Director: Tim Miller
Screenwriters: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Stars: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes
I have to admit my hopes were not high for this sequel-come-reboot. Though I quite liked T3, I thought Genisys was a mess and Salvation was irredeemably awful. I obviously wasn’t the only one with this opinion. Dark Fate serves as a direct sequel to T2, presumably in the hope the others will be wiped from the timeline.
The film starts off by introducing us to Dani (Natalia Reyes) and her normal, humdrum life. This is the Latino girl we saw in the trailer and assumed was a kid. She’s actually not a kid, she’s just a very short woman. Anyway, as per usual, a terminator and a protector arrive in a big whirly ball of electricity and we soon realise this ordinary girl isn’t going to be so ordinary in the future.
A lot of people are comparing this to The Force Awakens; saying it’s just a new spin on the old formula, and this is true, but it’s also what made the first two (and arguably the third) Terminator movies work. The CG mess that was Salvation attempted to do something new in the wake of Judgement Day, and Genysis just tied everyone’s head in knots with too many time travel paradoxes, so I’m not against them going back to the original template.
Series creator James Cameron gets a story credit but not a screenplay credit, so it seems he was involved in the early stages and then left the directing to Deadpool’s Tim Miller while he went back to work on his 20 Avatar sequels. It would’ve been great to have Cameron back in the director’s chair, but Miller is as good a stand-in as we could’ve hoped for. He handles the action like a seasoned pro and though the film is light on humour, the few moments of levity we get are well judged and funny.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t perfect; there are a couple of things about it that did niggle me. The opening flashback scene with Linda Hamilton de-aged does not look good and I don’t understand why. Doesn’t everyone use the same de-ageing software? Why do Marvel’s de-aged characters look so good and yet Sarah Connor looks like a PS4 character? The other niggle concerns the military assistance they receive at the beginning of the third act. Sarah says at one point that she is wanted in all 50 states and had a whole episode of America’s Most Wanted dedicated to her, and yet when she calls an old army buddy he not only gives her Top Secret tech weapons, but also access to an army base and lets her take a very large plane! This is never explained and seems like a plot contrivance just to get them into a plane. It’s a shame because one very minor tweak could’ve made it a lot more believable. The army guy who helps them is an African-American with the name-patch HUNT on his fatigues. What if that patch had read DYSON instead? Little Danny Dyson all grown up? Just sayin’.
As someone who went in fully expecting to hate it, I’m glad those two points are really all I have to complain about. I enjoyed this film a lot. Mackenzie Davis delivers the sort of fast, well-choreographed action and violence we expect and hope for from this franchise. Granted, some of it still is CG, but we can’t have everything. Arnie arrives quite late, but he’s a welcome addition to the group when he does and his strained relationship with Sarah keeps things tense.
It’s unfortunate that Dani doesn’t get the story-arc Sarah had in the first film. Where Sarah was an apologetic waitress who wouldn’t confront a guy who cancels minutes before their date, but ends up fighting and destroying a T-800, Dani spends most of the time being protected and letting others do the fighting for her. She does fire a few shots and have a bit of a shout near the end, but it’s not the gradual transformation that would make her believable. It feels a bit like they’re saving that stuff up for the sequel which is always a mistake.
Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9 plays it completely emotionless, except when he’s mimicking someone, and while we can all understand why the actor would make this choice, it does give him all the personality of a toaster. The T-1000 didn’t say much either but he had an intense stare that told us what lay beneath the poly-mimetic alloy was something you should be scared of.
The storyline is basically a reset, so depending on how this one does at the box-office, we may be getting more films with Dani being chased by increasingly upgraded terminators. Unlike Arnie, I don’t think the producers will be asking Gabriel Luna to reprise his role if there are future sequels. He does what the script asks of him but it’s not the sort of iconic performance that would make fans salivate for his return.
Dark Fate has all the ingredients you’d expect from a Termintor movie, and thankfully the action and violence don’t hold back just so the movie can reach a lower age demographic. While it may not be on a par with T1 and T2, I think it’s at least as good as T3 – and remember I liked T3 – and much better than Salvation or Genysis.