The last time I watched a TERMINATOR film in a movie theatre Bob Hawke was Australian Prime Minister and George Bush senior was in the White house.
It takes some coaxing these days to get me out into multiplex land and when it happens, there’s usually some connection with the past. A new RAMBO film (HERE) two months ago was one such occasion. I’m hoping the just released, long-awaited sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (words I never thought I’d hear myself say) will be another.
The chance to cast eyes on the latest installment in the TERMINATOR franchise was likewise too good a thing to pass up. I’ll admit I stopped following goings on in this series after the first two films (I rank the original THE TERMINATOR (1984) in my list of Top 30 all-time favorite films. I also consider it, unusually perhaps, as the most underrated romance story of 20th century cinema.
This latest addition to the Terminator stable was also an opportunity to see reunited for the first time in almost thirty years the original team of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton again playing Sarah Connor and director James Cameron, who serves as both co-story creator and co-producer this time ’round.
Speaking for the herd, I’ll pronounce TERMINATOR: DARK FATE ‘decent enough’ without ever going close to spectacular. 99 out of 100 movies made and watched never get within the electrified-fence perimeter of ‘spectacular’ so that in itself is certainly no failing.
But there are definite ‘problems’ with this film that have prompted some hard-to-please critics to label it as dull and lackluster. I’ll call them ‘flaws’ and if by chance you happened to be looking for a list, you’ve come to the right place.
Nearly thirty years ago, the at-that-time newly conceived digital morphing technology that allowed a cyborg assassin to get blasted square in the face with a shotgun and have the wound magically heal over before audiences’ eyes was both-barrels completely mind-foozling.
But three decades on when more or less the identical same film technology is used (the only difference being the liquid metal is now colored black compared to it’s circa ’91 silver appearance) to heal over bullet wounds, but to far less effect and far less sparingly than back in T2 time, the result is inevitably way more diluted.
The second major obstacle the film poses for audience enjoyment lies within the reprised character of Sarah Connor (played with a detached been-there-seen-that demeanor by 63 year old Linda Hamilton).
Where at one time the once humble waitress character who grew to become the embodiment of formidable female empowerment, channeled via a reluctant hero pushed too far and forced by circumstance to decisively and spectacularly ‘step up’ – in much the same way Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley character from the Alien movies did back in the same era – DARK FATE forces it’s audience to endure the company of a perpetually foul-mouthed, sarcastic, cynical and embittered warrior (what a lifetime of fighting will do to most people) who definitely comes across as though she’s fought one too many battles.
This hate-filled and at times downright arrogant matriarch bent on future-shaping and past-correcting revenge has, by this 6th movie, now transformed into a person who, frankly speaking, is somewhat of a melancholic downer to spend extended time with.
I’ll admit this one is less a flaw and more personal preference. Because of the negative tropes and stereotypes associated with Mexican/hispanic movie characters (drug cartels, gang members, maids, unwed mothers etc) I tend to shy away from stories that center themselves in that territory (an exception being the Siacario films which I enjoyed, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word given the ultra-heavy nature of both those movies).
DARK FATE boasts both a Latino heroine and no less than a Latino terminator, plus all the action takes place in Mexico city. U.S/ Mexico border patrols, border crossings and detention centers all feature heavily. White characters are in such short supply Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on more than one occasion referred to as ‘Gringos’. A similar phenomena made itself felt in Stallone’s most recent Rambo installment (HERE).
Maybe I should just be thankful the scriptwriters had the good sense not to force the Latino Terminator (played by American-Mexican actor Gabriel Luna) to utter Arnie’s famous line from T2 – “Hasta la vista, baby”.
No TERMINATOR sequel has ever come close to matching the sublime alchemy of James Cameron’s original 1984 masterpiece, in my eyes, for the simple fact that that first movie combined what I (but probably few others) regard as one of the best love stories of modern cinema with face-caving, next-level action. That’s a very rare mix that gets done well let alone as first-kiss unforgettably as T1.
TERMINATOR 2 featured at it’s heart a different kind of love – the maternal kind felt by Sarah Connor for her son John – that likewise assisted that movie to luminous and bankrolled heights. Since then however, poignant moments have been few and far between in the concussive TERMINATOR series.
DARK FATE is non-stop action to the point of repetitiveness. And when the ‘catch your breath’ moments do come, shoehorned in-between the almighty body-slamming battle set pieces, they’re full of dry exposition and back-story.
Throw in a distinct lack of suspense and tension, not to mention the complete absence of even the faintest trace of the quasi-noir atmosphere that helped make the original movie such a stone cold classic, and it’s no wonder some opinions of this film have it as, at best, a meek palate cleanser.
What no doubt comes across as poking and negativity on my part is an unfortunate by-product of my need to try to put into words why, despite a pretty fair attempt, DARK FATE comes across a little hollow and might be seen as confirmation that a tried and true formula is starting to show its age.
To at least partially atone for that I will end on a positive. There’s a flash-back scene about 15 minutes in that is so cleverly done it’s worthy of mention. Shortly after the apocalyptic events of Skynet-engineered Judgement Day have been averted, a young Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor) and a completely back-in-the-day-buff Schwarzenegger (T-800 Terminator) play out a scene on a Guatemalan beach.
Since all the actors are circa early-nineties young again I figured this was footage filmed at some point during T-2 (1991) that never made it into the final film and had been rescued all these years later from its relegation to the cutting room floor (to use a pre-digital term if ever there was one) and inserted here into DARK FATE.
Not even close, as I was to discover. I learned after watching the film that this re-imagined scene using younger versions of the now much more aged actors was all done using CGI. That is truly fall-to-your-knees-awesome film making. And soooo 21st century!
Ps. In the audience of the session I attended for DARK FATE were many people who were sitting alone. A number of these patrons were women well into their seventies. I noted one munching on cucumber sandwiches throughout the screening.
When the lights came on at the end several made their way down the carpeted steps with an uneven gait born of dinky hips. It was quite the eye-opener to behold the diversity and age span of folk who one might not necessarily first think of as being your garden variety TERMINATOR fan.
Pss. For a REAL time travel experience back to two years ago, click HERE.
Psss. If it’s gold standard analysis you crave look no further than the video below. The guy that put it together has used Sherlock Holmes style sleuthing skills not to mention countless hours of time tracking down key information references across the first five TERMINATOR films to assembly complex timelines documenting key events.
DARK FATE may have had its missteps but this video deserves no less than a Pulitzer Prize for film analysis. At 24 minutes it’s intended for die-hard fans but the screenshots below it should give some idea of the level of documented research on show.