Film review: ‘TERMINATOR: DARK FATE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

From its plot to its dialogue to its action sequences and its overwrought clanging metallic soundtrack, Terminator: Dark Fate has been engineered to mimic the beloved early films, particularly Terminator 2: Judgement Day. While tightly-constructed, occasionally exciting and moderately inventive, this latest instalment in the 35-year-old franchise is just too familiar to really thrill.

It starts encouragingly with a refreshing feminist twist on T2’s fugitive drama as young Guatemalan woman Dani (Natalia Reyes) aided by a time-travelling, super-powerful augmented human, Grace (McKenzie Davis) and America’s most wanted mercenary robot hunter, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) are chased across the country and into Mexico by another shape shifting terminator from the future (Gabriel Luna). They’re joined by a T-800 (that’s old school) terminator in Arnold Schwarzenegger form who has a painful link to Sarah Connor but is vital in helping them avert a potential new cyber apocalypse.

With its #MeToo-influenced female empowerment theme, references to the plight of Mexican people confronting US border control policy and warnings about the dangers of AI, Terminator: Dark Fate draws on some vital contemporary issues without saying anything particularly perceptive about any of them.

The film is primarily concerned with big action set pieces and these feature enough auto-destruction, explosions, phallic weaponry and terminators bashing each other with large chunks of metal to satisfy most fans. These are realised through fairly convincing SFX although the latter part of the film see’s a pivotal action sequence shot at night and immersed in an irritating grey cgi haze.

For the most part, director Tim Miller (Deadpool, Thor: Dark World) and an extensive writing team that includes James Cameron, do a decent job of balancing sci fi, action and humour. Still, one of the film’s two biggest problems is that even with 28 years since T2, Dark Fate doesn’t offer anything new or more impressive than the much-loved 1991 film. Despite a mildly novel transformation gimmick, the new shape-shifting Rev 9 Terminator isn’t as visually impressive or as menacing as Robert Patrick’s liquid metal assassin from T2, that’s even without adjusting for advances in cinematic technology.

Where the film also disappoints is in its lack of emotion. The raw materials are there, loss, grief, audience nostalgia for movies of their youth and a Terminator’s Pinnochio-like attempt to achieve humanity but it never grips us at a gut level. Arguably, the chief reason for this is the film’s clunky dialogue that largely consists of thuddingly obvious exposition and angry paranoid rants.

The cast, however, do their best with the material their given. Even though her character Grace is like this film’s Basil Exposition as she spends copious amounts of time catching Dani and the audience up on the re-booted future apocalypse, McKenzie Davis still manages to make Grace a charismatic and credible action heroine. Linda Hamilton is as rugged as ever although a few attempts to given her a goofy comic side don’t work. Natalia Reyes has a likeable mix of innocence and feistiness while Arnie plays it mostly for laughs but manages to do so without trashing the T-800 terminator character.

Terminator: Dark Fate is clearly meant to reboot the series by way of a slightly adjusted reality but while this film will provide some succour to fan boys and girls and makes an effective palette cleanser after the awful Terminator: Genisys, it’s unlikely to have anything like impact of the early films.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Science fiction/ action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Tim Miller.

Release date: 31st Oct 2019.

Running time: 128 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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