Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

This has been a year without summer blockbusters and I’ve read plenty of accounts from people online about how it feels so weird that there hasn’t been a Marvel or Star Wars tentpole film this year. Anyway this one is from last year and I heard good things about it plus we do like to watch the occasional action movie. I have not of course watched any of recent ones in the franchise and have totally lost count of what number they’re up to now. Turns out that this film ignores the existence of anything past Terminator 2 as well, which is fine by me.

In present day Mexico City, Daniella Ramos is the latest target of a Terminator sent from the future, this one a so-called Rev-9 model that combines both the liquid metal properties and tough endoskeleton of previous ones. She is saved by the intervention of Grace who is human but augmented with cybernetics. But Grace proves unable to match the Rev-9 as her boosted state lasts for only a short time and they in turn have to saved by an aged and heavily armed Sarah Connor. Sarah reveals that although they averted the creation of Skynet, her son John Connor was killed anyway by another T-800. Grace explains that she has never heard of Skynet and the end of the world was caused by an AI designed for cyber-warfare called Legion. As they compare notes, they find that Sarah keeps receiving information on Terminator incursions from a mysterious source and that same source is where Grace has instructions to seek assistance from. This of course turns out to be the same T-800 who killed John Connor, who has developed a conscience after completing his mission.

All kinds of spoilers in here, not that it matters as the trailers and accompanying music videos give away the plot anyway. Remember how I said that The Force Awakens is basically a remake of the original Star Wars? This is the same deal for the Terminator franchise, a back to basics approach that tries to hit all of the same highlights as the first two films. The good news is that it changes up the big action set-pieces enough that it doesn’t feel exactly the same and the base formula is strong enough that it makes for solid entertainment. The bad news is that it’s still a shallow and generic action movie, and worse, Tim Miller is neither as technically proficient nor as creative as James Cameron. There are all kinds of silly plot holes, his action shots use so many quick cuts that they drain energy from the scene and he lacks the patience to hold a shot for an extended moment to build up any real emotion. The result is good enough for a cheap thrill but there’s no connection to any of the characters, ensuring that this film will be quickly forgotten.

I do have a couple of observations to make. One is that there is an obvious girl power theme going on in here. This worked better than I would have expected because the women don’t all have exactly the same aims so there is some tension between them. But I was more surprised by, well, how Hispanic this film is. It starts off in Mexico City with Daniella being of course Mexican and the group’s route involves them illegally crossing over the border into the US. Even the new Terminator looks Hispanic as they cast American-Mexican Gabriel Luna for the role. I’m not sure what to make of it other than a reflection of how the demographics of the US are changing. It’s rather telling that one scene involves illegal immigrants in a vast, heavily militarized detention centre though of course the filmmakers swear up and down that it’s not a political statement.

Obviously this is a film that I don’t much care for and upon reflection I think my favorite parts might the completely mundane opening scenes where they establish Daniella’s family in Mexico. I don’t think over the top action scenes, such as the extensive one they have in here that takes place on an aircraft, work for me anymore as I know that it’s all fake, wildly unrealistic even within the norms of the fiction that they have established and I have no emotional stake in the outcome. Contrast this to the lower scale action of Woman at War which works because every part of it is plausible and I actually care for the character.

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