TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Published On October 31, 2019 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
​Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta, Alicia Borrachero, Enrique Arce, Steven Cree
Screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Story by James Cameron, Charles Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes
Based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd
Directed by Tim Miller
Produced by James Cameron and David Ellison
Cinematography by Ken Seng
Edited by Julian Clarke
Music by Tom Holkenborg

There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

That seems especially true these days, and many days during the past few decades especially, for Hollywood filmmakers intent on smothering and overwhelming and, ultimately, slowly destroying, the movie industry as a whole with a rampant, unchecked and horribly-infectiously-diseased malady that can only be called sequelitis, remakeitis, rebootitis and lack-of-imagination-and-blatantly-gross-greed-and-commercialization-itis. Hollywood suits, producers, directors and writers simply cannot seem to escape their dark fate–and a dark fate it truly is–of constantly coming up with unoriginal, unimaginative, horrendously trite–and generally unneeded–sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and revisits. This is nothing new, of course, but looking at the slate of releases for just 2019 and just the last quarter of 2019, it’s clear that sequelitis–we’ll use that term for this area of focus in general–is still infecting the hearts, minds and souls of Hollywood filmmakers, to everyone’s discontent and disadvantage.

In just recent and previous weeks and months, and in just the upcoming weeks and months, here’s what Hollywood is unfortunately spewing out and throwing up to the unfortunate, too-long-suffering morose moviegoing masses: “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Zombieland: Double Tap,” “The Addams Family,” “Frozen 2,” “The Lion King,” “How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World,” “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” “Shaft,” “Dumbo,” “Hellboy,” “Pet Sematary,” “Aladdin,” “Men in Black: International,” “Midway,” “Toy Story 4,” “Joker,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Glass,” “John Wick 3: Parabellum,” “Hobbs and Shaw,” and, lawdy mamma heaven and hell help us all, “Charlie’s Angels,” if you can even possibly believe that.

Quick, someone, please call NIH, CDC and USAMRIID and please plead with them to get their top doctors, scientists, researchers, voodoo medicine men, mystics, magicians, wizards, faith healers, snake handlers and snake oil salesmen to quickly form an emergency crisis medical team, head out to Los Angeles, quarantine most Hollywood filmmakers for the next year, and do all that they can to rid them of this continually destructive, dangerous disease of sequelitis! This sickness must be cured–now–before it takes over the world and we’re all living in the Zombie Sequelitis Apocalypse in every aspect of life, in a world where no one has any new thoughts, no one uses their imagination, and everyone just keeps recycling the same ideas, over and over again, in all aspects of life–not just movies and television–and pretty soon everyone just starts watching George Romero’s movies for tips about how to survive this new horrendous, horrific wasteland.

Choose your fate.

Hollywood suits can either continue to dredge up and toss out this mainly crappy fare, or they can literally stop, take a deep breath, re-evaluate, and start making more new, fresh, inventive, unique and intelligent films to save the industry. Of course, there are indeed scores of new, fresh, inventive, unique and intelligent films released every month and every year–and there always have been, really–but the problem with the modern-day film industry that sequelitis and its mostly shoddy products have overwhelmed scores of better films to the point where, continually, the year’s best films sadly, sorrowfully struggle to find an audience. And when people continue to zombie out to the cold, bland, over-priced, over-done multiplexes and corporate chain theaters to see the latest sequelitis-induced dreck, and they don’t see the new, unique, inventive and intelligent films that are worlds better, well, that just contributes to a continued decrease in quality in movies, moviegoing, the movie industry and culture in general.

Again, this isn’t new, but it does need to be noted, stressed and repeated–and the message and topic will continue to be noted, stressed and repeated–until movie industry executives start to listen or the entire movie industry collapses completely, which, when it comes to movies, could always happen in an instant as quick as a cliched jump scare or quick cutaway.

Which brings us to James Cameron’s and Tim Miller’s “Terminator: Dark Fate,” the sixth film in the increasingly tired “Terminator” series–yes, six, if you can believe that– and a movie that is actually, honestly set to be released on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019–thirty-five years after the release of Cameron’s original, first film in the series, “The Terminator,” in 1984–if you can believe that. Interestingly, amazingly and, yes, surprisingly, despite all of the above ruminations about sequelitis, all of which still stands as accurate, “Terminator: Dark Fate” somehow succeeds as a passable, even slightly-good, suspenseful and goofily entertaining fall popcorn action-adventure-science-fiction chase thriller–but barely. The movie squeaks by as a good, thrills-and-chills popcorn throwaway–good for a few hours of big-budget, big-special-effects, big-action-and-adventure–but that’s all it does. While it’s enjoyable and entertaining on some very base, very common, very basic level, the film fails to capture the deeper, more thoughtful and even epic-style gravitas that the first three films in the series managed to capture–and, yes, that’s the first three films in the series. “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) was indeed a worthy entry in the series, with a great twist and turn on the basic story, an underlying hilarious sense of humor and some of the more amazing action sequences one could hope for. And, of course, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) and the original “The Terminator” (1984) are simply classics, too.

