Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) a (almost right on time!) Review

I’ve spent the last few posts talking about Terminator: Dark Fate (let’s refer to it as TDF from here on out) and now, having seen the film, offer my opinion on it.

To begin: I very much recall going to the theater way, waaaaaaaay back in 1984 to see The Terminator. While viewers who watch the film today may not realize it because of the inevitable passage of time and cribbing of ideas, seeing the original film when it was originally released was a ferocious experience. It was, to my mind, the first time the action and horror genres were merged.

Once the film got going, it felt absolutely relentless, and despite what we now see as an obvious low budget and dodgy effects (again, this is the product of the passage of time), The Terminator essentially made director/writer James Cameron’s career. He would go on from this film to make the equally tense action/horror Aliens and from there Terminator 2 (which many, but not me, consider the very best Terminator film) before eventually becoming a box-office champion with Titanic and Avatar.

The Terminator franchise left James Cameron’s hands following T2, and he had no part in either Terminator 3, Terminator: Salvation, or Terminator: Genysis. Neither did he have a part in Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles TV show, which I found quite good.

Unfortunately, the Terminator films that followed T2 were not that good, IMHO. Almost all of them had good elements, but the overall works simply didn’t carry each film into “great” movie territory.

Recently, the Terminator property reverted to James Cameron and with Terminator: Dark Fate, he’s “back”, though this time with the story and production credits while Tim Miller (Deadpool) directs.

If you’ve read my previous postings, it is worth noting that in making TDF, it was decided to create a story that actively ignores all the Terminator works that came post-T2. So going into the film, audiences should try to wipe their minds clean of all those works and stick with the first two.

The movie begins with a rather shocking development that reminded me in many ways of the opening of Aliens 3. I don’t want to give too much away here (I will talk about it toward the end, so BEWARE SPOILERS!) but if you’ve read online anything about the film, chances are you already know what happens at the very beginning of the film…

We then move to Mexico and, specifically, car factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalie Reyes, quite good), and the arrival -natch- of two visitors from the future, Grace (Mackenzie Davis, quite spectacular as an “augmented” human) and the evil Gabriel, aka REV-9 (Gabriel Luna, quite good), the robot sent to the future to take out Dani.

The story thus far isn’t all that different from all the other Terminators that came before: You have your “ordinary” person being alternately hunted and protected by two people who have come from the future. The early action set pieces are quite spectacular and Gabriel’s evil robot, while essentially still incredibly similar to Robert Patricks’ T-1000 from T2, has the added trick of being able to split into two Terminators at one time.

The opening action sequence terminates (ouch) with the arrival of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, looking as grizzly as can be but dangerous and smart assed to boot). The three form an uneasy alliance which eventually takes them to you-know-who (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and together the four of them form an even more uneasy alliance in trying to take on and destroy Gabriel.

Watching TDF, I realized how much better the film was compared to those that followed T2. Again, I don’t feel all those films are horrible, but clearly the people behind the making of TDF spent the extra capital in developing the relationships between the characters so that when we got to the ending, it was something of an emotional gut punch, at least to me.

TDF still falls a little below T2 (my second favorite Terminator film behind the original) yet rises IMHO far above the others and, for someone who was there when the first came out, felt it was almost a love letter to the fans of the series, even if it didn’t necessarily move out of the general Terminator comfort zone, story-wise.

Still, I liked it quite a bit and would easily recommend it to anyone interested. If you worry that these old-folks simply can’t do it in an intense action film, let me say they handle themselves quite well. I fear, however, that people are not giving this film a chance (it has been noted it underperformed despite generally good critical and audience reactions) because of the run of so-so Terminator films, including the not so-very-old Terminator: Genysis.

And that’s really too bad. If I could go back in time, maybe I’d convince the makers of those sequels to lay off and, by the time TDF shows up, people might be more willing/eager to give it a shot.

TDF is an easy recommendation for me. A film that, while not necessarily reinventing the Terminator-wheel, nonetheless respects the original two films and provides us with some genuinely good thrills and action set pieces, along with a story that is also quite good (if familiar) and some very welcome humor.

Go see it with an open mind… or at least without thinking about the last three Terminator films that followed T2.

Now then…



Still here?

Ok, you’ve been warned.

TDF opens with a post-T2 Sarah Connors and a young John Connor (both actors were digitally de-aged) resting from the end of T2.

Then, the T-800 (a de-aged Arnold) appears and kills John Connor.

It’s a rough scene, especially given we had a full film in T2 whose whole reason for being was to keep John Connor alive. However, in the course of that film, the future was changed and Skynet was destroyed.

What TDF does, somewhat cleverly but still kinda/sorta grimly, is show us that John Connor’s death no longer matters. That the T-800 that kills him turns out to have completed its programmed mission for a future that no longer was going to come into being.

Thus, the T-800 we see later in the film is that same robot, only he spent the next 20 plus years adapting to humanity and realizing what he did was terrible.

It’s an interesting notion and one that I felt made the relationship between Sarah and he that much more intriguing but… man, what a bummer of a concept! As I said, it was not unlike Alien 3, which opened with the deaths of two very likeable characters who survived the massacre of Aliens.

Still, for me not something that ruined the film.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary!