Terminator: Dark Fate
Dir. Tim Miller
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Arnold Schwarzenegger
It’s funny, writing this blog used to be my escape. I worked in retail, and days off and evenings were spent going to the cinema, and mornings were for writing reviews in bed. It all paid off though, I got myself a new job, partly based on this very blog, and that job involves writing, and centres around movies. It’s the dream. Except, when you’ve spent all day writing it’s hard to build the motivation to come home and write. Even if I’m still going to the cinema. So this blog has sat stagnant for awhile. Quietly waiting for me to return to it, as I knew I inevitably would do. Just like futuristic killing machines I kept telling myself one thing “I’ll be back!” It may have taken longer than I had anticipated, but I’m jumping back on the saddle, with metaphorical pen in hand. Like an old western star, quick on the draw and ready to offer my thoughts and opinions on the latest the multiplex has to offer.
It’s fitting that my return to this blog should be for a franchise that has constantly been resurrected for the big screen over recent years. I love the terminator franchise. I saw the first two out of order. T2 was my introduction at a far too young age, but even then I knew there was something special about it. I’ve sat through The Sarah Connor Chronicles, witnessed the missed opportunity that was Salvation, and the less said about Rise of The Machines and Genisys the better, and thankfully Dark Fate goes the extra step of erasing all of these sequels from the timeline. For the first time it feels like we’re getting a worthy sequel. By going back to basics Tim Miller has remembered the one thing that those other sequels had forgotten. He’s remembered exactly what a Terminator movie is.
The film revolves around Dani Ramos, played with gusto by Natalia Reyes. A young girl in Mexico who suddenly finds her life threatened when a Terminator, sent back in time to kill her, shows up at her work. Lucky for her Mackenzie Davis’ Grace, has also been sent back in time. A human who has been augmented to be able to fight the terminators, Grace only has one mission, save Dani. They are soon joined by original Terminator target Sarah Connor, which sees Linda Hamilton return to her iconic role, as they go on the run front this cyborg killing machine.
I had a blast with this film. It’s honestly so much fun from start to finish. It shares the same DNA as James Cameron’s Terminator films, and whilst it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the new additions to the lore are all well thought through and satisfying. The inherent problem with a sequel to T2 is that it makes that films themes redundant. T2 is all about free will vs fate, can you change your future or is it set in stone. Any sequel to this will inevitably answer that question because it will have Terminators in it, which means that Sarah Connor didn’t change the future, or she did but she only delayed it. So the big question for any Terminator sequel is how does it exist without ruining the ending to one of the best movies ever made?
Tim Miller and his team of writers, which includes a credit for James Cameron for story, manage to answer this question in a logical, but mostly satisfactory way. It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s the best answer we’ve had from the sequels. Miller also remembers that whilst the mythology of Terminator is vast, with future wars, nuclear catastrophes and future resistance leaders, at its core a terminator movie is simply a chase movie. By going back to this simple structure Miller is able to make a terminator movie that actually feels like a terminator movie. Some will complain that it’s just a retread of the first two movies, but this is what the franchise needed to save it after so many false starts.
The other vital ingredient for a good terminator movie, which has been missing since T2 is Linda Hamilton playing Sarah Connor, and boy, was it worth the wait. If Arnie is the heart of the terminator franchise, than Linda Hamilton is the soul, and her presence has been sorely missed. She enters this movie almost as if she’s never been away, and completely embodies her character. She’s the reason it’s so easy to forget the disappointment of the previous three films.
It’s hard not to compare this film to another recent reboot/sequel, and that’s the recent Halloween movie, where Jamie Lee Curtis returned to one of her iconic characters. That film almost acts as a blueprint for what Miller is doing here. The heroine of the first film coming back to a familiar story, but this time protecting and ushering in a new heroine for the franchise. Yes, the beats are familiar, but it’s how these veterans react to the newcomers which makes the film click, and in Dark Fate, the newcomers are at the top of their game.
James Cameron causes a bit of controversy the other year when he commented on Wonder Woman’s success, and claimed he had given cinema a truly strong female character in Sarah Connor. In Dark Fate however, we get three for the price of one. Natalia Reyes is note perfect as Dani Ramos, and fully sells her journey from family life to survivor. She’s likeable, strong willed, smart, and compassionate. Equally great is Mackenzie Davis as Grace. The augmented human sent back in time to save Dani. Davis does a fantastic job here, her physical presence matching Hamilton’s. Together these are three damaged but strong female characters who carry the film soundly between them. When Arnie finally shows up, it’s clear that he is here as a supporting actor, and he seems to relish the chance, having a great deal of fun whilst doing it.
The action in this movies is also excellent. We move from set piece to set piece at breakneck speed, but each one is memorable. If the film falls down in any aspect it’s that it’s slightly ugly to look at. I felt that Tim Miller has this problem with Deadpool too, he stretches budgets to get the maximum out of them, but that can come at the detriment to visual appeal. There is also a supposed twist in this movie, and I say “supposed” because it’s so obvious it doesn’t really register as a twist.
When we finally come to the conclusion of the film, there is no real setback up for another one. A smart move by Miller, who has seen other touted trilogies fail to get past the first movie, he has just focussed on making one good movie. It’s paid off, and I for one would like to see him back.