Terminator: Dark Fate Review – Time Is a Flat Circle

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BY November 1, 2019

On its face, the world of the Terminator films seems pretty grim. I say this, by the way, as someone who’d never seen a Terminator movie until this one. Due to their influence, though, I still absorbed a lot through cultural osmosis. And while most of it was admittedly catchphrases, I do understand the gist. In the future, we are effed. Through our compulsion for developing increasingly more advanced technology, we dig our own graves. But there’s hope. Uh, until there’s not. And then there’s hope again. Timelines in the Terminator world, including in Terminator: Dark Fate, are very wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff* (to borrow a phrase from another killer from the future). But I’ll be back for that (and other things) in this Terminator: Dark Fate review.

A (Mostly) Spoiler-Free Terminator: Dark Fate Plot Review

Terminator: Dark Fate review image via Paramount Pictures

First, like 2018’s Halloween, this film ignores everything in between it and its source material, the first two Terminator films. Second, I’d like to assume that even if you haven’t seen those, you too have absorbed the basic plots through osmosis. But if not, here’s a quick refresh: A cyborg killer (one of the titular terminators, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) comes from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Her son will someday lead the human resistance against our AI overlords, Skynet, so sending the Arnold-bot back is it protecting itself. And it fails. In the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a fancier terminator (Robert Patrick) is sent back to kill the now teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong). But future John Connor reprogrammed the Arnold-bot and sent it back to protect his younger self. And then…Humans 2, Skynet 0.

Now forget all that. Because as she explains herself at the beginning of Terminator: Dark Fate, Sarah Connor stopped the Skynet future. Humans are big ding-dongs, though, and just created a whole new AI problem. Now we’ve got an even fancier terminator model, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), and he’s got a new, non-Connor target. The Rev-9 has come back from the future to take out Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a factory worker in Mexico City. And in an echo of T2, a protector, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), has also come back. Through a (spoilery) mix of guilt and regret, they meet Sarah Connor. Explosions ensue.

(And now time for the generally spoiler-free Terminator: Dark Fate review.)

Why You Should Watch Terminator: Dark Fate

When T2 arrived, it was a watershed moment for computer-generated effects. Even if you didn’t see the movie, ahem, you couldn’t help but be aware of that. The liquid metal effect of Robert Patrick’s T-1000, for example, was a particular highlight. Well–and I know this is going to come as a shock, so please sit down–that movie came out almost 30 years ago. (No, that is not a typo.) As such, effects have come a long way, baby, since then.

That means that while Rev-9 keeps that liquid metal cool, he’s got all kinds of new tricks, too. Watching him morph, transform, and reform over and over again really drives home that this is an unstoppable force. As such, this is an appropriate release for Halloween week, as Rev-9 comes off like a horror movie baddie. Like them, he just keeps coming, animated with a drive we don’t understand.

That provides a nice tension throughout the bulk of the film. The Rev-9 is also more adaptable, a Turing test winner who anticipates human actions with a precision that’ll fill you with dread. But, of course, he isn’t human.

The humans, after all, are the real heart of the movie (as they have real hearts). Watching Grace fight and claw to protect Dani is moving, especially once the film reveals the stakes and their true connection. And while I don’t have the same nostalgia for Sarah Connor and the T-800 that others will, it wasn’t hard to buy into their respective stories.

On the Other Hand: What I Didn’t Like about the Movie

Terminator: Dark Fate review image via Paramount Pictures

While the effects and action were one of my highlights, they also serve as a lowlight. An early action piece through the streets and highways of Mexico City is a barn burner, but later scenes, particularly a climactic airplane scene, just seem chaotic. “Oh, they’re fighting again,” you might say. This ties in with one of my two biggest issues with the movie, which is that it’s about a half hour too long. Some audience members may cheer at the umpteenth fight scene, but I was bored. I would have rather have had some more quiet moments, which would have helped keep it tense.

That’s because there are some tense experiences in this film. However, what the film does with them–or rather, doesn’t do–is my other big issue. Terminator: Dark Fate is clearly set in our time, judging by the scenes that inadvertently chronicle the contemporary migrant experience. Moving from Mexico to a mystery US location, the trio (Grace, Dani, and Sarah) travel by train, accompany a coyote, and end up in border detention. These experiences, particularly the last one, are very timely–if you’re looking for a dystopic future, then you’ve found it. But while the movie provides a satisfying end to the detention scene, it’s unclear what, if anything, it’s trying to say about it.

And that’s true of the movie as a whole. We can rewrite our fate, it seems, but we seemed destined to return to that dark future over and over again. So what’s the point? The movie doesn’t bother to enlighten us, choosing instead to return us too to the past, where they hope the nostalgia is enough of a distraction. And it is, but not a whole lot more than that.

*The “Jeremy Bearimy“-ness of the timelines is almost as confusing as how the Arnold-bot aged, for instance.

Are you planning to see Terminator: Dark Fate this weekend? Let us know in the comments or come see us on social media. Hasta la pizza, baby.

(Terminator: Dark Fate arrives in theaters November 1, 2019.)

featured image via Paramount Pictures

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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