Terminator: Dark Fate Movie Review: A fitting sequel to Terminator 2
The film gets the basics of the franchise right by retaining its age-old essence and incorporating some much-needed tropes that define today's Hollywood
Long before Marvel and DC built up their cinematic worlds, there have been some iconic franchises that still trigger nostalgia to this day. One such franchise that has stood the test of time is the Terminator. It skyrocketed its lead, Arnold Schwarzenegger, straight to the top of that era and also helped cement his status as one of the biggest action heroes of the century. The James Cameron-directed The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) influenced pop culture to a large extent. The following instalments, however, could not recreate that magic. So much that the latest release in the series, Terminator: Dark Fate, completely disregards the events of the films after Terminator 2 (T2).
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna
Terminator: Dark Fate is set 25 years after the events of T2. Sarah Connor has altered the future in such a way that Skynet is no longer in existence. However, all isn't well as humanity is threatened by an AI called Legion, designed for cyberwarfare. Once again, two entities are sent from the future — one's mission is to kill a target and the other's to protect the same. What intrigued me about Dark Fate is that the similarities with the previous films in the franchise end right here; the rest is a neatly-woven story by James Cameron brought to the screen by director Tim Miller.
A major factor that makes Dark Fate stand apart from the Terminator films of the 2000s, is the return of Linda Hamilton. Not only does this help in brushing those films under the carpet, but the story is framed in such a way that it wouldn't exist without her returning as Sarah Connor, one of the most famous female action characters. The film also stars Mackenzie Davis as Grace, a soldier from the future who is part-cyborg, part-human, and Natalia Reyes as Dani, the only other significant human character in the film, who, like Sarah Connor in the first part, becomes a clueless target in the war between the machines. Considering our T-800 (Schwarzenegger) appears only past the halfway mark, the film runs completely on girl power.
Similar to the first two films, Linda Hamilton steals the show in this iteration as well. As someone without a mission and a skill set that she has gained over the years to incapacitate Terminators, she's about as human as the machines she's laid to rest. The wrinkles on her face accentuate the pain that she tries to hide behind her badassery. The franchise knows how important her return is and even lets her steal the iconic "I'll be back" line from Arnie. On the other end of the spectrum is the T-800 who, after his mission, has gained autonomy from his original programming and integrated into human society. Taking the name of Carl, he has eventually started his own company and even adopted a family. With a conscience that he has grown over the years, he is as human as a machine can get. Mackenzie and Natalia bring what's necessary to the table, and I wish the same could be said about Gabriel Luna's Rev-9 — an advanced Terminator, similar to T-X from T3, with the ability to separate these two components into two separate units. Thanks to the one-dimensional nature of the character, Luna's acting prowess isn't translated to the screen.
One of the earliest scenes that depict the future has a Terminator stepping on and crushing a human skull and the last sequence of the film is that of kids playing merrily in a park. These callbacks seem to be Dark Fate paying homage to its classic predecessors. The film also crosses borders with a major chunk of it unfolding in Mexico; fortunately, it doesn't resort to the usual stereotypes of Hollywood about that country. Cross-border politics is slightly touched upon in one scene and there's another sequence about machines taking over our jobs. Dark Fate, however, does not take sides or deliver messages. It just puts these across in a matter-of-fact manner. I loved how the film made a point by differentiating the reason why Dani is a target compared to why Sarah was one in the first part. Dark Fate also has emotional dialogues instead of the quirky, uber-cool ones that are usually mouthed by the Terminator himself. Lines such as, "Funerals don't help them and goodbyes don't help you," and "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves," illustrate the essence the film wants to convey.
Unfortunately, the film also has several issues. The cat-and-mouse chase that we've seen in all the Terminator films doesn't feel innovative here, which is a problem since that is what the film is primarily about. Apart from a brilliantly-shot C-5 aircraft sequence, Dark Fate lacks the novelty of the action sequences the franchise is known for. While the character arcs of Sarah and T-800 have had enough time to evolve over the years, it's a bit difficult to accept the fact that Dani, whose character this film revolves around, goes from mourning the death of her family in one shot to actually preparing for a full-fledged war by practising shooting in a jiffy.
On the whole, Terminator: Dark Fate gets the basics of the franchise right by retaining its age-old essence and incorporating some much-needed tropes that define today's Hollywood. If only the film had pushed the boundaries of the sci-fi genre by even a fraction of what Terminator 2: Judgement Day did back in the 90s, it would have truly felt like they're actually back.