Terminator: Dark Fate Review

I’ll begin by noting that Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller is a friend of mine, and that we’ve worked together on Love Death and Robots, so you’ll have to filter the following through that fact. Hey, disclosure is fun!

With that said, I was happy with this movie, which is what I wanted it to be: Lots of really nicely-done action, unstoppable killing machines, Arnold Schwarzenegger once again showing that being an actor with limited range is not a problem when a role is smack dab exactly in what little range you have, and most importantly, Sarah Connor.

As I walked out of the film last night I posted a five word recommendation of this film: “It gets Sarah Connor right.” This actually matters because despite the name of films, the “Terminator” films are about Sarah Connor, and the arc of her life dealing with the terrible fate that life has dealt her: Victim to fighter to avenger. Sarah Connor is realistically (within the context of these films) damaged by this fate of hers; particularly in this film she’s a PTSD wreck. And, well, she would be, wouldn’t she. It’s important that the Terminator films show her this way. It’s for better or worse the grounding the films need to make every other absurd thing that happens in them function on the level of plausibility.

People were pleased that Linda Hamilton was coming back to play Sarah Connor in this film, because she is iconic in the role — Emilia Clarke’s turn in the role in Terminator: Genisys was a decent cosplay of T2-era Hamilton that reminded me of how great Hamilton was in the role. What I like most about T:DF is that it doesn’t pretty up either Hamilton or Connor: She’s lined, she’s haggard, she’s old, and the character is not what you would call pleasant. Hamilton is 63 and in this film, at least, it’s not a Hollywood 63. I don’t think this counts as brave, exactly — ain’t nothing wrong with a 63-year-old woman looking her age — but I like that the film, and Hamilton, were perfectly fine with portraying Connor this way. The performance is the solid core of this film, and why this film is both the best Terminator film since T2, and also a solid capstone on Connor’s journey through this universe.

This film getting Sarah Connor right is important enough to me that I would be willing to overlook other issues with the film, but aside from one weirdly-janky CGI shot in the first act, this film hits most of its marks with confidence. As a director, Miller knows his way around an action scene, and the film doesn’t skimp on those. Generally speaking, Miller’s directorial style and sensibility is closer to James Cameron’s than the other directors in the series, which also helps in making this all-around the most credible non-Cameron sequel.

As the Terminator and Kyle Reese analogues in this film, respectively, both Gabriel Luna and Mackenzie Davis do their thing well. I was especially impressed with Davis, because my other experiences with her in film and TV did not show her as a particularly physical actor; she very credibly kicks ass here. Natalia Reyes is fine, although I found her character development a bit rushed. The script is trying to do a lot of things at once, and (probably accurately) assumes the audience is well familiar with the series as a whole, even the films (T3, Terminator Salvation, Genisys) this film retcons out of the timeline. I’d’ve been happy with a tighter focus. There’s some nice, unforced bits of humor I liked, most coming from Schwarzenegger.

Six films (and one television series) in, it’s worth it to ask whether the world needed yet another stab at the Terminator mythos. My response is: in this case, yes — because the arc of Sarah Connor was not yet complete, and the Terminator films are her story. Terminator: Dark Fate is the film that completes that arc. Which is makes it, of all the non-Cameron-directed films in the series, the only necessary one. For my own sense of completion, I’m glad to have it.

(Note: In the comments I’m going to trim out anything I think is an egregious spoiler inasmuch as it’s the first week of the film run, but there may still be some minor plot point discussion, so be aware of that. Also, if you’re gonna comment, try not to put in spoilers, thanks.)

22 thoughts on “Terminator: Dark Fate Review

  1. Also, in case you’re curious, my ranking of the Terminator films (I’m leaving the TV series out because I didn’t watch much of it), with the notation that I didn’t find any of the bottom half aggressively non-entertaining:

    1. T2
    2. The Terminator
    3. Dark Fate
    4. Salvation
    5. T3
    6. Genisys

  2. I agree with you, I liked the action but it felt rushed at certain points. One thing I’d like to point is that when you say it’s closer to Cameron’s style, I think it could be because James Cameron edited heavily the movie, some would say he could almost get a “co-directed” credit. There’s a recent interview in which he says it was a big struggle, etc, so I guess it makes sense it’s closer to his vision.

  3. The only character I was disappointed in was Dani. It felt to me like they saved far too much of her character development for too late in the film to service The Big Reveal.

    It would have made her development over the short time period of the film better if they just outright let it out right after they meet Connor.

  4. Andre:

    Cameron was always involved in the film, yes, which I think is significant. That said, the similarities in style (particularly in action) are evident in other work Miller’s done.

  5. I saw Dark Fate last night as well, and while I agree that they got Sarah Conner right and that they rushed Dani’s transformation from victim to fighter, the film also dragged a bit in Act Two. I realize the plot of Dark Fate was almost the same as the original (save the waitress/save the world), but there was a point about three quarters of the way through that I checked my watch and wondered how much time was left, which is not a good sign. I enjoyed the movie, but maybe they coulda’ trimmed a bit more.

