Please don’t read this review if you haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate yet. You’ve now been warned.
So, I did a story where I neatly ranked every Terminator film from 1984 through 2015, and they slot themselves perfectly by year. As in the first being the best, T2 coming close on its heels…and then each one a little (or a lot) less good than the one before.
Now I have a big decision to make. Where does T6: Dark Fate (“no dark fate but what we make”) fit in? And what about that short-lived but underappreciated two season TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles? Now I have to rethink the whole thing. Way to mess up my ranking order, Hollywood.
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Talking Dark Fate
Man, the fans loved it. Whoo-ee! Me, I like some things they did and am pissed off about the rest.
LIKED: Grace the augmented human was wonderful. She stole the movie and our hearts. Too bad this was a re-tread of the plot in Terminator: Salvation. I’ll return to this thought.
ALSO LIKED: Carl the Drapery Terminator. What does an out of work T-800 do? T2 established they can’t self-terminate. So once he fulfills his mission, the cyborg creates a family and a business, and sends encrypted messages to former nemesis Sarah. Why does he bother? He must have felt bad about things and joined the human race. Like Spike in the Buffy series, he grew his own conscience. I’m fine with this — actually, more than fine….really happy, actually. I never expected this plot pivot and find it super charming.
Arnold nailed it. The writers did good. This is a very neat turn of events, and we at RunPee would gladly watch a prequel TV show about T-Carl’s Drapery Business. Who wouldn’t?
Where Dark Fate Failed
So, yes, Mackenzie Davis as Grace was the main reason this film is so good. But having JUST watched the entire series for my ranking post, I’m annoyed that Grace, the augmented human-Terminator hybrid, is a retread of the Sam Worthington plot in T4: Salvation. T4 actually picks up quite well where T3: Rise of the Machines leaves off, with a pregnant Kate and the other remnants of humanity eeking out a post-Judgement Day life. I’m not sure why we had to have another go at an “augmented human” plot.
All I can think is Linda Hamilton wanted to return before her T-3 cannon “death” and the producers felt a soft reboot was the way to go…and — bonus — liked the idea they ran with in Salvation. So, a soft sort of re-telling had to happen to bring back Sarah. (And if you saw Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’d see another way to side-step this pesky issue, using time travel to just skip right over the…um…cancer.)
But, as I mentioned above, we are dealing with TIME TRAVEL in this franchise. There could have been many ways to bring Sarah back without ditching the storylines in T3 and 4. (Forget 5. That was entirely unnecessary). We could have also added Grace without ditching the 1-4 film cannon.
Although…I’m not certain at this point what’s considered cannon in this franchise anymore, or if we are to accept three or more timelines.
(REALLY, STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN TERMINATOR: DARK FATE.)
Hasta La Vista, John Connor?
So, there’s my main beef. John Connor. Remember him? Well, forget about everything that mattered since 1991, because he’s unceremoniously offed in the first few minutes of Dark Fate.
That’s right. John’s gone. Out of nowhere, on a lovely beach. Poof.
What was the point of making me care about everything that came before? (Yes — I’m angry.)
I guess it’s better than where they took John Connor in 2015s T: Genisys, which insulted everything ever done before and pissed all over the fanbase…seriously, who though that was a fine idea? Does anyone even remember what happened in Genisys, even just a scant few years ago?
More Pissy Thoughts
Lastly, I was rather bored by the new, spiffy Terminator in this outing, which was a real shame, in spite of Gabriel Luna’s earnest attempts to make it work. He just wasn’t as amusing as Robert Patrick’s T-1000. The Rev-9 was…made of tar? And had a skeletal drone? Was that really the best the writers could come up with over the last decade of thinking about this?
This just should have been better and more up to date, like something using nanotechnology. Or a pure internet-based intelligence that hunts and kills using our world-spanning interconnected cyber systems, tracking you like the “God’s Eye” in the Fast & Furious franchise. (If the F&F movies could come up with something more exciting, you know there’s trouble.)
Think about it. The liquid metal special effects looked better in 1991 than the the tar special effects in 2019.
Dark Fate: Girl Power Version
So, some gal in Mexico steps up as the new savior. Okay. Fine already. She’s not a womb; she’s the real deal. At least the real deal-to-be.
Except Dani’s kind of boring. I can’t remember a single significant moment she had. Do you?
Sarah Connor…is back
And the long awaited return of Sarah? Of Linda Hamilton reprising the iconic role?
Well, for one thing, she needs to lay off the cigarettes, since her vocal cords are shot. And she’s really, REALLY bitter. Not that I wouldn’t be too, after running away from several Terminators, losing her lover, losing her son, getting locked down in a facility for the criminally insane, and being wanted — apparently — in all 50 states.
