Film Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’: Original Cast Can’t Re-ignite Franchise

By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times
October 27, 2019 Updated: November 5, 2019

R | | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | 1 November 2019 (USA)

The original “Terminator” was an instant classic. You know this already. It was thrilling and terrifying, it was original, it had James Cameron as a young, hungry, slightly genius filmmaker, and it had Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his movie and muscle prowess. It slammed the Austrian-accented phrase “I’ll be baaaack” into the public consciousness, and 35 years later, it’s still in there. It spawned the term “Governator.”

Well, Arnold’s no longer the governator, but he’s baaaack again as the terminator, along with Cameron, and even Linda Hamilton. But even all three of them can’t make this one interesting.

man with beard and machine gun
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

Why? Because we already know all this stuff. Like, for 30 years now. Ever since Robert Patrick’s T-1000 terminator model, the liquid metal one, where you shoot holes in it and they instantly fuse back together again—you know you can’t kill these things.

exploding terminator
Gabriel Luna as the Rev 9 model terminator in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

So what’s the point? Where’s the suspense? Where’s the unknown? Where’s the mystery? Where’s the nail-biting fear? Nowhere, is where. This is the fundamental problem with Hollywood’s playing it safey-safe and wringing every last drop of money out of tried-and-true, market-research-driven, known fare. The elements of surprise and originality are long gone.

Granted, every once in a while, the franchise will come up with a new terminator-thingy that’s got some scariness. Remember the motorcycle terminators? Those were menacing and original. And you could send them somersaulting spectacularly into the roadside bushes with a well-placed tripwire.

But this latest gooey terminator that can be machine-gunned into a few different puddles of bubbling black goo, which can then promptly locate the other puddles of black goo and then morph back into a carbonite skeleton? Exactly like Scarlett Johansson in “Lucy,” and Tom Hardy in “Spawn”? Yawn.

Terminator endo and exo skeletons
Gabriel Luna as the Rev 9, which is made up of two components (both pictured here), in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

So What Happens?

Well, 28 years after “Terminator: Judgment Day,” we find ourselves down around the U.S.-Mexican border. Which is all very current events-y, of course. Dani (Natalia Reyes), a young Mexican woman, is being hunted by a “Rev-9” terminator (Gabriel Luna—see above about the new black-goo assassin).

Dani must be somebody special who has the ability to change the outcome of the future. That’s why the dastardly Skynet keeps sending terminators Back to the Future to terminate these hero types in the first place. Probably if you sit there and guess really hard who Dani might be, you’ll go, “Oh, duh!” Hmm. Is that a spoiler? Nah, not really.

blonde woman in white tank top restrains woman with dark hair
Natalia Reyes (R) and Mackenzie Davis star in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

Luckily for Dani, there’s a female version of Michael Biehn’s character from the original  movie, a cyborgian supersoldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). She’s got Biehn’s same, burning, megawatt eyes. This role should catapult Davis to A-list leading-lady status. Anyway, her futuristic cyborg warrior has been sent to protect Dani, in the same way Biehn’s character protected Sarah Connor.

woman with bullet-proof vest and chain
Mackenzie Davis stars in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

Speaking of whom, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) is baaack, too.

woman with bazooka
Linda Hamilton stars in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

Linda Hamilton was awesome in a few of these terminator stories. The first one, of course, but also the 1991 one that she got ridiculously physically jacked for. (As a personal trainer, I appreciated the massive deltoids.) However, here, it doesn’t look like she’s been plying her acting trade in a while; the rust is thick. She looks like she’s standing around, trying to feel stuff. This is a big acting no-no.

older woman and younger woman
Linda Hamilton (L) and Natalia Reyes star in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

It’s a Chase Movie

Terminators will always chase you around. Because you don’t want to die. So you run away. And they chase you. You burn off all their fake skin, and the shiny skeletons with the red demon eyes, firing machine guns, clunk after you. You smash off a metal femur, and they crawl after you. They turn into motorcycles and burn rubber after you. Chase-chase-chase.

Man in work overalls
Gabriel Luna stars as the lackluster black-goo terminator, here doing some chasing, in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

It’s always been a story about protecting someone who has the ability to save the future. The most fun thing about “Terminator: Dark Fate” is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800, jalopy-terminator model. He’s been studying human behavior and has tried to fit into human life, going by the name of Carl. Carl the terminator.

man in red plaid shirt and beard
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

He actually has a wife and kid. When asked by Sarah Connor—who will loathe him ’til all eternity for killing her kid—why his wife puts up with him, he cites a list. On reason is, “I am extremely funny.” Only Arnold can say a line like that. If “Dark Fate” was as good as the original, that’s the line we’d be saying for the next 35 years.

Ultimately, the most important thing from the movie is this poster right here:

Terminator with gun and sunglasses
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures)

Just like the currently playing “Zombieland 2: Double Tap,” what these movies about undead creatures that are coming to eat/terminate you are good for is to remind you that now is a very good time to choose your fate. What that means, on a superficial level, is that you should choose wisely whether you spend $18.50 on a movie theater ticket or $1.91 to get the DVD from a local neighborhood Red Box.

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’
Director: Tim Miller
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Release Date:  Nov. 1
Rated: 2.5 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch