Terminator: Dark Fate
Between the action and the iconic characters, the latest 'Terminator' sequel feels very familiar — but that's not a bad thing.
October 31, 2019
From its opening scene, Terminator: Dark Fate succeeds in its most important mission: to go back in time and kill off every Terminator movie that came out after Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It's not that the subsequent films were awful (well, maybe Genysis), but their heart-pumping action scenes and lore-developing stories couldn't capture the complexity of the 1984 original and its 1991 sequel. They also lacked two other key components: writer/director James Cameron, as well as Linda Hamilton's version of kick-ass hero Sarah Connor. In Terminator: Dark Fate, they both return, with Cameron producing and helping come up with the story, and Hamilton raising hell as the gun-blazing terminator of terminators. We just wish that the latter had been more of a surprise.
Blame the trailer — which not revealed the film's two biggest and best character reprisals, but also almost every one of its key action moments. That's Dark Fate's biggest mistake, because none of these parts of the movie needed to be teased. Terminator is one of those rare and fortunate franchises in the enviable position of owning its audience's heart and soul. Like Star Wars, Die Hard and Harry Potter, fans of the originals can't stop seeing these films, even if their love keeps waning with each increasingly disappointing sequel. As a result, what would've rated as genuine "no... fucking... way!?!" scenes in Dark Fate are rendered entirely anti-climactic, sucking the oxygen out of every prior moment as soon as you realise "oh, this is when Sarah rocks up".
And yet, while Dark Fate's best moments fail to hit home as they might otherwise have done, the sixth instalment in the Terminator series still has a lot going for it. First and foremost, director Tim Miller (Deadpool) keeps the cast noticeably small, with just five main characters and only a few minor supporting roles. The first three are all franchise newbies, each holding their own against the veterans. Dani (Natalia Reyes) is a young Mexican girl who finds herself the target of a whole different kind of terminator called the Rev-9 (a terrific Gabriel Luna). Standing in its way is an augmented human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a soldier sent back from 2042 to protect Dani — just as Michael Biehn's character was in the first film. Indeed, much of Dark Fate plays out in familiar territory. Like the first two Terminator pictures, it's primarily a chase movie, with some scenes feeling almost too samey (the freeway pursuit sequence, for example, except this time it features a bulldozer instead of a semi-trailer).
Where the film shines, though, is in its returning stars: Hamilton's Sarah Connor and Arnie's iconic T-800 'Model 101' terminator. Hamilton, in particular, reminds us how effortlessly she can be a total badass without it ever feeling forced or exaggerated — and even leaves you annoyed that more films haven't capitalised on this fact over the last 30 years. In contrast, Arnie's return is entirely different to his previous turns in the role. The trailers haven't spoiled that side of things, at least. So we'll say no more, except to note that all the CGI in the world still can't match the menacing simplicity of an exposed metallic eyeball or finger, and it's great to have him — and them — back.
For those wondering how this story can even exist given the events of previous instalments, Dark Fate does a nice job of answering its own temporal conundrums. On that front, there's a genuinely unsettling edge to the idea of an inevitable apocalypse caused by human hubris and irresponsibility. Whether research companies, the military or tech startups play an influential part, the suggestion that our actions always eventually culminate in the creation of a mechanical monster seems to echo louder in the mind every time news arrives of another breakthrough in automation and artificial intelligence. "Skynet is coming" used to be an easy punchline, but these days it feels more like a warning — and Dark Fate neatly plays around in that space.
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