Synopsis – Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.
My Take – I think it is hard to argue the fact that till date the Terminator franchise remains one of the most defining genres of science fiction and action, with their imagery and signature catchphrases deeply embodied in pop culture.
However, following the massive success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and the exit of James Cameron from the director’s chair, the series has found it difficult to find itself a landing. While the last three films, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015), contained all the elements of what made its predecessors so successful, they have been received mainly negatively, mainly due to their obvious diminishing of quality. Even the excellent Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009) remained short lived.
However, what distinguishes this latest effort is that it sees James Cameron returning to the franchise as producer and co-writer, the return of Linda Hamilton‘s Sarah Connor, an actor whom each reboot ignored and undervalued, and most importantly has been marketed as the actual sequel to T2, wiping away the events of the three previous films.
Resulting in a film which successfully brings back the tried-and-tested entertainment formula while also successfully reinvigorating and modernizing enough to find new fans, while keeping the ageing fans of the original satisfied.
While I do agree that the film feels unnecessary and derivative, but fans will find this sixth installment a blessing as the return of both Cameron and Hamilton ends up making a huge difference to the tone and feel of the film as it smooths out a timeline that has grown more and more convoluted with every sequel, all the while never forgetting to be a contemporary blockbuster, fueled by nostalgia, fan service and CGI spectacle.
Tim Miller makes for a solid choice as the director after his fine work with Deadpool (2016) mainly as when the action rolls in you really don’t notice its 128 minutes running time.
Starting in 1998, three years after the events of Terminator: Judgment Day, we witness how the young John Connor, despite all the efforts of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), ends up getting killed by a T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), sent from the future by Skynet, leaving Sarah alone and hopeless.
Moving forward to present-day Mexico, the story follows Daniella Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who with her brother, Diego (Diego Boneta) and father, lives a hard life but peaceful life as workers in a factory, that is until she is targeted by a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), an advanced Terminator model sent from the future to kill her. And the only person standing between Dani and the mysterious assassin is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human soldier also from the future who has been assigned to protect Dani at all costs.
However, when it seems like the Rev-9 has become too much for them to handle, they end up being rescued by Sarah Connor, who has devoted her life to killing terminators as she continues to mourn her slain son.
Gaining momentum as it lumbers along, and featuring nostalgic, weary turns from its series veterans, this latest installment is an adequate addition that never threatens to supplant the first two films in the series. What’s most important is that it learns from the failure of the previous entries and benefits from more of a back-to-basics approach, presenting a straightforward story without relying too much on exposition, as it functions as a direct sequel to Judgement Day, with all the other films taking place in alternate timelines.
What follows is an entertaining but unsurprising set of chase sequences built around a predictable scenario: as much as Grace and Sarah shoot, smash, burn and seemingly obliterate the Rev-9, it keeps coming back, more relentless than ever. While the film doesn’t top the terrific action scenes from Terminator 2, what helps supply this film with urgency and pathos is the blunt yet effective feminist bent in which Grace, Sarah and Dani discover that they can only rely on each other to survive. As in this new future, it is Dani who will give birth to humanity’s future leader, not Sarah, and so these women bond over their shared responsibility to, as they put it at one point, protect her womb.
Another way that the film reminds you of Judgement Day is in its villain, the shape-shifting Rev-9. Here, like Robert Patrick‘s T-1000, Gabriel Luna‘s Rev-9 is less conspicuous in a crowd than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also brings a neat gimmick of being able to separate itself into liquid metal outer shell and endoskeleton, allowing it to perform tag-team attacks.
The screenplay does nice work in balancing out this seemingly unstoppable force without losing the tension of the chase, primarily by creating a team of flawed opponents who must work together to stand a chance. Director Tim Miller, a former visual-effects artist, who distinguished his work on Deadpool by harnessing computer technology to make a mid-budget film look expensive, here, once again ensures that the VFX scenes look splendid and appropriately extreme.
The first scene in the film showcases the most convincing digital de-aging/face replacement effects I’ve ever seen. And as the film reaches its final act, director Miller and his six credited writers come up with their most outlandish and satisfying action set pieces, as well as building to several emotional crescendos that, despite recalling similar moments in earlier installments, nonetheless conjure up what was once so titanic about this franchise.
However, while the stronger connection to the first two films anchors this one in its tone and mythos, it also prevents the film from being too innovative on its own terms, as it sticks to familiar tropes. Also, much of the events in Terminator 2: Judgement Day seem to have been rendered moot in the first scene itself. The particular sequence which will obviously split fans down in the middle. While I do think it was unnecessary, I do understand the filmmaker’s choice to make a bold decision.
Which in my opinion has also inadvertently led to another problem – the character of Daniella Ramos. By making her the central character of the series (if the sequels come), we are supposed to root for her, but Dani is so underwritten that it is hard to care about what happens to her. Back in 1984’s The Terminator, we were properly introduced to who Sarah was before she was hunted, hence her transition by the end of the film left an impact. This unfortunately does not happen for Dani.
The film’s biggest asset is Linda Hamilton, and she easily conveys the no-nonsense toughness fans of the series know and love, but also delivers a genuinely good performance beyond that. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in more of a supporting capacity, but completely steals the show when he’s onscreen. The film wisely makes use of Schwarzenegger‘s comedic talents while also preserving the formidable physical power associated with the T-800 character. In this role, he also has a new self-awareness, seeming to recognize that Hamilton has always been the beating heart of the series, and quite gracefully ceding her the limelight.
Mackenzie Davis is a great addition to the canon. Davis underwent a complete physical transformation to play the muscular, angular Grace, and performs especially well in the action sequences. Natalia Reyes gives everything to her role, but due to being underwritten, it does suffer in the end. Gabriel Luna makes for a relentless Terminator, and is a treat to watch. Diego Boneta is effective in a small role. On the whole, ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ manages to be a satisfying sequel thanks to its female-empowered narrative, thrilling action sequences and its close ties to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Directed – Tim Miller
Rated – R
Run Time – 128 minutes