By Kevin Hoskinson
After a couple attempts to revitalize and reboot the franchise, The Terminator is back with some familiar faces returning and some new blood added to the cast. Ignoring the last three films that came before, Dark Fate acts as a direct sequel to Terminator 2, and it does so with mixed results.
One of the big selling points of Dark Fate is the reunion of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Terminator and Terminator 2 saw Hamilton playing Sarah Connor and Schwarzenegger as a machine from the future, the T-800 model terminator. In the first film, the T-800 was sent back in time to destroy Sarah Connor, who would give birth to the savior of humanity of the future, John Connor. Terminator 2 flips the script, with the T-800 sent back in time again, but this time, he is sent to protect the young John Connor from the deadly T-1000 terminator sent to destroy him. Other sequels were produced, and although Arnold had a starring role in all but one of them, the films failed to live up to expectations.
This film attempts to retcon the events of Terminator 3 and beyond to continue the story of Sarah and the mission to fight the future. Within the first five minutes of the film, things are entirely changed, and the future is not what it once was going to be. In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid terminator, the Rev-9, arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani. Sent back in time to protect her is Grace, a hybrid human who must help prevent the unstoppable Rev-9 from completing his mission. Realizing they are going to need assistance, they accept the help of Sarah Connor, and the battle for the new future begins. It’s an engaging story, one that changes the trajectory of the franchise and starts something new.
Terminator Dark Fate is a film that tries to live up to what came before (T3, Salvation, and Genisys not included). And while it succeeds in a lot of aspects, it fails in just as many. At its core, the first two Terminator films were character-driven stories with big action. Although the action is amped up in T2, it’s never forgotten that these movies are about a woman and her son, both trying to survive long enough to save humanity. Every film from T3 onward forgot about that and exchanged the human stories for big action and a lot of CGI. And Arnold. He’s excellent, and he’s a force to be reckoned with, but he’s not the star of these films. The real star is Sarah Connor, and more importantly, Linda Hamilton as Sarah. She brings a real urgency and intensity to the role, one that has been missing since T2. This is Sarah’s story, and it continues interestingly and tragically in Dark Fate.
That’s not to say that Arnold isn’t a welcome presence in this film, because he is. It’s a great moment when he meets Hamilton again for the first time after all the years have passed. The two have unbeatable chemistry together, and they haven’t missed a beat since they last shared the screen almost 30 years ago. The rest of the cast is excellent, including Mackenzie Davis as Grace, Natalia Reyes as Dani, and Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9. Davis delivers an especially impactful performance, giving a real intensity and purpose to the role of Grace. Luna, as the new baddie is a nuanced and scary performance, but it often comes off as an imitation of the T-1000 character from T2, and he’s no Robert Patrick. One thing the film does do well, which owes a lot to Luna, is reminding us how terrifying and determined a terminator is. They will stop at nothing to accomplish their mission, and the Rev-9 is no different. He’s a killing machine, and Luna is convincing in the role.
While the action set pieces are fun and creative, this is one area the film fails a bit. With James Cameron back as a producer and story consultant, it seems to be understood that this should be a character-driven story. But it also seems to be understood that the action needs to be bigger, more thrilling, and crazier than anything we have seen before. And sometimes, that overshadows the story. It feels like there are sequences that were just lying around, and the filmmakers needed somewhere to use them, so they placed them in this movie. Some of it seemed a bit over the top and relied heavily on CGI. A lot of T2 was done with early computer effects, but a lot of it was done with practical (by the great Stan Winston), which often feels timeless. I’m not sure this film will hold up in the same way in 30 years.
While I liked the film, it’s hard to say if that is because it was better than the previous three movies, or because it is genuinely good. If we lived in a world where the second film was the last one we got, I couldn’t see myself giving this movie as much praise as I want to give it now. This movie provides us with a lot of what made the first two great and surrounds it with what made the last three films so divisive. It isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s an enjoyable new entry in the franchise.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Kevin Hoskinson is a writer with a deep-seeded love for movies, comic books, television and the paranormal. From humble beginnings working the box office at his local movie theater, he’s worked his way to becoming a humble family man and professional bug exterminator. Growing up, he wanted to become an astronaut, a Ghostbuster, a dinosaur, and a Disney animator before he found his passion for writing as a teen. He studied film at Los Angeles Valley College with an emphasis on screenwriting and film criticism. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two kids. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter @Kevin_Hoskinson, and Instagram @kevinhoskinson.