Terminator: Dark Fate movie review: it’s back… and we don’t know why

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Terminator Dark Fate yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Fight the future. Change the future. Watch the future reset itself so that everything ends up much the same way anyway. Repeat. This time-travelling franchise is, ironically, stuck in the past.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for female protagonists, and love the early Terminator movies…
I’m “biast” (con): …but this franchise has long since run out of steam
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Or so they say. And if it wasn’t already abundantly clear what the Terminator franchise’s related position on the future is, Dark Fate — a non sequitur of a subtitle if ever there was one — makes it clear: The future may not repeat itself, but it rhymes too, and in even more cheesy, insipid ways than history’s poetry does. (Think: If history is a beautiful sonnet, the future is a naughty limerick.) The constantly rewritten threads of futures past, futures averted, and futures yet to be that warp and weave their way throughout this big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff are well beyond the tediously familiar at this point.

Fight the future. Change the future. Watch the future reset itself so that everything ends up much the same way anyway. Repeat.

Terminator Dark Fate Linda Hamilton
Linda Hamilton with a rocket launcher is my new sexuality.

To wit: In the wholly redundant Dark Fate, set in 2020, a soldier is sent back from the future — from 2042, to be precise — to protect a young woman who is so important to the human resistance against genocidal AI-guided machines that a superadvanced cyborg killer has also been sent back in time to take her out before she can do The Thing that makes her so dangerous to our silicon overlords. Which is why she needs protection.

We have literally seen this all before, only slightly offkey from this. I wish I could imagine that it was all a meta commentary on Hollywood franchises, but alas, there’s no evidence of such ironic self-awareness here.

The soldier is Grace (Mackenzie Davis: Tully, Blade Runner 2049), and she is an admittedly very cool augmented superwarrior, not quite cyborg but also not as physically vulnerable as Kyle Reese, the aw-shucks future grunt of 1984’s The Terminator. So that’s a little different. The young woman needing protection is Dani (Natalia Reyes) — from Mexico City, not Sarah Connor’s Los Angeles, so totes not the same at all — and she needs protecting because… Well. As you sit there watching this movie and thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if a woman wasn’t primarily defined as mother to a man” — as Sarah Connor was destined to be the mother of the man who would lead the human resistance — Dark Fate has the gall to think it’s pulling one over on you by withholding the truth of Dani’s future importance, and then begs for feminist brownie points when it tells you the thing they should have told you from the start, but kept from you so that you would later marvel at how woke it was.

Terminator Dark Fate Gabriel Luna
A liquid-metal boy and his cyborg skeleton: the feel-good Christmas buddy comedy, coming soon…

Fuck that shit. This is what happens when a bunch of men make a movie that they think is feminist.

Anyway, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton: Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D) shows up to help kick future-robot ass, and her meatbag is still smokin’ as she rocks 63 years on this Earth. Honestly, the greatest pleasure of this movie is seeing a gray-haired woman with an honestly lived-in face smacking down unemotional sociopathic male-coded ass with high-powered weapons — see also: everything Mackenzie Davis does — but even that lacks a certain oomph that Sarah Connor had previously given us. (This is not Hamilton’s fault.) The alt-future “Rev-9” (Gabriel Luna: Freeheld, Bernie) is liquid metal but not a “Terminator.” He’s from an alt-future, remember, where Skynet is no more, except it basically is, and it’s called “Legion” *sigh,* so he’s basically Robert Patrick’s T-1000 with some minor upgrades. I had nightmares — legit waking-in-a-sweat nightmares — about the unstoppable ferocity of Patrick’s Terminator, and I was nowhere near a child when Terminator 2 was released. There’s nothing like the kind of menace that that film and Patrick wielded at work here.

Director *checks notes, squints* Tim Miller — oh, he directed the first Deadpool, which I hated — is no Jim Cameron. Miller is perfunctory at best, imagining, it seems, that the franchise’s tropes will carry the day; hello, Arnie (Aftermath, Maggie) as an alt-timeline early-model Terminator, still bopping around in his past 25 years later, our now. Mostly, nostalgia is not enough here.

Terminator Dark Fate Arnold Schwarzenegger Linda Hamilton
There is no man who does not deserve some side-eye, cyborg assassin from the future or not…

But perhaps most disappointing is that the present of Dark Fate seems to have moved on no more than the imaginary future it is having a conversation with. The future as we look forward today looks radically unlike the one that the mid 1980s foresaw at the time of James Cameron’s The Terminator, but you’d barely know that here. A subplot in the action takes our heroines on a dangerous illegal crossing of the border from Mexico into the United States, and yet screenwriters David S. Goyer (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Godzilla), Billy Ray (Gemini Man, Overlord), and Justin Rhodes — a bunch of same-old white dudes who keep telling the same-old faux woke stories — have no idea on how to capitalize on the difference between Cold War fears of nuclear war that fueled the original Terminator and the terrors of incipient fascism that today’s fractured geopolitics give rise to. This is a franchise that is, ironically, stuck in the past.

see also:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D movie review: he said he’d be back…
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (review)
Terminator Salvation (review)
Terminator Genisys movie review: back from the future… again

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