Directed by #TimMiller
Film review by Nathanial Eker
When Sarah Connor, her son John, and a reprogrammed T-800 destroyed Skynet in 1991, the repercussions of their actions incited more than preventing Judgement Day. The legacy of sci-fi masterpiece Terminator 2: Judgement Day has allowed nearly three decades of creative desolation, misdirection, and laziness. Seven screenwriters across three films (not including the flawed yet ambitious Salvation), have dunked their heads into the grey post-apocalyptic sand, failing to craft anything more than a pale imitation of James Cameron’s magnum opus. Regrettably, despite the return of fan favourite Linda Hamilton (doing a much better Sarah Connor than a certain Targaryen queen), Terminator: Dark Fate is more synthetic than its cyborg namesake; a re-tread of a better film twenty-five years its senior.
Sarah Connor must learn to accept the help of a hulking Austrian quip-machine, as she defends a youth destined to become the messiah from a stony-faced liquid metal attacker. Sound familiar? The script's ‘differences’ are so superfluous that it’s borderline insulting. With the exception of the surprisingly compelling inclusion of enhanced human Grace (Davis), every beat is derivative, with only the most rudimentary changes made to justify its existence. For example, Skynet competitor ‘Legion’, becomes our new faceless AI antagonist, despite suspiciously manufacturing nearly identical enemies and boasting the most generic evil company name possible. More creative risks are taken during a particularly spicy game of monopoly.
Looking past its originality vacuum, Dark Fate at least delivers its sluggish, derived script with a certain panache. Mackenzie Davis shines as an exhausted yet determined Grace and Hamilton returns to her iconic role with a justified rustiness and a sense of crippled defeat. That said, the group dynamic is frustratingly underwhelming with little in the way of camaraderie. ‘New John Connor’ (yes, they actually say that), Dani is largely at fault, as Natalia Reyes offers the group’s blandest performance despite her vital role requiring more effort than daytime television acting. Schwarzenegger unsurprisingly fares better, as nostalgia-vision inevitably interferes with our impartiality circuits. Ironically, despite ample character growth opportunities for the human cast, Arnold’s robotic arc offers the strongest emotional development and the closest thing to a soul Dark Fate has.
Miller delivers his trademark comedy, mostly by subverting the role of the once terrifying T-800 with amusingly trivial dialogue. These scenes aside, Dark Fate is a mostly joyless affair, despite lacking the gritty palette of T2, or the gorgeous neo-noir aesthetic of the 1984 original. Miller favours bland colours that typify the modern blockbuster, reflected by glossy yet uninspiring action. Few sequences feel truly nail biting and all encounters with the Rev-9 lack suspense; if a mid-air plane attack can’t sell us on its danger, nothing will. Even glimpses of the bleak future suggest a thoughtlessly bog-standard apocalypse, as the writers waste the opportunity to introduce a legitimately new threat, instead recycling a near identical Armageddon. The saving grace (aside from Grace), is the soundtrack; a timeless vessel for nostalgia. The main theme is usually Arnold-centric which, while admittedly cynically manipulative, does inspire a childlike glee that makes it hard not to discharge a guilty smile.
Ultimately, Terminator: Dark Fate is identical to every other Terminator sequel. Its uninspired story is unsurprisingly a dull retelling of perhaps the greatest sequel ever made, with few transparent edits. A mixed bag of performances, dull action, and an overlong runtime will serve to make this little more than a footnote in the bloated, limping franchise’s never-ending history. It’s probably the best sequel since T2, though that’s not exactly high praise. Like its countless contemporary cash-grab colleagues, it leaches every inch of creativity from a masterful work of art, feeding a nostalgia hungry public who refuse to support anything but recognisable iconography and 80s catch phrases. If the upsettingly inevitable sequel can’t offer anything fresh, the series’ termination will be long overdue.
Film Review by #NathanialEker