Saturday, December 14, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate. A Review


I have never been so attached to the Terminator franchise as to hold it as sacred. I think highly of The Terminator and hold that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not just among the best sequels ever made, but among the best films ever made.

After that though, the Terminator franchise has pretty much been useless. I never saw Rise of the Machines, but I did have the misfortune to see both Salvation and Genisys. Now Terminator: Dark Fate has come to hopefully if not mercifully put the final nail on the coffin of a series that really should not have been. On a multitude of levels Dark Fate is a disaster: a witless, soulless, useless cash-grab that spits on longtime fans while offering nothing.

After the events of Judgment Day, we find that it was all for naught, as the T-800 Terminator does end up killing the teenage John Connor, leaving a devastated Sarah Connor.

Twenty-two years later, we go to Mexico where a new Terminator, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) is sent to kill Daniella "Dani" Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Arriving prior to the Rev-9 is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented soldier sent to protect Dani, who is obviously frightened and confused by the insanity around her. Having lost both her brother Diego (Diego Boneta) and her father to the Rev-9, Grace is not exactly doing a great job. Fortunately, enter Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to save Dani, having been given coordinates with the message "For John".

Image result for terminator dark fateGrace, recovering from her injuries, reluctantly joins forces with Sarah to stop the Rev-9. This means going to where Sarah's messages come from, coincidentally the same location tattooed on Grace. It also means smuggling Dani across the U.S./Mexico border to get to Laredo. Having done so and escaped the Rev-9 yet again, they encounter the secret messenger: the declining T-800 himself (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Despite her own anger and resentment towards the T-800, Sarah must join forces with her son's killer to save Dani, who is now the new Leader of the Resistance against not Skynet, but Legion, a new Artificial Intelligence at war with humanity. It leads to a climatic battle where not everyone survives, but for those who do, there may be new battles ahead.

For those who grew up embracing Terminator and Judgment Day, what benefit is there in seeing or knowing that John Connor does not actually lead anything and is killed off quickly? It was already bad enough turning John Connor into a villain in Genysis, but now the three credited screenwriters and five credited "Story By" writers have decided that whatever emotional investment fans had with John Connor was essentially a waste of time. The first two films had John Connor be the driving factor for the films: his mother and he himself needed saving to lead humanity to victory. Now by killing him off, we're left with, what exactly?

A bad jumble of both Terminator and Judgment Day, as if someone attempted to cobble together both films into one and put in a little woke narrative into it by showcasing 'strong women' and Hispanic leads. I, as a Mexican-American, have never once wondered 'Why can't or don't we have a Latino Terminator? Now THAT'S something I yearn to see!'

Image result for terminator dark fate
My Mom, who is Mexican, made an interesting observation after seeing Dark Fate. "For being Mexicans, they speak A LOT of English," she quipped. I know what the phalanx of writers and director Tim Miller were going for: they wanted to showcase women in action films and have good ethnic diversity. That's all well and good, and something I support, but Dark Fate went about it the wrong way.

It is essentially a remake in all but name, but why try to piggyback on something that is not just already established but that works so brilliantly? Replacing the Austrian with the Hispanic, or replacing an Anglo male teen with a Latino woman does not mean you will get the exact same result.

Luna is miscast as the Rev-9 through no fault of his own. The thing is that he frankly is not intimidating on any level in Dark Fate. Truth be told, he seems almost too pleasant a person to be thought of as this cold, unstoppable force. For better or worse one's mind goes back to how Schwarzenegger could be intimidating in The Terminator with his massive build, monotone and monosyllabic speaking with a foreign, vaguely robotic voice. HE could convince someone he was an unstoppable, merciless killer.

Luna on the other hand looks far too human to be thought of as a brutal killing machine. He comes across as someone I would see at a cookout, not a shootout. This isn't to bash Luna per se or say he is not a good actor. This is to say that he looks more like someone who would be a victim of the Terminator than a Terminator himself. Granted, Robert Patrick is not a behemoth physically as Schwarzenegger is in Judgment Day, but he had a coldness in his T-1000 that Luna can't match in his Rev-9. Patrick looks like he could kill you. Luna looks like he'd rather hug you.

Related imageThe other two new leads are equally miscast. Davis was apparently directed to act in only one mode: angry. Curiously, she comes off more Terminator-like than Luna and it might have done wonders if they had switched roles. There is nothing to show that Grace would genuinely care about Dani as a person, let alone as the leader of The Resistance. Even worse, the idea that Reyes' Dani would rise to be this great leader is laughable. Again it's not because she's a woman or even an undocumented woman but because Dark Fate does not have her grow in strength or abilities, no leadership skills to have her rise to the occasion.

As a side note, wouldn't it have been easier and faster to have Dani already be an American? Why was it necessary to smuggle her across the border and be locked up in a Border Patrol center, unless it was to make some kind of point that made the film feel longer than its two-hour running time.

I'll say this about Diego Boneta. There's a reason I call him "Diego Bonita" and leave it at that.

Hamilton probably gave the best performance as the bitter yet determined Sarah Connor even if Dark Fate essentially crushes the great legacy of her character from both Terminator and Judgment Day. She had something to work with. Schwarzenegger didn't, and his efforts to make a human T-800 fell flat. It's one thing to try to rattle off quips like his explanation as to why he has so many weapons first with a long, convoluted one and then, "Also, this is Texas". It's another when you are fully aware you are trying to make the character funny.

It's astonishing how the visual effects in Dark Fate look so fake. Apart from the idea that the Rev-9 is able to separate itself from its human skin Dark Fate looks worse visually than Judgment Day which is twenty-eight years older. It's so obvious that it is CGI that it almost seems lazy.

Terminator: Dark Fate has nothing in it that is good. It wrecks already established canon to try and jump-start a new series with characters we don't care about. It has bad visual effects. It tries to build on past glories by recycling them in a new package. The future never looked so bleak and ultimately the Terminator franchise's dark fate is to be terminated with extreme prejudice.


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