History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Or so they say. And if it wasn’t already abundantly clear what the Terminator franchise’s related position on the future is, Dark Fate – a non sequitur of a subtitle if ever there was one – makes it clear: The future may not repeat itself, butit rhymes too, and in even more cheesy, insipid ways than history’s poetry does. (Think: If history is a beautiful sonnet, the future is a naughty limerick.) The constantly rewritten threads of futures past, futures averted, and futures yet to be that warp and weave their way throughout this big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff are well beyond the tediously familiar at this point.
To wit: In the wholly redundant Dark Fate, set in 2020, a soldier is sent back from the future – 2042, to be precise – to protect a young woman who is so important to the human resistance against genocidal AI-guided machines that a super advanced cyborg killer has also been sent back in time to take her out before she can do The Thing that makes her so dangerous to our silicon overlords. Which is why she needs protection.
We have literally seen this all before, only slightly off key from this.
The soldier is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and she is admittedly a very cool augmented super warrior, not quite cyborg but also not as physically vulnerable as Kyle Reese, the aw-shucks future grunt of 1984’s The Terminator. So that’s a little different. The young woman needing protection is Dani (Natalia Reyes) – from Mexico City, not Sarah Connor’s Los Angeles, so totes not the same at all – and she needs protecting because… Well. As you sit there watching this movie and thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if a woman wasn’t primarily defined as mother to a man” – as Sarah Connor was destined to be the mother of the man who would lead the human resistance – Dark Fate has the gall to think it’s pulling one over on you by withholding the truth of Dani’s future importance, and then begs for feminist brownie points when it tells you the thing they should have told you from the start, but kept from you so that you would later marvel at how woke it was.
This is what happens when a bunch of men make a movie that they think is feminist.
Anyway, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) shows up to help kick future-robot ass, and her meatbag is still smokin’ as she rocks 63 years on this Earth. Honestly, the greatest pleasure of this movie is seeing a gray-haired woman with an honestly lived-in face smacking down unemotional sociopathic male-coded ass with high-powered weapons, but even that lacks a certain oomph that Sarah Connor had previously given us.
This is not Hamilton’s fault, by the way.
The alt-future “Rev-9” (Gabriel Luna) is liquid metal but not a “Terminator.” He’s from an alt-future, remember, where Skynet is no more, except it basically is, and it’s called “Legion” sigh, so he’s basically Robert Patrick’s T-1000 with some minor upgrades. I had nightmares – legit waking-in-a-sweat nightmares – about the unstoppable ferocity of Patrick’s Terminator, and I was nowhere near a child when Terminator 2 was released. There’s nothing like the kind of menace that that film and Patrick wielded at work here.
Director Tim Miller – oh, he directed the first Deadpool, which I hated – is no James Cameron. Miller is perfunctory at best, imagining, it seems, that the franchise’s tropes – hello, Arnie as an alt-timeline early model Terminator, still bopping around in the past 25 years later – will carry the day. Mostly, nostalgia is not enough here.
But perhaps most disappointing is that the present of Dark Fate seems to have moved on no more than the imaginary future it is having a conversation with. The future as we look forward today looks radically unlike the one that the mid-1980s foresaw at the time of James Cameron’sThe Terminator, but you’d barely know that here.
A subplot in the action takes our heroines on a dangerous illegal crossing of the border from Mexico into the United States, and yet the movie has no idea on how to capitalize on the difference between Cold War fears of nuclear war that fueled the original Terminator and the terrors of incipient fascism that today’s fractured geopolitics give rise to.
This is a franchise that is, ironically, stuck in the past.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE ( 2 ) • Directed by Tim Miller • Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis •Rated R • 128 minutes • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Century Marina, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.