Let’s be honest now, The Terminator franchise has been in a sizable rut for some time now. Make excuses and defend your favorite installment that stuttered in in the years following T2 all you will, even the most staunch defender of Arnie saying “Talk to the hand!” in Terminator 3 has to admit that everything post 1991 has been glitchy as Hell. 2015’s abominably spelt Genisys seemed like a final nail in the coffin, building up an over complicated and protracted storyline that was destined never to be finished but with the return of creator James Cameron producing (as opposed to delivering lies about how good part 5 was in online promos) the future of the franchise finally seems peachy. Has Deadpool director Tim Miller managed to make this fallen film series rise like a gleaming T-800 from the flaming wreckage of past failures?
After a prologue that not only ties the movie directly to T2, but is positively loaded with de-aging CGI and nasty surprises, we jump forward to the present day just in time to see augmented amazon Grace arrive from a dark and terrible future. Obviously she has come to protect someone but as John Connor’s time as saviour of the human race has regrettably past it’s sell by date, it’s a young Dani Ramos who is now the target of time hopping terrorist technology. And, as if on cue, the villianous Rev-9 arrives and attempts to un-live Dani while showing off it’s party trick of being a merging of both classic Terminator AND T-1000 technology and is able to split into two separate forms to launch a tag-team offensive on anything that gets in it’s way. Doing precisely that, however, is the grizzled, immovable object that is Sarah Connor who aids Grace and Dani in an escape from the Rev-9’s initial assault and desides to aid them in their escape but this Sarah is an even more bitter version of herself than from even T2 and has been spending her spare time hunting down Terminators whenever they pop up thanks to a mysterious benefactor giving her tips (happens more regularly than you’d think, I guess…). As we learn that Grace’s post apocalyptic future is subtly different than the one Sarah is used to fighting, and the exact nature of Dani’s involvement of the resistance comes to light, the trio manage – after crossing the border and avoiding numerous assaults by the Rev-9 – to track down Sarah’s “informant” who turns out to be a familiar face but with an unexpected agenda…
Fittingly terminating the 3 previous movies from it’s own timeline is Dark Fate’s first, massive step in the right direction but the second (and probably most welcome) is the triumphant return of Linda Hamilton making us all realise that maybe it wasn’t Schwarzenegger who should have been the main face of the series all along. After all, she is truly the person who fully links this movie fully to the first two (Arnie’s techinally never even played the same actual terminator twice so therefore has never actually been so much of a returning character as a returning actor) and her appearance – possibly inspired by Jamie Lee Curtis’ similar silver haired assault against a unkillable foe in the latest Halloween – is not only fun but along with Halloween and the Maleficent sequel, seems to be taking steps to give beefier roles to women over a certain age. While we’re on the subject of Hollywood being more inclusive, having the first two thirds of the movie attempt to rub a little Sicario into it’s DNA and attempt to include the Mexican experience into a franchise that’s always been fairly caucasian is also laudable (although the fact that only the “victim” and the villain are ethnically diverse is still a bit of a shame) so here’s hoping that a similar idiotic backlash that plagued Mad Mad: Fury Road, Captain Marvel and the more recent Star Wars movies won’t rear it’s unwanted face here.
The cast perform well with old timers Hamilton and Schwarzenegger bringing more colours to their character’s respective palettes (Arnie in particular, despite showing up fashionably late into proceedings, has his most left field T-800 arc yet) and former Ghost Rider Gabriel Luna flaunts a similar kind of dead eyed charm as Robert Patrick did while sprouting spikes and shit. However Mackenzie Davis’ Grace, while swinging a mean sledgehammer and kicking inordinate amounts of ass, is somewhat a one-note soldier type while Natalia Reyes gives somewhat predictable fiery spunk to her big hearted target.
While Terminator: Dark Fate is admittedly more of a relief than a triumph – for the first time in ages it seems like the series has solid groundwork to actually make this installment stick – it’s still is easily the third best Terminator ever made mostly down to the bruising action that regularly changes the odds between the dual action Rev-9 first outnumbering it’s foes 2 to 1 and then gradually losing that advantage as the cast swells. The carnage is impressive and extensive, although mostly digital (nothing here to match a real helicopter zooming under a real bridge in T2) but thanks to Tim Miller’s direction is welcomely tense although you’d think that the guy who wrangler Wade Wilson would have produced better attempts at humour from the cast as a fair few lines fall flat.
It ain’t perfect and it certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel but if we were to continue down this new timeline, I actually wouldn’t have many complaints.
After all… the future is not set.