Film Review: Terminator: Dark Fate ★★★1/2

Some franchises have really been put through the ringer but few have been mistreated as much as The Terminator (okay, Alien’s had a rougher ride too). But creator James Cameron, who is credited as Co-Writer and Producer here, has reassured us in press interviews that this is the best Terminator movie since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

After things went side-ways with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines that was simply… okayish, there was an attempted reboot with Terminator: Salvation that was dull and overshadowed by Christian Bale’s on-set rant. Terminator: Genisys followed which committed crimes against cinema as well as spelling. Oh, and there was also the TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, that wasn’t bad but suffered from a restricted TV budget. Now we have Terminator: Dark Fate – another attempt to reset the franchise, this time putting the lens firmly on the women, leading to Katie Heaney’s convincing article in The Cut hailing the trio as her “Favorite Lesbian Love Triangle”.

In an effort to wipe the slate clean, Dark Fate does in fact wipe the slate clean. The history we knew (where John Connor grows up to lead the resistance against the machines) never happened thanks to the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. All the other subsequent Terminator films are deleted in one of the biggest cinematic ret-cons ever attempted (this is akin to Dynasty Season 9 being explained away as a dream).

But there’s no Terminator franchise without murderous machines, so now, Grace (an augmented human from the future – tough and fast but with some serious weaknesses) is sent to protect Dani Ramos from a new Terminator. Meanwhile, lovably grumpy Sarah Connor is still kicking around and getting anonymous messages that tell her when Terminators are going to appear so she can hunt them down. And thus begins the chase to get a weapon strong enough to take down this new Terminator.

Mackenzie Davis is great as Grace. Her mission is to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) and she will hurt anyone who gets in her way. Davis can combine tough-street-fighter with puppy-dog eyes and come off like Dani’s protective older sister. Director Tim Miller smartly uses Linda Hamilton’s acerbic Connor as part-sage, part-comic-relief (she’s Bad Grandma) and it’s nice to see her get to sparkle this time around. That leaves Reyes to play the shocked innocent who gets dragged through the film and has to quickly learn to survive.

Gabriel Luna is fine as the new Terminator, REV-9. To be honest I didn’t feel the same level of unrelenting threat that I got from Schwarzenegger or Robert Patrick, but he’s infinitely better than the Terminators of the last few films. This Terminator’s new trick feels a little gimmicky to me – it is, in fact, two Terminators, a liquid one and a skeleton one that together make up a humanoid form allowing it to split up and fight independently.

For the first time since T2, there is a real sense of inescapable danger in Dark Fate. The film’s opening chase sequence really works – proper edge of your seat action. After that, things start to slow down as the elaborate new settings feel increasingly contrived. The horror of The Terminator was that no one was safe, in Dark Fate most of the characters are career soldiers so the horror is a bit harder to relate to. Also, how do we live in a time when they can de-age actors and create digital performances of long deceased stars, but still can’t make a CG human jump convincingly?

Easily the third best Terminator film, but not a patch on the original two, Dark Fate gives us something new along with something familiar and effectively writes the “male saviours” out of the template. There’s no Kyle Reese to rescue them, no big male Terminator to protect them (okay there is, we all know Arnie is in it, he’s on the poster, but his role is different this time around), and there’s no young male saviour for the women to protect. The future is female, and it’s going to put up it’s own fight.

By Chad Armstrong.

Terminator: Dark Fate is in US theaters now.

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