Ever since Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released back in 1991, the Terminator series has been on a downward spiral. After the mediocrity of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines & Terminator Salvation, followed by the travesty that was Terminator: Genisys it comes as no surprise that Terminator: Dark Fate wants to put those films to rest and try once more to hit the heights of the classic first two films.
After a brief, and ballsy, epilogue, we are thrust into the year 2020. Judgement Day has been averted, and the world spins on with the majority of the population completely unaware of the fate they have avoided. And yet, as is the norm for these films, two soldiers from the future are sent back in time with two very different missions in mind. One to ensure the safety of humanity, the other to eliminate any threats that humankind may pose to the robot uprising. This time however, the saviour of humanity is not Sarah or John Connor, but is instead a young woman by the name of Dani Ramos.
The fact that this is now the sixth entry in the Terminator series means a lot here. The law of diminishing returns has been applicable for the majority of the sequels, with each one seeming to lose what made the first two films so great. It becomes apparent that two things are afoot here. The first is that the creative talent behind these films are unsure on how to proceed. The second being that audiences may be growing weary of this decades old franchise that, like the T-800 itself, will not stay down. The first point is a tricky one when weighed against the second. Stick too close to the first two films and the sequels are deemed as inadequate rehashes of the same idea. Go too far the other way and they are ridiculed for using “gimmicks” and trying too hard to be different.
So, what is the answer? Well, in Terminator: Dark Fate the solution is to do a little bit of both and hope for the best. It’s a fine balance, even if Dark Fate does stick more to the ideas and tone of The Terminator and its monumental sequel. Terminator: Dark Fate in fact, wants so bad to be recognised by its peers that it has even been labelled as the “official” third film in the series. This has effectively written off Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys. That is not altogether a bad thing, and much like 2018’s Halloween and The Force Awakens it allows the creative team to spread their wings whilst paying homage to what made those films so great in the first place.
In doing so, director Tim Miller and producer James Cameron have managed to reunite the franchises two stars in Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. The two sharing the same screen for the first time in 28 years. The feeling of seeing these two back as the T-800 and Sarah Connor is one of pure joy, even if their characters may not replicate those feelings toward each other. Similar to The Force Awakens, Dark Fate aims to mix the old with the new and also introduce several other characters into the fray. Natalia Reyes’ Dani is the young factory worker destined to somehow save humanity, while Mackenzie Davis has been sent back from a future apocalypse to ensure Dani’s safety. Meanwhile, Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 Terminator has been sent back to, well, terminate Dani.
At times the film feels too full of characters. All are vying for the audience’s attention, and in a film clocking in at just over two hours there is a lot of shit to pack in here. The convoluted story aside, we must learn what drives these characters, their backgrounds and what has brought them all together in this moment. Meanwhile, the director would like to remind everyone that this is an action film with each set-piece seeking to outdo the last. It could so easily have been a mess, but thankfully Tim Miller has got the balance just right, resulting in the best Terminator film since T2: Judgement Day.
The road movie elements are kept intact, and through Sarah Connor we learn how to successfully evade the authorities in this digital age. With the time taken to get to know these characters, Dark Fate has managed to recapture the beating heart that was a mainstay of the series in its early days. Without that, the film simply would not succeed. Sure, there are some faults here. The plot unravels quickly under scrutiny, and certain elements defy logic even for this series, while others feel far too convenient. On the other hand, the majority of the action hits the mark – the first 30 minutes are outstanding, and the whole affair is so eager to please its audience that its hard not to love it.
Of course, this may ultimately depend on your relationship to the Terminator series as a whole. If, like me, you grew up watching these films you may likely feel an overall sense of joy at their revival. Others, perhaps new to the Terminator, may find nothing more than an entertaining popcorn action film. Either view is fine, but it would take a stubborn soul not to take any pleasure here.
Terminator: Dark Fate is in cinemas now