Yet, again, while “Dark Fate” is fun, strong, and worth seeing, the film does mainly get by mainly on its star power, chemistry and presence of its two main leads, Linda Hamilton’s returning Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator–both more grizzled, more battle-weary, more wary, more older and more wiser; a wise use of modern-day special effects in some amazing action sequences; a, somehow, still-interesting take and twist on the over-arching Terminator story; and some playfulness with another over-arching aspect of the series, the ups and downs and twists and turns of time travel and its subsequent affects and effects on history. The film, however, does not get by in terms of any deep, in-depth intelligence, any amazingly original takes on that over-arching storyline (the story’s interesting, but not amazingly original interesting), continual smart dialogue (there are some funny lines here and there), or, really, any overwhelming, over-arching great ingenuity, cleverness or originality concerning the storyline, characterizations, characters, plot, subplot or messages, themes or morals.

Yes, the amazing array of six writers on the story and script–really, it took six people to come up with this?–and that’s amazing not as a compliment, but amazing that it took six people to come up with what is basically an average script–did find a somewhat new storyline, some new characters and some new explanations for some of what happens, but, in the end, “Dark Fate” suffers from the dark fate that, really, has hung over all of the sequels: The movies are, in the end, the same story, over and over and over again: Terminators come back through time to Earth, from the future, to hunt down humans who are destined and fated to be the machines’ main enemies in the future. Really–in the end, that’s it, over and over and over again.

“Dark Fate,” despite its just-squeaking-by success, suffers this fate, alas, and those six writers–six, mind you, six writers!–could not, as hard as they tried, come up with anything deeply, surprisingly, impressively clever, unique or original to get by this basic plot line. In “Dark Fate,” a surgically-enhanced super-human named Grace comes back to Earth in 2020, from the future, to protect a young woman, Dani Ramos, who–you guessed it–is destined to be an important military hero and figure helping to lead the fight against the machines in the future. Dani is being hunted by a Rev-9, a super-charged, super-enhanced, high-energy and extremely, dangerously powerful Terminator from the future. Sarah Connor shows up to help out Grace and Dani, and, sure enough, Schwarzenegger’s Terminator also shows up to help Sarah, Grace and Dani. And, thus, Sarah, the Terminator, Grace and Dani are constantly, consistently, continuously, on the run from the Rev-9, who is constantly, consistently and continously on the chase after them, only wanting to kill Dani and anyone who gets in his way. And in this movie, anyone who gets in his way includes what appears to be several hundred innocent people, soldiers, border agents, relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and anyone else who dares to step in front of the Rev-9. And that’s not an exaggeration. And that constant killing and gratuitous violence by the Rev-9 nearly kills and brings down the movie. Director Tim Miller has a taste for R-rated violence–he also directed “Deadpool”–and “Dark Fate” is violent, but the violence is mostly stylized, sci-fi-oriented, and not too graphic or gross-out.

Dark Fate,” by the way, picks up after the events of “Judgment Day,” and the movie–strangely, bizarrely and oddly–tends to mainly completely ignore the plot developments of “Rise of the Machines” and the fourth and fifth baffling series entries, “Terminator Salvation” (2009) and “Terminator Genisys” (2015). Talk about sequelitis–“Salvation” and “Genisys” should never have been made, simply put. There was also a “Terminator” television series, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” which ran for two seasons on Fox from January, 2008, to April, 2009.

Yes, talk about the problems of sequelitis, too much Terminator product and time travel: “Dark Fate” ignores the events of the third, fourth and fifth Terminator movies, and the television show ignored the events of “Rise of the Machines.” It’s not clear, exactly, what the fourth and fifth movies were ignoring or not ignoring. It’ll drive you crazy to think about it, to paraphrase a line from the first movie.

