Consider if you will the perils of being in charge of the latest instalment in a popular franchise. Will you please your reptilian studio head bosses by making a profit? Will you please the fans by producing a worthy instalment in an already strong series? Or will you burn the franchise to the ground and then urinate on the ruins? This must have been the conflict facing every filmmaker in charge of Terminator films since around 1998.
For the Terminator series has not just come back from one terrible sequel, not even two, but THREE terrible Terminator films have come before this; what’s more, this is the second sequel where: ‘nothing happened after T2, we promise. Terminator Salvation? Never heard of it.’ So the studio must have had faith that this would be the one to bring it back. That or they have brass balls so big they’re visible from space.
So why should we care that Annie and co are back for round two? (or is it three?) Well, for starters, James Cameron is back on board, and anyone who’s read these little time killers before knows that I believe the last time James Cameron was even in earshot of a good film was T2. Also, they’ve recruited Tim Millar, the man behind the camera for the first Deadpool film, so theoretically, this film is in same hands. Oh, and Lina Hamilton’s back…
27 years after John and Sarah Connor prevented Judgement Day and saved billions of lives. A new future threat emerges and sends an agent back through time to kill a new target, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). A protector in the form of Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is also sent through time, but the Terminators have evolved and are more dangerous than ever.
Well, it’s only taken four attempts and a hell of a lot of wasted man-hours, but we finally have a halfway decent sequel to T2!
But before we break out the champagne, there are flaws in its design that we must examine.
My main quibble is that the film itself is wholly derivative of the first two films; in fact, it’s pretty much just a combination of the first two plots with a few added bells and whistles.
We have the modern day target, (Sarah and John Connor in Terminator 1 and 2 respectively and Dani here) the protector, (The T-800 in T2 and Grace here) and the seemingly unstoppable villain bent on their destruction (The T-800 and T-1000 in the first two, here represented by the Rev-9).
All of this seems pretty dishonest to package up what is essentially two old stories into one package, then in case we were slow on the uptake, throw Sarah Connor herself in for good measure and name recognition. It all seems very cynical, and that’s usually my job, so I must insist it backs off my turf.
Having said that, it does do itself a massive favour by asking us to ignore the past three films, which isn’t really a difficult task, the only things I remember from those films is how terrible they were, not to mention incomprehensible, because it effectively gives itself a clean break to tell a new story starting from the point before the series went to hell in a handcart, so it isn’t dragging its failures with it.
Another thing that helps the film is its simplifying of the plot down to base elements, sure they might be the same element as ever seen before, but give them a fresh coat of paint and we might not realise that we’re being sold something second hand, and in this analogy, we notice there are scuff marks, indicating the tell-tale signs of a new coat of paint, but we don’t mind because everything works so well, like a reliable but unspectacular car.
There are also some good characters here, praise the Lord, and we get a real sense of deer-in-the-headlights fear from Dani, a similar sense that another character in the plot went through, but we’ll get to her, and it really helps solidify her as an unlikely, and unwilling, hero. She also shares a great chemistry with Grace, who has the telltale signs of a character with a mysterious backstory, albeit an underwhelming one in the end, but more importantly, it makes sense. No matter how much of an anti-climax it may seem.
Then there’s Sarah Connor, played once again by Linda Hamilton, in her first major film appearance in many years. I must admit, when I saw the trailer for Dark Fate, I was extremely sceptical of her inclusion, she seemed to be there for the sake of it and her own ‘I’ll be back’ line was crowbarred in as efficiently as a humpback whale fits into an aeroplane luggage rack. But, having seen the film, I realise why she was such a crucial aspect to the story. She has a recognisable arc from T2, and she’s gained depth and complexity in her time away from the spotlight.
All of these characters are brought to life extremely well by their respective actors, although I’d say the emotional weight was carried mostly by Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis, their chemistry grows organically and Grace is a far more emotionally flexible protector than Arnie, who’s also in this film, he can be described as being ‘as good as he can be’ here, which is a loaded backhanded compliment if ever I saw one…
The action is also tightly bound together by a slick and experienced director, guided by a fairly solid script, although who wrote it is up for debate, as more people had writing credits than acting credits, it seemed. Maybe the old ‘too many cooks’ proverb doesn’t ring true after all?
Overall then, despite my issues with it being a bit similar to the originals, I’d say that Terminator: Dark Fate finally achieves the goal of being a worthy successor to the originals, it doesn’t quite surpass them, but it’s worthy of being mentioned alongside them at the very least. It stands head and shoulders above previous attempts at relighting this particular fire, maybe they finally realised that a fire is best started with a lighter, rather than some damp leaves and a twig.