The Terminator franchise has been pretty uneven since Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released back in 1991. This shift in quality is because James Cameron jumped ship and no one with the same talent was able to pilot the series, with a revolving door of directors attempting to reboot the franchise without ever really getting a grip on the tone. Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines in 2003 was a valiant effort to continue Cameron’s narrative and the ending packed a pretty powerful punch but McG’s Terminator: Salvation lacked the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and its dystopian future setting made it more of a generic sci-fi action film than something that could stand toe-to-toe with Cameron’s first two films.
David Ellison’s Skydance Media bought the Terminator rights and Terminator Genisys in 2015 (read the review) attempted to reboot the franchise, riffing on Cameron’s 1984 original and bringing back Schwarzenegger to his trademark role. Genisys was supposed to kick-start a new trilogy but disappointing box office saw those plans scraped by Ellison and he decided that what the Terminator franchise was lacking was James Cameron and he reached out to its creator who came onboard Terminator: Dark Fate as an Executive Producer. Deleting all previous entries save the first two films, Dark Fate resets the narrative and brings back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. What we have with this Tim Miller directed pic is the best film since Terminator 2.
The film kicks off with a ridiculously well rendered scene set in 1998 with Sarah and John Connor kicking-back on a beach, knowing that they’ve stopped Skynet from starting Judgment Day. Their happiness is destroyed when Schwarzenegger’s T-800 kills John before walking-off into the blazing sun. It’s a powerful scene and the de-ageing work done on Hamilton, Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong is a marvel. It’s bar-raising stuff and you know from the get-go that the filmmakers are playing a different game here than the last few instalments.
Plot-wise we’re on familiar territory as Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 attempts to kill Natalia Reyes’ Dani in order to stop the human resistance in the future. Her protector is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human who is part woman/part cyborg. Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is back because she just loves killing Terminators and Schwarzenegger returns as a T-800 who has been living a normal life with a family and a drapery business.
The central trifecta of Hamilton, Reyes and Davis is quite refreshing and it shows that three women can anchor an action movie without having to throw in comedy and high fashion (I’m looking at you, Charlie’s Angels). These characters work together and it’s because you actually believe in them individually. Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is still an ass kicking badass and you fully buy her as the character that we left way back in 1991. Mackenzie Davis’ Grace also feels believable, cut from the same cloth as Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese in the original. Dark Fate is a Terminator film and there you need Schwarzenegger. He too delivers as Carl, a retired T-800 who decided that his new mission was to focus on family. It’s an interesting concept and it allows Schwarzenegger to play a cyborg which has some humanity.
Dark Fate‘s action sequences are well crafted, but the flaw is that they rely on too much CGI. The beauty of Cameron’s original films was how the special effects worked with the practical elements. The physics in those scenes felt plausible and the gravity defying antics on display in Dark Fate feel like they belong in a superhero movie rather than something which is supposedly set in the ‘real world’. There’s just a little too much of everything, a sensory bombardment of action and the film might have been better if about two of these sequences were removed (the plane crash and the underwater fight spring to mind).
When all is said and done, Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film is 28 years. It’s not as good as Cameron’s original two instalments, but we all knew that going in. It’s an honourable continuation to those masterworks and it serves as a good bookend to that tale as well as a stepping stone toward further Terminator tales. That’s pretty much all you could want, really.