Terminator: Dark Fate

Can Linda Hamilton’s return inject something worthwhile into the ailing Terminator franchise? Yes, actually!

What’s The Movie? Terminator: Dark Fate

What’s It All About, JG? Trying to restore even the faintest scrap of credibility to the Terminator franchise, mostly. Ignoring – with some justification – everything after the iconic Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Dark Fate picks up the story some years later. John Connor is eventually – and speedily – taken out by a Terminator and Sarah goes into hiding. Meanwhile in Mexico we have a whole new Terminator, the Rev-9, who’s hot on the heels of The New Sarah Connor ™, Dani. She’s being protected by an augmented human from the future, the not-at-all-with-an-on-the-nose-name Grace, who was sent back in time to protect her (sound familiar?).

This time the thing-Dani’s-being-protected-from is a Terminator that can split itself in two, a black-liquid version and an exposed Terminator skeleton. Sarah turns up to save them after some ‘splosions and then the race is on to keep Dani safe – Sarah’s been getting random texts that tell her where a Terminator is going to appear which is how she knew to save Dani in the first place. Those, it seems, come from the T-800 – now named Carl – that killed John who, shorn of purpose, has integrated into humanity and apparently grown a conscience (hence the texts to Sarah). It all ends in a big slap-fight at a hydro plant – the Rev-9’s liquid skin is destroyed but the only way to get rid of the skeleton version is for Grace to sacrifice herself by pulling out her power supply. Thus Grace dies, and Carl sacrifices himself to destroy the skeleton. The film ends with Dani swearing she won’t let Grace die so Sarah tells her its time to start training… Duh-duh-dum-da-DUM!

Why Did You Give It A Go? I’m old enough to remember T2 being released and being genuinely awestruck by it, and from that moment on I was in as far as Terminators went. And even at it’s worst, the Terminator movies have never made me want to rage-quit the franchise (hello, Prometheus and Covenant).

Is It Any Good? It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the best Terminator movie since T2. Now, you may very well and very accurately say, that’s not much of an achievement. Well, indeed. Terminator 3- Rise Of The Machines had a couple of solid ideas but never really delivered on them, Salvation was simply dull, and Genesys simply dumb (if not nearly as bad as its reputation). Dark Fate didn’t have to do a lot to beat any of them, yet it goes way beyond simply not sucking as hard as any of the other sequels. Step forward, then, Linda Hamilton, returning to the role of Sarah Connor for the first time since Bryan Adams warbled his way through “Everything I Do (I Do For You)” for three excruciating months. She’s amazing. All the old power of Sarah Connor comes flooding back through her – she’s still as badass as ever, weathered by time but in no way beaten by it, and when Sarah’s in full flow there basically isn’t another action woman in cinema that hold a candle to her (only Sigourney Weaver even stands a chance). Not to diminish the other female leads – both Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes are terrific as Grace and Dani respectively – but Sarah dominates this movie more than anyone else. That includes the Terminators, as represented both by the appealingly gruff and bearded Arnold Schwarzenegger and new boy Gabriel Luna, stepping into the blank-eyed Robert Patrick role of new Terminator, the Rev-9. Luna’s a great addition to the ranks of Terminators, which also helps to give a solid anchor in the film, and in Schwarzenegger we get an unusually restrained performance, rather world-weary and occasionally deadpan-funny. There’s a lot of myth-building here, should this film succeed where Genesys failed (i.e. getting a sequel), but ultimately what this film exists for is to be  an entirely female-oriented action movie with one of the most dynamic of all female action stars, and in this it succeeded magnificently. Dark Fate isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s fast-paced, eloquently written and it re-invigorates the Terminator series with some degree of gusto. For that alone it deserves to be commended.

How Many Of These Did You Watch? All of them, including the uneven-but-generally-good Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. And there’s a fair chance that T2 – which I’d argue is the best action movie of all time – might be my most watched film ever. Only Alien and Casablanca stand any chance of coming close.

Would You Recommend It? Do you like watching robots fight and blow shit up? Then this is the film for you! Just for the three female leads it would be worth it, but we get a cool new Terminator, an interesting perspective on an old one – not a million miles away from Genesys‘s attempts to do the same thing, but done much better here – and some great action sequences. I mean, that’s pretty much what you’d want from a Terminator movie, right? If there’s a flaw here, it’s the pacing. We get a lot of action in the first twenty or so minutes, then a fair amount of standing about talking so we can be filled in on back-story, before finally things pick up again and we head for the Mexico-U.S. border (the faint stabs at political relevancy and comment are appreciated but pretty far from essential and don’t amount to all that much). The standing-about-talking material is obviously meant to be set-up, but it’s inelegantly handled. Much better is the idea that, rather than the three women fighting to protect an unborn baby boy – as with John – instead they’re just trying to save Dani so she can go on to save the world. It’s slyly feminist – no man is required to save this world – without hammering the point home. Indeed, the broad feminism of the movie is handled with considerable, erm, grace and the fact that the movie is utterly uninterested in justifying the lead characters’ gender, but simply presents them as the de facto stars and lets them get on with it, is simply incredibly refreshing. It’s true that sometimes Dark Fate hews a little too close to T2 in its structure – the big hydro fight at the end is way too similar to the industrial forge fight at the end of T2, even as it’s well done – but simple changes like setting the first third of the film in Mexico (with almost no English spoken to boot) shakes up the feel of the film so we’re not just dealing with another few anonymous blocks of Los Angeles. If Dark Fate isn’t perfect – and it’s not – it’s still for the most part a terrific action movie that’s more than worth recommending. Go see!

Scores On The Door? 7/10

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