Hamilton does a great job in the role, fitting easily back into her Sarah Connor persona, but it kind of hurt to see how awful life treated her character, and how little she had left to live for. She is brittle, and so, so damaged. It’s got to suck when an ex-Terminator who killed your son has a nice home, a good job and loving family, and you’re alone and on the run…with nothing but hardship and a lifetime of regrets. While the Terminator franchise depicts an apocalyptic near-future and isn’t intended to be a happy story, it’s just not fun to see characters you care about living in such pain for so long. No wonder Sarah drinks herself to sleep every night.
At least she was up to date enough on her film history to realize the first “death” of the Rev-9 was bogus. That made me smile. Linda Hamilton wasn’t married to James Cameron for nothing.
I’m going to go back to the John thing. I understand it’s cool to see a woman herself being the hope of humanity vs a just another Mother Mary, but there really was no need to off poor John. It actually makes me angry that I cared about the series at all. It retroactively makes the first two wonderful Terminator movies pointless.
So, I had to see Dark Fate again
I saw Dark Fate twice to see if I’m just being too picky about all this. Well…the answer is no. I’m not. Right now I feel betrayed, like I did with Aliens 3, when they unceremoniously killed off Newt and Hicks. That STILL bothers me, and I can’t really appreciate this new Terminator entry until I come to terms with what they’ve done.
I’ll say this: Dark Fate is probably the third best Terminator film, but not as good as the Terminator TV series. Damning with faint praise?
It seems like it, but honestly, in spite of my annoyance, Dark Fate really is a good movie.
Judgement Day: Now What?
One final thing. It does seem the Terminator franchise posits that we’re going to have an AI apocalypse, in any possible timeline, no matter how we try to prevent it. Skynet, Cyberdyne, Legion, Google, whatever. As Thanos would say: Judgement Day is… inevitable.
Chew on that.
Movie Grade: B+
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Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)
Join the conversation
Ginger Goodrich Editor
My God Jilly you put an amazing amount of work into this amazing post. I applaud you. Very good work.
Jill Florio Administrator
Hey RunPee Mom! Thank you. I had a lot of fun getting those thoughts off my chest. It may seem as if I didn’t like the movie — I did, I did! But certain things in franchises annoy me. It would be like Marvel killing Spider-Man offscreen in the next Avengers film because they lost the rights to Sony…which is what almost happened, of course. You don’t know how pleased I am they worked that out. I didn’t think Disney could be that idiotic. Tom Holland is freaking perfect.
But back to Terminator. Poor Sarah. Her life was just awful for so long. It actually hurts to think about it. Can we give her Michael Biehn as a reincarnated augmented human as a consolation prize? She deserves it.
Dan Gardner Administrator
I see your points about betrayal and all with John’s death. I would feel the same way, if I dug deep enough. Honestly, take any single Terminator movie, or any time travel story ever, and if you pick deep enough you’ll unravel some paradoxes. There’s a fraking reason the laws of physics don’t allow for time-travel, or to be a little more accurate, causality cannot be broken.
The best way to enjoy any time travel story is to focus on the intent of the story and not dig in. Just enjoy as much as possible, and ignore the rest. That’s my philosophy.
Jill Florio Administrator
Thanks for the comments, Dan. I probably get too attached to characters, plot, and continuity. I want everyone to remember what they did before and take the same story further. This kind of thing both helps and hampers my movie enjoyment!
I’m sure once I get used to the idea that the first two films accomplished essentially nothing, I’ll like this one just fine. I’m not even a big fan of John (I think I Liked him best in the TV series), but I don’t think this is proper storytelling for a blockbuster. I’d have felt better if Dani and/or the Rev-9 were memorable in any way.
As far as time travel, it’s fun to pick those nits (like in Endgame with Cap returning the stones the INSTANT they were taken….yeah….no). But overall I give time travel a huge pass. If I didn’t, I couldn’t enjoy Back to the Future as much as I do. Or Star Trek. 😉
It would be fun to tease out each timeline in the T-movies and add them up. Even in the first one, you’ve got to have a Prime timeline where no Terminators were sent back, and then one where Arnold was sent back, and then the 3rd one where Kyle was sent back. But the original one only works if Kyle was never John’s father in the first place, and only became his father in the 3rd timeline. So Sarah is fated to have John, but Kyle is not necessarily his father…but then why did John give Kyle the photo of his mother? Also, if the T-800 succeeds in the middle timeline of the first movie, then no one trains humanity and there won’t be anyone to send back Kyle. And now my brainz are hurting.