Terminator: Dark Fate
Jacob Richardson | 1/11/2019
The action hits in all the right places and is incredibly well choreographed, but the plot around it is at times threadbare, and at others a rehash of what we have seen before.
Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is a factory worker in Mexico, whose life is interrupted by the arrival of the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna); a ruthless terminator from the future, sent to kill Dani. She is saved by Grace (Mackenzie Davis) - a cybernetically enhanced human who has also recently arrived from the future - and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) - a grieving mother who has taken to killing terminators in her spare time. Together, they must work to protect Dani from the hands of this new terminator; even taking up arms alongside an old enemy to do so.
Terminator: Dark Fate works. Just. The most egregious elements come about in the quieter moments. The dialogue delivered by Reyes never really sparks, and the emotionality of Sarah Connors trauma never lights up the screen. This is most evident in a rooftop train ride with the trio of leading women on their way to the US Border. In this quiet and intimate scene, the lack of back story for Dani and the painful failings in the telling of Sarah Connor’s story in this film (noting that you need assumed backstory from T1 and T2) really becomes clear.
This dialogue distinction is exacerbated by the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, that isn’t because he is bad - quite the opposite actually. Arnie once again embodies the terminator in the best way possible, with all the dry wit and humor of the originals that was so missing from the most recent iteration. In fact, he does such a good job that he shows up the newcomers, and in doing so reminds the audience that this isn’t quite as good a film as those earlier ones.
That being said, the saving grace of this film is the action. The set pieces feel inventive, fun, exciting and tense. Right from the off, on Dani’s factory floor, we are treated to a rapid and mile-a-minute fight scene, that stretches out into a car chase, and for the entire duration you’ll be on the edge of your seat. That’s followed by another great set piece in a prison and then an innovative airplane fight. If the final tete-a-tete in a Hoover Dam rip off doesn’t quite hit the same heights, you have to forgive them - by this point, you’ve been treated to so much well done action that you don’t really care.
But a movie can’t be all action without heart, and try as the filmmakers might the central relationship between Dani and Grace never really zings. In the latter half of the film, when stakes are raised, it means we frankly don’t really care; and that lack of interest in the central duo is only compounded by having a duo we do care about (Arnie and Linda back together again) right next to them.
Oh, and there’s a scene where Arnie explains what makes good drapery. So there’s that.
Terminator: Dark Fate is a great piece of action filmmaking, but doesn’t have the heart to make a great piece of cinema.