09th Apr2020

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ VOD Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes, Tom Hopper, Brett Azar, Diego Boneta, Tábata Cerez, Steven Cree, Pete Ploszek | Written by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray | Directed by Tim Miller


You’re terminated… The stakes seem higher than ever these days, whether a AAA action film is a success or a failure. The amount of money that needs to be pumped into these films, plus the global marketing often means that new ideas are cast aside for the more likely bet of a sequel, prequel or remake. Very quickly then the talk now turns to a “franchise” rather than a film series as, of course now we are talking about funko pops and various other plastic tat that we nerds can’t seem to resist (in a draw in my basement I have a copy of the Terminator miniatures game, unopened).

On the one hand, it has meant that kids from the 1980s, like me have got to wallow in our own crapulence for years. 80s culture has seeped into that of later generations, and, in my opinion has blocked new and interesting ideas coming through. A lot of the things I think are brilliant aren’t that good, I just saw them when I was a kid but us 80s kids believe our own hype. Of course, the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles was amazing, and not just a mechanism for selling toys, ditto He-man. 80s culture was always based on marketing, it was morally bankrupt to start with, so for us to complain about the subsequent remakes is a bit flipping rich. Can we enjoy something that is artistically dubious? Absolutely we can, but we should be honest about what it is and not what our heart tells us it is.

What is the rubric for whether a film sequel should be made? Often, it is “will the sequel make money?” and obviously this makes a certain amount of sense. “Do we have anything left to say that isn’t more of the same” is probably what intelligent film makers should ask themselves. James Cameron largely stepped away after Terminator 2. Until now that is, where he writes and produces Terminator: Dark Fate (I would guess it was his involvement that convinced Linda Hamilton to come back too).

The first 2 Terminator films were very different from each other, but both are, to this day 2 of my favourite films ever made. The first was a dark sci-fi action B-movie with interesting elements but ultimately the Terminator is utterly relentless. Watching as a (far too young) child it absolutely blew my mind that Sarah Connor was not safe at the police station. I thought, often about what life was like for the survivors of the future, hunted by the machines. It is also difficult to overestimate how important the musical theme from Brad Fiedel is.

The original films featured time travel (my number one most hated plot point of all time, except of course for the 12 Monkeys film, that was great) but the time travel in question was 1 way (backwards) and it was a 1 time thing, so Reece going back to save Sarah is really quite profound, he is almost certainly going to die as he really doesn’t have much chance against the Terminator, but whatever happens he is giving up everything he knows. He has, quite literally the fate of the world on his shoulders. The more Terminator films you get, the more time travel that goes on, the more confusing and potentially illogical plot points start to happen, the whole thing gets very silly, very quickly.

Terminator 2 was a very different film that had interesting reasons to exist. It flipped the script and, made Arnie the goodie Terminator in what proved a master stroke but also changed the tone, and really what the film was all about (beyond the obvious plot similarities of being chased by a relentless machine from the future). It mixes in humour, pathos, family and ingenuity and puts it into one of the finest action roller coasters of all time. It is Hollywood cinema at its absolute best. I spent a lot of time thinking there might be someone confined to a mental institution around the world that knows how the world might end.

Terminator 3 was an “OK” action film, but “lady Terminator” and the odd twist was never going to be enough to follow those first 2 films. I feel that film should have been darker in tone and it had a chance of working, but it was never likely to manage to achieve more than “slow decline” from the high-water mark of the first 2 films. It was from this film on that Terminator: Dark Fate is looking to retcon.

What happened then was “Mc G” and quite possibly one of my worst experiences in the cinema was getting angry at how awful and stupid that film was. I had always liked a certain Welsh actor up until that moment, and him, shouting his way through that film really startled me not only “use your indoor voice” but “I thought you were much better than this”. I only recently paid actual money (4 euros) to give Terminator Genisys a go. I made it about halfway and never went back to it, I can see it is trying to do something different, it just didn’t hold my attention. It reminded me of the Matrix sequels (in a bad way).

What gives us a bit of hope here, is the return of Linda Hamilton, one of the main reasons the whole thing was so good in the first place. Director, Tim Miller was also an interesting choice, the director of Deadpool (a very good film).

Terminator: Dark Fate starts us off with a few seconds of an interesting “Normandy invasion” style battle but then brings us through to a strange, young CGI Arnie and a strange, CGI Edward Furlong child. The scene looks like it’s from a TV soap opera. We then get into the, very well-worn race against time for the goodie and the baddie to get to the target first in the present day. Somewhat Interestingly, and quite we find ourselves, this time in Mexico City. Where one of the themes is (20 years too late) of Mexican factory workers being replaced by machines (I doubt the people of Flint, Michigan will have much sympathy). Before we know it we are straight into a battle in a factory, followed by a chase up a Highway. It is not bad; it is just terribly familiar.

What is a shame, is that our new Reece, Mackenzie Davis, is terrific and deserves better. Skynet Legion was clever enough to send a Mexican-looking Terminator back, whereas the resistance sends back a 6-foot blonde lady who immediately beats up cops and is likely to stand out.

Strange plot decisions aside, there is much more to like here than in Salvation or Genisys (though I admit I didn’t finish that) but sadly Terminator: Dark Fate has been put into a tough spot by the poor films and loss of goodwill that proceeded it. There is fun to be had here, I like the fact the sisters are doing it for themselves, I like the fact that our old, doddering white man has to apologize for his mistakes, but he is trying to change. OK, boomer.

The previous two films were designed to be trilogies, that never were (because no one wanted them, they had nothing to say and nothing to add). No doubt based on the success of other films, such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman. What they really ought to have focused on, however was making the best film possible right now, not worrying about “the future of the franchise” because if the first film is a dud, not only will there be no appetite for the film but you are also damning the future of the franchise as our Mexican heroine says “I don’t give a shit about the future. What matters are the choices we make now”. Having said all that, if no one has anything new, or interesting to do with this universe then there is no point us going back in time. Films must look to the future, forward and not back. No fate but what we make. I quite like Terminator: Dark Fate , but it’s not good enough to escape the mistakes of the past.

The first two Terminator films were extraordinary, however as a franchise Terminator has suffered a very dark fate….


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