Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Spoilers A-plenty in this review of "Terminator: Dark Fate"

Terminator: Dark Fate Review

The "Terminator" franchise has become a mightly vexing franchise. The third, fourth and fifth movies in this overlong franchise merely only served to continue to fold reality onto itself. They also set up movies that we were never going to see. Once one of these sequels didn't stand on the same legs that the first two films did, they would be welcomed by a new team behind the next sequel. Most of the sequels don't feel connected to the larger story, and I think as shattered timelines have become more and more apparent, where the story actually connects and disconnects has become harder to determine.

I was partially hoping that "Terminator: Dark Fate" would handle some of that. At least the best to its ability. Now, on the other side of the movie, it only throws yet another wrench into...whatever this franchise is supposed to be at this point. Is it the most entertaining sequel we've had since 1991? Yes, that much is true. I liked watching scenes in this movie. I liked how things were staged and shot. The action sequences will make love to your eyeballs, that much is certain. "Terminator: Dark Fate" is a great movie to look at, no doubt about it. But I've always thought that this franchise really revolved around three people and one machine. This is the story of John Connor, leader of the human resistance against the machines, this is also about his mom, Sarah Connor, who is working in the past to protect the future. This is a movie about Kyle Reese, who went back in time to protect Sarah from the machines killing her, which lead to him fathering John. Finally, this is the story of the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who goes on quite the journey of his own as a character. Even including what happens to him in "Dark Fate."

We are moving into spoiler territory now. There is literally no other way to discuss the successes and failures of "Terminator: Dark Fate" any further without getting into spoiler territory. So if you haven't seen it, bail out now. I hope you come back to read along after you've seen it.

In the first ten minutes of "Dark Fate," the entire story as we know it is left hobbled. Because John Connor dies in the first five minutes. We get a voice over by Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor (an actress I've missed for awhile now, if I'm being completely honest.) A different T-800 comes months after the events of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and kills young John Connor (still somehow looking like a young Eddie Furlong, special effects these days, man). That may seem edgy and cool to some of you, but it kind of betrays what this movie series was always about. Yes, the third, fourth and fifth sequels in this franchise were unpopular and I don't mind if we whisk those movies away like they didn't happen. But this entire franchise as a whole is about John Connor getting to the future to take the Earth back from the machines. He may never stop the coming of the machines, but he will end the war. This franchise was the Connor's story, and when you kill the golden goose in the first five minutes in an anti-climatic fashion, this begins to feel more like a perverted fanfiction.

We jump forward in time. Sarah Connor is getting old but she still kicks ass. We are introduced to some new characters. Mackenzie Davis plays Grace, a resistance soldier who comes to the present from the future, not to protect Sarah, but to protect Dani. Dani is played by Natalia Reyes, and she is apparently a leader in a resistance movement in the future who leads a revolt against an army of machines. Of course the machines don't want that to pass, so they send a REV-9 played by Diego Luna. The most lethal machine created by Legion.

Wait, what? The evil machines hail from Skynet, Shawn. Except not in this story. Grace and Dani will cross paths with Sarah, because of course they do. Grace will reveal that Skynet nor John Connor exist in Grace or Dani's future. Dani is the sole leader of the resistance against Legion, an AI that tried to take over the world. It was at this point where I had to make sure I was still watching a Terminator movie. Now, I kind of buy the idea that a new group of evil machines rise in this future. Sarah Connor makes it clear in the opening monologue that her actions in "Terminator 2" ended the timeline of Skynet, even though Skynet just kept sending back machines to kill John, which they succeeded at. If they did succeed, where did Legion come from? And if Legion is a separate entity, did they just rip-off the look and design of Skynet's terminators? Diego Luna's REV-9 is basically every main evil terminator from the first three movies put together and it shares the likeness of the terminators too, you'd think a different entity would have their own designs. I guess Skynet should have put a patent on those designs.

The rest of the movie is just Sarah, Dani and Grace throwing everything at this evil robot that just keeps coming. The action is thrilling enough, and the women do a good job making the audience believe in this world. Grace is also a cyborg, so you can expect some really cool action scenes involving her character. But most of the movie is just these women trying to get to safety, away from a character that is nearly impossible to kill. Until they meet Carl.

The whole reason Sarah crosses paths with Dani and Grace is because she is receiving encrypted messages warning her of incoming terminators from the future. Because Grace is a cyborg she can trace where these messages are coming from, which leads to Carl. Guess who Carl is? Carl is the T-800 who killed John years ago. Played once again by Schwarzenegger. Somehow, even though he's a machine, he is aging. Also, because his purpose was to kill John and that purpose was fulfilled, he served no other use to Skynet so he's just...chilling in our present. So he acted like a real human, adopted a family and...get this...he grew a conscience.

I think this is a fascinating idea that is executed mediocre as fuck. I like the idea that machines would evolve passed their programming. I like the idea of a machine trying to understand humans, trying to get itself to think and behave like us. That could have lead to a Terminator movie unlike any other. The way its executed in this movie makes it come off like a plot convenience, instead of something they will explore in detail. It works as the bridge to get Schwarzenegger across, so he can start shooting guns and blowing things up. Because he's lived with humans and pretended to be one for years now, he understands us better, therefore he's sorry for killing John and now that's enough for our main characters to trust him so that he can help them fight REV-9.

Would you be surprised if I told you that they brought back the T-800 just to kill him all over again?

While I am glad the actors all came to play and how its very nostalgic to see Hamilton and Schwarzenegger together again. I am not sure there is enough here for a homerun out the ball park. The movie presents some interesting ideas, but only uses them because the plot requires them, not to tell a deeper story. At this point, time as folded so much on itself that these movies aren't making much sense anymore. This is becoming more discombobulated than Fox's "X-Men" movies. I don't mind jumpstarting this franchises and starting from a new point, but if you are going to ignore and erase EVERYTHING that came before and EVERYTHING that makes this story what it is, then it will soon enough not look like Terminator anymore. All the cool action and all the special effects and all the fun one-liners won't make the fans happy again.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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