'Terminator: Dark Fate' ★★
Who will save the “Terminator” franchise from itself? Not “Deadpool” director Tim Miller, producer James Cameron or even Linda Hamilton, it turns out.
Yes, despite an A-list roster of talent, including people behind the scenes who theoretically should know how to resurrect this brand and move it forward, “Terminator: Dark Fate “ is just another bad “Terminator” movie in a string of bad “Terminator” movies (although better than “Genisys”). And yet like the cyborg invention behind all of this, they keep coming and are really hard to kill.
This time it really seemed promising with Cameron back on board for the first time in almost 30 years. This film was going to erase all the confusing timelines set by all the sequels that followed and just pick up where “T2” left off. It was also to be centered on a group of women, including Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis as an augmented soldier named Grace and Natalia Reyes as Dani, the innocent being hunted.
Simple, right? Not when there are three screenwriters and five people with “story by” credits involved.
Like many of the semi-sequel, semi-reboot films populating the multiplexes, “Terminator: Dark Fate” is at least partially a rehash of the original, with a Terminator (Gabriel Luna) emerging naked from thin air (and the future of course) to kill an unsuspecting young woman. This time said young woman is Dani Ramos, a nice-seeming but dreadfully underwritten auto factory worker who lives in Mexico with her dad and brother and takes quite some time to grasp the life-and-death situation she's in.
Thankfully she's got a protector in Grace, an augmented super soldier, also from the future, who is part human, part Terminator and has been sent to make sure Dani stays alive for reasons we won't learn until much later.
“The Terminator's” original damsel-turned-warrior Sarah Connor joins their ranks too and it gives me no pleasure to report that it's not an enjoyable comeback. Poor Hamilton – who looks as fierce as ever and was rightfully excited to get a chance to bring Sarah Connor back not as an ingenue but a woman in her 60s who has lived a life – has been reduced to a lousy one-note caricature imagined by a group of men. She simply growls her awful one-liners like “I hunt Terminators and I drink till I black out. Enough of a resume for you?”
Is this team of all-male screenwriters to blame? Perhaps. This film is a perfect representation of something that thinks it is being feminist simply because the camera is pointed at three women most of the time. But really, Dani is not much more than a plot device and Sarah is a reductive stereotype of an embittered woman. Even Grace, who thanks to Davis rises above the rotten script unscathed, has coded “female” limitations – she's powerful, sure, but she has emotional and physical weaknesses too.
Arnold Schwarzenegger adds a dash of life and much-needed comedy when he makes his late-movie entrance. Without giving too much away, the original Terminator has been leading a surprisingly normal life for the past few decades and it's a rare delight in “Dark Fate.”
I wish I could say the action made up for the story deficiencies, but a lot of it is so jumpy and confusing that it's hard to even track on what is happening. There are some inspired moments, like an extended sequence at the Hoover Dam and the high-octane freeway chase that essentially opens the film.
Still, the money and talent involved should have produced something significantly better. And of course the end sets us up for more potential “Terminator” films.
After “Dark Fate” the question is no longer who can save “Terminator,” but who will be bold enough to just let it die?