DIR: Tim Miller • WRI: Jill Culton • DOP: Robert Edward Crawford • ED: Susan Fitzer • DES: Max Boas • PRO: James Cameron, David Ellison • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta
Franchise fatigue is a term that can easily be applied to the Terminator franchise. The 1984 and 1991 films were met with critical and commercial acclaim and the opposite can be said for the three films that have been produced since. The highlight of the three films released post-1991 is the leaked footage of Christian Bale lambasting a crewmember whilst filming 2009’s Terminator Salvation. A sequel was planned for 2015’s Terminator Genisys but was sensibly shelved after poor box-office returns, despite a huge return from Chinese cinemas, and the franchise seemed destined to continue in remasterings of the original two films.
However, studio executives are not prepared to retire Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poor old T-800 robot and James Cameron has decided to direct some of his focus away from the thousand Avatar sequels to co-produce a new Terminator film billed as a direct sequel to events from ‘his’ films; retconning events from the films without his involvement. With Deadpool director Tim Miller at the helm, Terminator: Dark Fate is the latest and sixth instalment featuring the return of Arnie, and more significantly, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor.
Dark Fate follows the standard Terminator framework of a robot sent from the future to kill the future leader of the human resistance. Of course, a benevolent robot to humans is sent back in time to terminate the enemy and prevent the malevolent rise of technological warfare and advanced artificial intelligence against humans. In this film, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is a regular woman living in Mexico when her life is altered by the arrival of a future robot – later described as a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – who is determined to kill her. Although, surprising only to Terminator newcomers, another robot from the future has also arrived to protect Dani and ensure her survival. The regular pattern is skewed here when we discover that this robot is called Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and is instead a human retrofitted with a form of A.I. Grace and Dani attempt to evade the Rev-9 but require the assistance from two familiar faces and Terminator killers in Sarah Connor and the T-800.
Much like recent franchise reboots, Dark Fate’s narrative riffs off its origins and becomes a nostalgic retelling of a story audiences know and admire. With the character of Dani Ramos – essentially a substitute for Sarah Connor in The Terminator – Dani connects us with the past and is a narrative familiar link. Although, Dark Fate manages to convince that it’s not simply a nostalgia fest and creates a narrative that can be driven by new strong female characters such as Grace and Dani. It’s also telling that Arnold Schwarzenegger does not appear on screen as quickly as you’d think and the new and returning female characters are driving the plot by themselves.
The first sequence from the film is a spoiler that does change the outlook of what to expect if you’ve seen previous instalments. Yet, Dark Fate is a hugely-enjoyable two hours of cinema. The CGI has progressed so much that audiences are not as shocked by standards set by, for example, Robert Patrick’s menacing T-1000 in Judgment Day, but the action sequences are impressive. They’re just missing some of the visceral grit and physicality in the first two films. Mackenzie Davis is also terrific as Grace and her performance inhabits both the vulnerability of Sarah Connor in The Terminator and Sarah’s scarred determination in Judgment Day. Davis, alongside Reyes and Gabriel Luna, allows the narrative to remain engaging and the flashforwards to Grace’s post-apocalyptic future are reminiscent of Terminator Salvation; serving as to what’s at stake if Dani dies.
Schwarzenegger is back to his robotic best living a new sentient life as a draper called Carl before he’s called back to what he knows best. More importantly, Linda Hamilton returning to the role of Sarah Connor is what the franchise sorely needed. Her character has evolved from a naive girl to a war-hardened woman out for revenge, even with her “own episode of America’s Most Wanted”. Akin to Laurie Strode in 2018’s Halloween, Sarah Connor’s modus operandi is killing terminators and that’s what her life has become. It consumes her and it takes an actor like Linda Hamilton to characterise this consumption so poignantly.
There are also not so subtle contemporary allegories regarding Mexican immigration, gun laws, digital surveillance, and the human fear of A.I. They do, however, fit within the narrative and assist in what is easily a credible sequel to the events of Cameron’s films. The fear is that audiences will not invest their time in seeing this after regular disappointments. Dark Fate is reliant upon what we’ve already seen but it feels fresh despite its nostalgic moments rekindling appreciation for and awareness of The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day.
It was never going to be as remarkable as the original two films, but Dark Fate provides us with a new female action hero in the form of Grace and also allows Sarah Connor to return and be revered again. Linda Hamilton returning is worth the admission price alone.
15A (see IFCO for details)
Terminator: Dark Fate is released 23rd October 2019