Terminator: Dark Fate
When I first heard about Terminator: dark fate, all I did was groan and say to myself “Not another one!”. After Terminator 2 the franchise started circling the drain. Even though I liked T3: Rise of the Machines it still wasn’t a great movie. T4 and T5 were both bad, really bad. I ‘ve blocked out pretty much everything from Salvation and I barely even remember the TV commercials for Genysis, much less the movie itself. So yeah, my enthusiasm for Dark Fate was pretty much nil.
It wasn’t until I paid attention to it and saw that Linda Hamilton was going to reprise her role as Sarah Conner in the movie that I even had a slight interest in seeing it. After I saw the panel at SDCC 50 I was 100% in. not only was hamilton back (and Arnold of course), but this movie is a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The movie even opens up a scene from T2, with Sarah Connor in the asylum warning the doctors of judgment day and the machines taking over. As we all know Sarah, John, and a reprogrammed Arnold T-800 sent back to protect John, stop the takeover and all is well. That is until one of the many other Terminators sent back finally finds and kills John.
From prior movies it’s pretty much known that you really can’t stop the robot uprising, just delay it for a while. So with John dead humanity won’t just die off, we’re a bit tougher than that. There will always be someone to lead humanity against the robots. Skynet is also no more, the new menace is an AI designed for cyberwarfare called, Legion. Much like Skynet, it sends back a Terminator (Daniel Luna), the Rev-9 (a kind of hybrid between a T-800 endoskeleton and a T-1000 ‘skin’), to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), the woman that will be the new savior of the human race. This era’s “Kyle Reese” is a woman who only goes by the name Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Grace is an augmented human sent back to make sure the Rev-9 Terminator does not complete its mission.
After a brief highway chase the rev-9 corners Grace and Dani and almost kills them luckily for them Sarah Connors, now a terminator hunter shows up does a little damage to the Rev-9 allowing Grace and Dani to escape. The trio now set off to locate who has been sending Sarah mystery text messages for almost 20 years with the location of inbound Terminators for her to kill.
The movie flows well and I didn’t find myself wishing they’d hurry up with a scene to move the story along. The action is fantastic, and the dialogue between Sarah and the Arnold T-800 was generally funny even though all she wanted to do was destroy the machine. By the end I was pleased with this movie, it is the movie we should have had years ago. As my friend BC put it “They take the best parts of some of the worst movies of the franchise, the terminator killer-bot, the augmented human, & the aging machine looking for redemption/humanity and turn all of that into one damn good movie. Even though they are telling you the same old terminator story of “machine hunt her / Human save her”, there’s just something about Hamilton and Schwarzenegger together again that makes this movie glorious!
As with many film franchises these days, The Terminator franchise has been watered down by poorly-received sequels. The first two films were big hits - now considered classic movies which have been seared into the consciousness of pop culture. And we all know what happens when Hollywood finds something which strikes a chord. Either they repeat the formula until audiences get tired of it and stop showing up, or they keep throwing darts at a board to see if something sticks. The story of the Terminator franchise is of the latter approach. It feels like every 5 years a new filmmaker tries their hand to push the franchise in a new direction. So far, nothing has stuck. Nothing has been able to live up to the original two films.
I’m here to report that Terminator: Dark Fate doesn’t live up to those first two films either. But don’t stop reading just yet. Those first two films set a bar so high in terms of creativity and exciting, entertaining movie-watching experience, it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible for any sequel to live up to those expectations. Like the films in the series before it, Dark Fate does take a different approach as a sequel, but not necessarily a new one. Instead of trying to reinvent the franchise, Dark Fate more or less walks in its footsteps.
Dark Fate is entertaining in the same sense the franchise is best known for. Pitting unprepared or under armed characters against an unstoppable killing machine. This time, a new terminator is sent back to present time in order to take out a mexican factory worker named Dani who will have some sort of importance in the future human resistance against the machines. In order to try and stop this newest terminator, the humans of the future send back one of their own. Sound familiar?
This time, though, the human they send back is not just anyone. The human they send back, Grace, describes herself as “augmented”. In other words, enhanced for combat against a terminator. But she is only designed for the initial battle. When Grace fails to kill the Terminator, Dani needs help. Enter Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. She’s still out there fighting the terminators which seem to appear every two years still trying to kill her son. Together they must find out the reason why Dani is so important in the future in order to band together to stop this newest terminator.
Part of what makes Dark Fate work is that it does without some of the complications of the last three sequels. In fact, it just goes ahead and ignores them. Dark Fate takes place after T2: Judgement Day. It is essentially makes the other sequels part of an alternate timeline. The creator of the first two films, James Cameron is back with a writer and producer credit. His influence is felt in the way the film feels more similar to the original two films. The story also features many of the things we associate with James Cameron’s work - strong female leads, a commitment to special effects, lots of action, and a focus on the connection between the main characters.
But while Dark Fate does succeed in bringing back the feel of the first two Terminator movies, that effort can, at times, just feel like fan service. As a big fan of the original films myself I enjoyed the newest film’s call-backs and nods to the franchise’s previous entries, but I also felt a bit uncertain about treading into familiar territory. Everybody loves a bit of nostalgia, but there is a line where the creator of new material is just repeating what has been done already. Dark Fate doesn’t cross this line, but there are some moments where it gets pretty close.
Still, there are enough new ideas in this latest film for it to be able to stand on its own. The most interesting new concept is that of the character of Grace (portrayed with a fiery determination by Mackenzie Davis). While the sequels seemed to just try and outdo each other with more and more advanced antagonists, Grace is a movement in a different direction. While the new “Terminator” in Dark Fate does follow the series’ trend of adding a unique trick to the arsenal, I appreciated the filmmaker’s use of a protagonist which is purposefully a step back in terms of firepower. Grace represents a fusion between man and machine. In the previous films, man was always positioned against machine, and the only way we could fight the machines was with our own machines. Now we have one of our own, and it makes the story less austere.
Arnold gets called back into duty, and his appearance in the film is among its funniest and sweetest. The way the film uses his Terminator further reduces the distance between man and machine. But Arnold’s appearance in the Terminator sequels has been one of the few constants. At least in this film he doesn’t appear only for the sake of the nostalgia factor - his character really does add something to the plot. One important difference in this film compared to the other lackluster sequels is the appearance of Linda Hamilton taking on her role as Sarah Conor. She brings a toughness and a fight to the film which the previous installments were mostly missing. Even if bringing her back for this latest film is a big nod to the past, the filmmakers recognized she was a big reason those first two films were so successful. She does a great job in returning to the role and I am glad she is back.
The series has always been about impressive action set pieces, creative use of special effects, and yes, intense car chase sequences. While this film is basically one long chase sequence, it does impress with its action sentimentality. There is a heavy reliance on CGI, and a few action scene moments which seem a bit preposterous, the film mostly sticks to the series’ strength of practical action set pieces. Director Tim Miller takes the same type of energy we saw in Deadpool’s action sequences, and applies it here. While Dark fate isn’t playing for laughs, the action does seem a bit more lively than in the previous films, including the originals. The special effects aren’t always the most realistic, but the action is so dynamic it doesn’t cease to entertain.
No one may have asked for another Terminator film, but Dark Fate is here and for the most part I am happy with the results. Entering the water poisoned by two decades of forgettable sequels takes a lot of guts. The filmmaker’s decision to use the blueprints of what made the series successful in the first place was probably the only way to proceed, even if it results in a film which is not as innovative or ground-breaking. But by bringing back some familiar faces, while also introducing some impressive new ones, Dark Fate has done something I didn’t think another Terminator film ever could; make me want another one.