The Terminator franchise, much like the title character, seems virtually indestructible, despite constantly being defeated. It has been only a mere four-and-a-half years since Terminator Genisys was released – the last attempt to relaunch the Terminator franchise with a “definitive” third instalment but despite its modest box office haul, Genisys didn’t make quite enough to justify a sequel (and the rumours of on-set turbulence probably didn’t encourage the studio too much), so Paramount Pictures have tried once again. Perhaps the third time really is the charm?
Terminator: Dark Fate has a lot going for it, with original writer/director James Cameron producing and writing the story, Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor and securing an R-rating (15 in the UK) to appease fans who criticised earlier sequels for being too family-friendly. Deadpool director Tim Miller is on hand to direct with Mackenzie Davis and Gabriel Luna as two of our new leads. Somehow, despite the track record of Terminator sequels being generally pretty poor, Terminator: Dark Fate manages to finally be the Terminator 3 that fans never asked for, but will be pleased to finally witness. While I’ve never found those Terminator sequels outright terrible, Dark Fate is the first to capture a blend between honouring the original films and forging a new path.
The story starts off with a clunky first act, Sarah Connor (Hamilton) grumbles her way through some opening narration which re-caps the first two films before it actually kicks-off with Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) and her brother Miguel (Diego Boneta) being pursued by the sinister Rev-9 (Luna). After a quick rescue by time-travelling cyborg Grace (Davis), the story falls into the cat-and-mouse formula of earlier films, with an additional Arnold Schwarzenegger who turns up as Carl the Terminator (Yes, that is his actual name).
To say too much more would spoil the few predictable twists Terminator: Dark Fate actually has. If previous Terminator films can be criticised for spoiling their big twists in their respective trailers, Dark Fate can be criticised for not actually having a twist as good as “Arnold’s the good guy this time” or “Sam Worthington’s a cyborg”. If the trailers seemed vague, it’s because there’s not a huge amount to reveal and whenever the story attempts to throw a curve-ball at the audience, we’re not too surprised because you can see it coming. Oh, and if you were looking forward to seeing Edward Furlong reprise his role… there’s a reason he’s not in the trailers.
However, where Terminator: Dark Fate really succeeds is in telling a solid-enough story with some endearing characters and strong action set-pieces. The film is much more CGI-heavy than I’d have liked, but Tim Miller raises the bar spectacularly high for Terminator action-sequences, achieving set-pieces that couldn’t have possibly been achieved back when the first two films came out. While we don’t have a nice “filmic” look like The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the CGI can look a little rubbery, the scale is so spectacular that I can forgive those faults. The action has a sense of weight to it, and the 15 certificate allows for extra blood and violence this time round.
Tom Holkenborg‘s score ramps up the tension during these sequence and even features a heroic version of the Terminator march for Carl the Terminator (no, he really is called Carl). Mackenzie Davis throws herself into the action with incredible ferocity and I never doubted for a second that she was an “augmented” killing machine. Arnold naturally holds his own as well, whilst Gabriel Luna pulls off his unstoppable badass routine from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the fact that his Ghost Rider spin-off series has been cancelled is a genuine shame). Luna might not be as memorable as Robert Patrick‘s T-1000, but he’s more fun than any of the other sequel villains, even if Luna doesn’t get that much to work with.
Dark Fate is also surprisingly funny at points, with Schwarzenegger in particular causing my screening to crack-up at many points and Hamilton manages to sell an older, even crazier Sarah Connor with a sense of manic glee. I can completely understand why she was tempted to come back; Sarah Connor is even more nuts but, somehow, never loses her sense of earnestness. The friction between her and Grace is fun to watch, if a little tiring after a while, but the real meat is in her subtle dynamic with Dani, realising that the girl is essentially the new ‘her’ from The Terminator. Dani is an endearing protagonist too, even if she could have more development in the first act because, as previously mentioned, the film rockets through the beginning so quickly that it awkwardly throws in important exposition and back-story half-way through, including brief glimpses of the new post-apocalyptic future.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised how conclusive Dark Fate was, there’s no post-credits scene to tease a sequel that might never happen, but it still manages to end in a satisfyingly ambiguous way. Maybe the future is not set, after all. Terminator: Dark Fate is by no means on-par with the likes of The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but is a solid action blockbuster with huge ambitions, some nice references to the original films and enough new material to not feel like a re-tread. It’s the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of Terminator films, which can either be read as a compliment or a criticism, depends on how you feel about said film. It’s not perfect but I’d happily watch a follow-up.