“Dark Fate” is, like “Deadpool” or the original “The Terminator,” decidedly R-rated, with plenty of hard-edged violence, dark themes, adult dialogue, cuss words and adult themes. It’s not a movie for little kids–so parents need to remember that, since this series has crossed over from just a series of movies to an entire world and culture and subculture. “Dark Fate” is an adult film–and that’s okay, as the harder, rough-edged aspects actually help the movie be a little more serious and mature. Yet, still, that sense of seriousness and gravitas that pervaded the first three films in the series is, again, somehow lacking in this movie. Some better, more insightful and more mature dialogue throughout the film would have helped. It’s a wonder what on earth it took six people to do with the story and script on this movie, since the overall story and script are so lacking in depth, ingenuity and originality.

However, credit is due to the hundreds of special effects artists who worked on this film–the special effects are breathtaking, powerful, impressive and contribute greatly to the success of the movie. Several action sequences are crazy fun to watch, and even suspenseful–and this particular, respective successful aspect of “Dark Fate” should be attributed to the work of those hundreds of special effects artists.

The cast is strong in “Dark Fate,” too. Hamilton and Schwarzenegger carry this movie, and their chemistry as, basically, two characters caught up in a strange world and a strange series of events who are working together as comrades and as enemies is at times dramatic, funny, edgy and even unnerving. Arnold Schwarzenegger actually turns in one of his better movie performances here–really. His character here is under-stated, decidedly un-macho, caring, kind, considerate—even loving. Really. And it’s clear Cameron–who’s the lead producer and one of the co-writers on this film–and Miller urged Arnold to please keep this character in check and underplayed here, because that’s exactly what Schwarzenegger does here. And it works, and it works enough to give this particular Terminator character a new presence, a new voice and a new take on the story. If anything in the “Dark Fate” script is clever and original, it’s the movie’s treatment of this particular Schwarzenegger Terminator. Audiences will love this new, insightful take, and they’ll love Schwarzenegger’s performance in this movie.

Hamilton, on the other hand, continues to portray Connor as the tough, rough, in-your-face, depressed, somewhat depressing, cynical, edgy, hard-line warrior that was shown in “Judgment Day.” That’s a bit of a negative, really, but the film does attempt to explain her hard edge and world weariness. Nevertheless, despite that story aspect, it would have been better, and better for the film, if Connor had been given some breathing room to smile, be more human, be more likeable, and be more approachable. The approach taken regarding Connor’s character in “Judgment Day” and “Dark Fate” are questionable, and this approach does tend to slightly bring down the films and bring down the character.

Speaking of bringing things down, audiences should be prepared for a highly-questionable, incredibly-downer plot development in “Dark Fate” that could have and should have been handled differently. Again–six writers and this particular development is all that they could come up with? You’ll have to see the movie to see what’s being discussed here–but the particular plot development, again, should have been handled differently.

Actresses Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes shine as Grace and Dani, respectively. They bring that same combination of youthful energy, determination, guts and bravado to their characters as Hamilton brought to Connor in the first two films. So it’s interesting to watch the juxtaposition of Hamilton’s Connor mentoring, working with, advising and fighting alongside the much younger Davis’ and Reyes’ Grace and Dani. It’s also interesting watching the grizzled–but still ripped, toned and tough-looking–Hamilton–who’s 63–and Schwarzenegger–who’s 72–working with these younger actors, together. Gabriel Luna is fine as the Rev-9–but his cyborg is really more like Robert Patrick’s Terminator from “Judgment Day”–all power and energy and grimace, but very little characterization. Schwarzenegger, though–while he’s not and has never been a great actor–brings his unique style, presence and charisma to his cyborgs, and that helps make his characterizations interesting. Of course, Schwarzenegger has always relied on these qualities–more so than any particular deep-rooted thespian skills–in his movies. It seems to work, most of the time.

While an honest assessment is to suggest–with some caution regarding several of the points previously discussed–to go on out this fall and see “Dark Fate” in the theaters–it’s a movie that should be seen up on the big screen–alongside such a recommendation comes a continual request to please also take the time this fall–and during any season–to also head out to the movie theaters and see many of those more intelligent, more in-depth, more thoughtful, and more unique, inventive and original films that can indeed be found in the theaters every month of the year. Moviegoing cannot and should not succumb completely, entirely or even mostly to the dregs and clones and, yes, crap movies that pervades the array of sequelitis at the movies. It’s the responsibility–yes, responsibility–of a society to embrace the better, more intelligent aspects of all types of culture, including movies, as that helps each respective area of culture–and society–succeed, thrive and survive.

​Choose your fate. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

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