it’s hard to root for her, but for the storyline they give her to play with in this film I suppose it worked fine.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” is just as incoherent, loud and boring as its predecessor which begs the question why they bothered to try this mini-reboot at all? I can’t see diehard fans being pleased with several decisions in it, and newcomers or lukewarm folk to the franchise catch get all the Easter eggs planted to distract them from the garbage plot. I would call it a disappointment but no rational-thinking adult had very high expectations for a franchise that hasn’t been good in nearly 30 years, so I’ll just call this what it is: a not very good movie.
Critic’s Rating: 4/10