MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta, Alicia Borrachero, Enrique Arce, Steven Cree/Runtime: 128 minutes
In recent years, I have started to observe a trend in the world of film that here lately has started to see surprisingly good success. This trend is known as the “Redemption Sequel.” Now for those of you who don’t know, The Alan Gekko Miriam Oxford-Webster, whoever they are, Dictionary for Film Studies, which coincidentally is not a real book so please don’t go looking for it, defines a Redemption Sequel as the following: simply put a Redemption Sequel is a specific franchise project that arrives not only a good many years after their direct predecessor, but is also faced with the challenge that that they have to follow up on a project, or 2-6, that have poisoned the brand’s box office and critical potential by disappointing audiences time and time again. Thus these Redemption Sequels are now being produced in order to revive the legacies of these properties, and generally do so by going back to the series’ basics and then trying to utilize the very things that made the series a gem in the first place to begin with. Examples coincidentally include: 2015’s Jurassic World, and The Force Awakens and 2018’s Halloween.
That being said, at long last I can now say that it is Terminator’s turn to find that same kind of redemption, and boy has it found it. This is because Terminator: Dark Fate is honestly the best sequel that this series has seen since Terminator 2: Judgement Day back in ‘91. Indeed the plot may seem very much like a return to the formula of the first two movies, hence a certain degree of predictability, the film nevertheless succeeds as well as it does due to the terrific and game performances from the film’s engaging ensemble, and some truly wonderfully-filmed and orchestrated action sequences.
The plot is as follows: Choosing to push aside the events that we as audiences were previously showcased in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys, thank God on that last one, Terminator: Dark Fate picks up years after Sarah and John Connor managed to change the future and stop the launch of the villainous computer entity Skynet……unfortunately we quickly discover here that this still wasn’t enough to stop what is now apparently, by this point in the franchise, a seemingly inevitable artificial intelligence-driven apocalypse. That’s because now a super-intelligence known only as Legion is the one behind the machine-enacted anarchy, madness, and chaos; however, just like before, the ability to change the future via time travel is still a viable option. It is with this logic in mind that we see a young woman named Grace go from the year Y2K ehh 2042 to 2020 where she is meant to meet Daniella “Dani” Ramos, a young woman in Mexico City who has the usual big red machines-please-attack-me target slapped on her back. Of course, the artificial intelligence has, surprise surprise, also sent back a model called the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), and it is Grace’s responsibility, again what a surprise, to stop it from terminating Dani. However given that the Rev-9 is a an incredibly powerful opponent with the incredibly deadly ability to remotely control its endoskeleton while functioning apart from it, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Grace definitely has her work cut out for her, but thankfully it isn’t long before she acquires a key ally in a still alive, and Terminator huntin’ Sarah Connor, and through their efforts, as well as that of one more surprise ally, they attempt to protect Dani so that maybe humanity can begin to reclaim their future….
Now with a pair of time travelers – one good, and one evil – as well as a mission to protect a woman in the past who just so happens to be the solution to saving humanity in the future, it is not that much of a surprise to see that this new film clearly shares a lot of DNA with the original Terminator from all the way back in 1984. Thus I definitely agree that this most certainly isn’t the doors blown-wide open, twist on the usual narrative that people who were expecting something more original and creative story-wise ultimately get here. In all fairness though The Force Awakens was also more or less a remake of A New Hope, and that movie did amazingly well with fans so I think this one deserves a little bit of a break on being very narrative-derivative.
However with that being said, there is a lot to actually genuinely like with this movie starting with the fact that this Terminator movie actually manages to give us two well-written protagonists, and an intense and thrilling antagonist that is easily the best since Robert Patrick’s turn as the T-1000 in Judgement Day back in ’91. This of course starts with Miss Mackenzie Grace from AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and she is well-cast and gives us a fantastic turn in the role of Grace, as we see that her love and her passion for this material just oozes out of every single minute of screen time that she is given, and she absolutely shines in what could otherwise have been seen as just a gender-swap on the Kyle Reese role. At the same time we also get a fantastic performance from Natalia Reyes as Dani and, much like Linda Hamilton was able to do back in the mid-1980s, she is able to showcase a woman who is vulnerable as the world she knows it starts crumbling all around her and yet is able to, by film’s end, to showcase and demonstrate a strength that says that in no way, shape, form, or fashion is she going to just lie down and take this; instead she is going to stand up for those she loves and fight and Reyes delivers that and then some. The big surprise though is Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 as this could have easily been just another generic villain for this series on the level of the T-X back in 2003’s Rise of the Machines. Yet Luna manages provides a solidly executed twist on the familiar in part because of the fact that this is the first Terminator to actually showcase here and there surprising evil and twisted pleasure in the hunt that it is being asked to conduct, but also because Luna is able to portray incredibly well the relentless, intensity-fueled drive that the antagonists in this franchise are supposed to possess. Indeed I can guarantee you that each time he manages to catch up with the film’s protagonists, which is actually more often than any of the previous villains, you are instantly left on the edge of your seat, and you are definitely worried and concerned that not everyone is going to survive this particular encounter.
