Another few years, another new Judgement Day to stop.
Fresh off the assembly line of sequels from rugged franchises, “Terminator: Dark Fate” has gone the route of last year’s “Halloween”: the erasure of lukewarmly received prior sequels and the return of an aged protagonist, in this case, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. With James Cameron’s involvement as a producer and directing duties being given to Tim Miller of “Deadpool” fame, the franchise is poised to return to the gritty style of the first two films.
So, does “Dark Fate” rekindle the apocalyptic fires of the franchise bests?
To start off on the bright side of things, it’s great to have Linda Hamilton back. Far pricklier and menacing than she was in her prime, Hamilton’s Connor has a considerably lethal screen presence, cursing with a self-assured swagger that could only come someone who’s been hunting Terminators for decades. She more than holds her own against the franchise’s more prominent star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, now portraying a new T-800: “Carl.”
Schwarzenegger wisely stays deadpan and serious, even whilst balancing comedic dialogue and surprisingly believable remorse for his past actions as a machine.
The other major players are also pretty good, Mackenzie Davis’s Grace being a big surprise in particular. Despite reservations, her suitably grim and militaristic performance and athletic frame combine to make her a believable threat against Sarah Connor and a viable protector for Dani Ramos, played by Natalie Reyes. Reyes herself gives a performance I would call a twist on 1984 Sarah Connor, with a little bit of an edge to her, especially near the end.
Another mark in the movie’s favor is the action. There’s real care to the carnage on-screen; even in the vehicle chases being comprehensible and the Terminators are believable physical forces to be reckoned with. Good staging and choreography also work to keep the film grounded until the end, with one highlight involving a tense escape from a Border Patrol site.
However, the finale begins to drop the ball when it moves underwater, resulting in hard-to-see movements worsened by murky CGI. Pacing and suspension of disbelief also take a hit when the climax seems to refuse to slow down and just end. Slow-motion is also in heavy use, especially in close quarters fighting. Still, this is easily the best action in the series since “T2.”
Sadly, just about everything else is a mixed bag.
Despite having a far larger budget than Miller’s previous effort, many of the digital effects, especially near the end, feel like they were pulled from a barely above middle-market action flick. At times, I was reminded of September’s mediocre “Rambo” sequel. While I have a strange appreciation for some of the questionable CGI for the Terminators, since I adore the uncanny valley in these machines, the over $180 million spent doesn’t shine through.
Another issue is the writing and pacing. While the motivations for the main cast are all fine, the message ends up actually going against the first two movies, especially when it comes to “Carl” and a twist involving the new state of the future, which I cannot discuss in risk of potential spoilers.
Furthermore, Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 fails to live up to Robert Patrick’s T-1000, though there still is some uneasiness in how affable he is when he’s passing for a normal guy. Expected better from the best live-action “Ghost Rider,” though.
Hoo boy, that opening. Setting up the idea that the film will be iconoclastic towards the rest of the franchise, this potential is instead shoved aside for following the plot beats of those first two films. Damned shame such a controversial opening sets up a rather conventional “Terminator” film.
When all is said and done, “Dark Fate” provides a serviceable bookend to the first two movies; possibly the series, going by box office numbers.
Still, if only it took more risks.
Final judgment: 3/5
Featured Image: Courtesy Terminator: Dark Fate IMDb