  6. The current installment was solid if a bit uneven. Here’s hoping for an “extended” cut sometime down the line. Personally, I am a fan of the T2 Extended Edition (note there are between 2 and 4 editions depending on who is counting). This is the one that added a lot of Sarah’s time in the asylum back into the storyline and it really makes her a deeper character overall. She’s not just nutty or bitter; she is driven by her knowledge of what can happen, what will happen if nothing changes. She loses friends and her love because of it. She loses her freedom and clings to the shards of her sanity as Dr. Silverman tries to take that too. She is the embodiment of Cassandra in a modern world: doomed to know the future but unable to convince anyone to listen. Forceful to the point that she makes people uncomfortable so rather than ponder the possibility that she is conveying important information, they lock her away so they can live their blissfully ignorant lives.

    Once you’ve seen the foregoing, her attitude and behavior in the newest installment is much more compelling. She overcame incredible difficulty, lost everything, is a fugitive and still keeps fighting because if she loses even once, the world still ends. Now she is jaded and knows there is no reward, no end to the task. She will fight to the end with no hope of victory.

    “You’re welcome.” A response to words she will never hear from anyone who has any understanding of the truth. But they’re words the centurions on the walls of society have wanted to be able to say for years uncounted as they stave off disaster at the cost of their own lives.

    Mother. Prophet. Warrior. Sarah Connor is the soul of the series and it is good to have her back.

  7. Possible spoiler (minor, if so):

    Sarah Connor was always, no matter how badass she became, most important for her womb, so her assumption the same is expected of Dani is no surprise. Her reaction when discovering Dani was not just there because she was going to churn out a saviour baby was great and, coupled with Arnold being a gentle homemaker (both inside and outside his own home) surrounded by three women made this the least macho of the movies, for sure. Surprising, considering the directing and writing was all male, or at least the credited versions.

  8. I only ever saw the first two so I’m looking forward to this as ‘trilogy completion’. (The ‘other 3’ had zilch appeal for me.) Linda Hamilton has been a fave since the first two and ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

  9. Do you need to have seen the retconned movies to see this one? I stopped after T2 and I’ve never regretted it. I’ll read plot summaries if it would help me follow this one, but I’d still rather not watch them.

  10. I agree, the movie is excellent and getting Sarah Connor right is the best part of it. (I do worry about Linda Hamilton’s smoking after this, though.) A few “what am I actually looking at?” bits in the less well lit fight scenes, but I caught up. I gather that some of the stuff at the beginning, after the T2 clips we knew, was also filmed for T2 but not used?

  11. Variety says box office failure is now being predicted, at least by rival studios, so thanks for a review that innoculates me against the naysayers who are no doubt lining up as we speak to say nay about every aspect of this movie!

  12. “…this film is both the best Terminator film since T2…”
    Talk about damning with faint praise.
    I enjoyed watching the movie, but found it to be pretty weak, tbh, story-wise. They basically re-told T1 and T2; clever gimmickry aside, I feel they missed a creative opportunity…

  13. I agree that Sarah’s arc was pretty good, to my mind it’s more of a coda than another chapter in her story, and I didn’t think it was strictly necessary. Which means that for me, the movie suffered from from the same fundamental flaw of all the previous T2 followups: it didn’t justify its existence on anything more than commercial grounds. After thirty years, three movies, a television series, and innumerable tie-in novels, comics, and video games, I’m still of the opinion that the story naturally ends with Terminator 2.

    This can’t really be laid at the feet of the acting, the direction, or the special effects and action sequences, which were all pretty good. It’s something inherent to the narrative itself.

    Anyway, the movie hasn’t been doing too well at the box office, which is a shame because I never like to see a movie struggle unless it’s completely awful, which this was not. But on the bright side, maybe Hollywood will finally get the message that this franchise has run its course.

  14. I have no seen the movie .. waiting for it to appear on Netflix. It likely will not be a long wait based on the few online reviews of the flick!

  15. I really enjoyed Dark Fate, and agree that Linda Hamilton (and to a much lesser extent, Arnold) carried the film. That said, I still believe that the two seasons of the Sarah Connor Chronicles are a much better and more interesting sequel to T2 than this film. I know I’m comparing apples and oranges (TV series to big budget movie), but the writing in the TV series was a lot more fascinating, as was the character development. Lena Heady is an amazing successor to Linda Hamilton, and Summer Glau makes for a surprisingly believable Terminator. Not they end up scripting one of the most unique takes on the consequences of repeated time travel that I’ve ever seen. (I won’t say more to avoid spoilers). Despite a few episodes where they stray a little too far into X-Files weirdness for my liking, it’s well worth watching.

  16. Yeah, have to agree. It was satisfying on a couple of levels, like seeing Linda and Arnold together again, but a lot of it felt like rehash to me. Might not be alone there: my date and I were the ONLY two viewers in a large theater at a major area Cinema on a Sunday night. We stopped whispering about halfway through…there was nobody to annoy! We basically got to rent the whole room for about $28.50.

  17. Talk about damning with faint praise.

    I don’t know. I’ve always thought T3 was underrated. It was still completely unnecessary and it undid T2’s great ending, but a) you can say that about all the sequels, and b) I did kind of like the relentlessly grim tone that I found evocative of the first Terminator movie. If you absolutely have to move forward after T2, I feel like T3 represents the best way to do so: with the nasty realization that the first movie was right after all, there is such a thing as fate, and the war against the machines is coming no matter what.

    In my opinion, it’s far better than Salvation (a competent but utterly colorless war movie that didn’t need to be part of the Terminator franchise at all) and Genisys (some good moments, but generally a miscast mess).

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