Ultimately, though, the big game changers that this film possess that the other 3 films didn’t are that we get 2 fully committed and three dimensional performances from both Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet it’s not because their roles in the story don’t have any direct comparisons in the original Terminator. Instead it actually has more to do with not only how incredible it is to see their evolution as characters in this world over the years since we were first introduced to them (that being said though I feel it should be said that Schwarzenegger is playing a wholly new character in this movie), but also because the two have practically switched places in a sense. I say this because we as audiences see that while Sarah Connor may have been successful in stopping the rise of Skynet, it is a victory that still doesn’t leave her with the ability to live a life that is free of paranoia and fear or even with purpose. Yet at the end of the day, Hamilton manages to give us a Sarah that may be more hardened than previous incarnations, but is still the fierce, and determined warrior who is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that humanity’s future is NOT overrun by the machine menace. In contrast to Sarah Connor however, the new Schwarzenegger character – a T-800 model who goes by the name Carl – has gotten the opportunity to live a totally different life. Indeed while I am NOT going to tell you a lot about his part in the movie due to spoilers, what I will tell you is that he is a Terminator who has managed to exist amongst humans for so long that it has actually managed to do the only hinted-at in Terminator 2, and essentially change his core programming. Indeed he has actually managed to become a part of normal “human” society more than any other Terminator, and the end result is a totally different and at the same time actually enjoyable Schwarzenegger performance, despite the fact that he’s now been in five of these movies and that he doesn’t pop up in this one until about over halfway through the movie.
Now Terminator: Dark Fate may only be Tim Miller’s second movie as director, but I must say that he is clearly a fast learner in the world of Hollywood with particular praise going towards his work with the film’s pacing and the action sequences contained therein. Indeed this is a film that I found to be absolutely relentless in terms of the pacing contained within the first act as the film is very much a lean, mean,….well fighting machine, no pun intended, in how it manages to waste precious little time in introducing us to the main heroes and villain of the film before proceeding to go into the chase that basically makes up about 90% of the rest of the film. Indeed for this viewer, it was a little bit of a surprise to see just how long the opening action we get within this film actually is, as we zip from location to location, thus rewarding us with the potential to earn the Vertigo Xbox Live Achievement, and then just when you think the action will finally let up and allow you to breathe for even a minute, a new twist is then introduced into the fray that only proceeds to make the circumstances that much more dangerous for this film’s main characters. Indeed while this high octane-fueled energy level does not dominate the entire film, due to things actually getting more character-centric as we witness the 2nd act of the film, it does….come back when needed, only for the director to then proceed to wrap the movie up with a third act throw-down that is both thrilling and engaging in all the best ways possible.
All in all with the outlier being the vastly under-appreciated, and totally deserving of more than just the two seasons that it got on Fox, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, it goes without saying that engaging with the Terminator franchise has been very much a mixed bag. This is because despite the first 2 movies presenting us with seemingly a completed story, I feel that there was still some potential wiggle room to be found should the story have wished to continue. Yet even with that in mind it has always resulted in 3 movies, the last one back in 2015 more than the other 2 in 2003 and 2009 respectively, striking out at home. Thus when Terminator: Dark Fate came along it is suffice to say that the bar to clear for this to be even remotely good was a lot lower than with other franchises. Yet despite that, it still doesn’t give this film enough credit for how entertaining it turned out to ultimately be. Is it as good as the first 2? No, and I doubt we will ever manage to get a sequel that is on par with the lightning-in-a-bottle scenario that was Terminator and T2: Judgement Day. Is this better than Rise of the Machines, Salvation (which I enjoyed to some degree), and, God willing, Genisys? Absolutely. Terminator: Dark Fate therefore is proof that it is still possible to make a good Terminator film, and hopefully we can get a sequel, based off the ending, that is on par with this if not better. On a scale of 1-5 I give Terminator: Dark Fate a 3.5 out of 5.