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[Herald Review] Old formula a double-edged sword for ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

Pro: “Terminator: Dark Fate” is the best in the “Terminator” franchise other than the first two films, which were both amazing.

Con: That’s not saying much considering what followed those two magnificent flicks.

The upcoming sci-fi action film by Tim Miller packs good action, a solid message and ample story for quite some fun.

The problem is that it rehashes the old formula that has been done before and better, which results in it being neither fresh nor very impressive. Yes, seeing my favorite character Sarah Connor return to screen was an absolute delight. No, I’m not going to lap it up just because James Cameron was one of the producers.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” (Walt Disney Co. Korea)
“Terminator: Dark Fate” (Walt Disney Co. Korea)

The film starts somewhere in the severely tangled timeline of the series. My best guess is that it is sometime after the events of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” as the fateful judgment day has been canceled and the Connors are enjoying their day on the beach. Their happily ever after is abruptly interrupted by T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a robot assassin opening the door to an uncertain future.

Fast forward a few decades later, enhanced human super soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis) arrives from the future to protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who holds the key to the human resistance against the machines in the war. Grace is not the only one seeking out Dani, as advanced terminator Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) seeks to kill her in the present day.

Desperate to escape, the pair runs across the unexpected aid of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), along with another unfamiliar relic of the past, and of the future.

Maybe it’s because I’ve watched “T2” like a thousand times, but I was able to predict every move in the plot. Without any prior research, I could tell when Sarah was going to show up, who Dani really was, when Arnie was going to show his face for the umpteenth time in the series and pretty much what the bad guy was going to do.

The odd thing was that it wasn’t a bad film at all. It was just too predictable because the whole thing has been done before, and done much better.

Yes, we do grow weary of seeing the same story with the same plot points, the same terminators and same John Connors, but that doesn’t mean you can just replace the names and do the same stuff all over again.

Rev-9 feels like a cheap knockoff of T-1000 in “T2,” which is amazing to think that the villain made with technology almost 30 years ago can look more intimidating and realistic. That character looked amazing, had an element of mystery and, above all, was absolutely terrifying.

That’s the thing about the first two “Terminator” films: The villains were absolute horrors. T-800 in the first looked like an unrelenting, unstoppable force of nature. T-1000 made Freddy Krueger look like Paddington Bear.

None of the supposedly superior terminators of the later films were even remotely scary in comparison, except the brief cameo appearance of T-800 in the fourth, and Rev-9 was no exception. The intent, I suppose, was to create a terminator that looked more natural and plain, thus making it more menacing conceptually, but even that was done better by Robert Patrick’s T-1000.

Compared to the first film’s Kyle Reese, a mortal man with an unconquerable soul, the character of Grace was too strong in physique and too weak in spirit to leave much of an impression.

And Dani’s “moment of arrival” was too forced and unnatural. In the original, we could see John would be a great figure one day, but he was still a kid. Exactly the same with Sarah, who was a screaming damsel in distress with hints of greatness seeping out. In this flick, Dani turns on a dime from a helpless young kid to a warrior.

Even the way the final battle goes down was full of scenes that looked way too familiar, although the specifics cannot be stated for fear of spoilers.

Perhaps that was the intent. The film was filled with scenes paying respect to the original, which served as a reminder of how great the first two films were.

The same goes for how a heartless machine can find humanity, the gripping fear of running away from the inevitable, an impending doom of the future and the powerful will by mere mortals to defy fate.

“No fate, but what we make” resonated more when it was uttered the first time. When Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor said it back in the first two films: iconic. Here? What else is new?

Having said that, Sarah Connor’s entrance was just so awesome -- as was everything she did or said in the film. Despite playing the character for the first time in nearly three decades, Hamilton was Sarah Connor in every way, and I loved every moment of it.

In fact, a lot of the best moments came from the older characters, reminding us how great they were. I had mixed feelings about Schwarzenegger’s performance -- as almost every Schwarzenegger appearance since “T2” has been a mere shadow of that legendary performance -- but I still enjoyed the scenes with the iconic “T2” theme song blasting through my eardrums. The gradually rising “Da-da-da-da-da!” never gets old.

Maybe it’s unfair to compare the newest entry in the franchise to two of the best action films ever made, and the tributes it made to its vastly superior predecessors have been enjoyable. It was a decent film that was somewhat enjoyable, and I would’ve enjoyed it more had I not remembered every detail of “The Terminator” and “T2” so vividly. I just wish it had been built on the great legacy on which it stands, rather than be content on reliving fragments of its glory days.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” opens in local theaters on Oct. 30.

By Yoon Min-sik