Film Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

The ‘Terminator’ franchise is given a new lease of life as Sarah Connor returns…

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Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reunite for the James Cameron-produced ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox/Paramount Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes

Directed by:  Tim Miller / written by:  David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes & Bill Ray (story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer & Justin Rhodes) / 128 minutes

What’s it about?

A cybernetically enhanced soldier from the future teams up with Sarah Connor to protect a young girl from a new and even more lethal Terminator…

In review

Director James Cameron returns to the franchise he created, as producer (as well as story co-writer) for Terminator: Dark Fate – the sixth Terminator film – which functions as a direct sequel to Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (thus ignoring previous entries Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation and 2015’s failed reboot, Terminator: Genisys), facilitating the return of Linda Hamilton as the tough as nails Sarah Connor.

A solid and action-packed continuation of Cameron’s humans versus machines time travel story, Dark Fate may not be in the same league as T2 but it’s comfortably the best Terminator since 1991.  That’s in no small part thanks to Linda Hamilton, reprising her most iconic role with ease, intensified by the further grizzle and weariness that age – and circumstances – have brought upon her.  Connor may have prevented Judgment Day but as we learn in Dark Fate, a cataclysmic conflict between humanity and advanced, self-aware artificial intelligence was merely postponed.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, Grace, a cybernetically augmented human resistance fighter (Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis) is sent back in time from the year 2042 to the present in order to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes), a young auto factory worker from being murdered by a relentless ‘Rev-9’ type Terminator (Gabriel Luna, previously Ghost Rider on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).  Over two decades after destroying the work of the Cyberdyne labs, Sarah Conner, then the literal mother of the human resistance, finds fate aligning her path with Grace’s mission to ensure Dani’s survival – the importance of which soon becomes clear.

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Mackenzie Davis as the human resistance’s augmented super soldier Grace (image credit: 20th Century Fox/Paramount Pictures).

Restoring the anxious tension and sharp brutality of the original Terminator films, Dark Fate is enhanced by its casting, it goes without saying that Linda Hamilton is a standout but she is greatly matched by Mackenzie Davis who, like Hamilton some 25+ years prior, brings a believable sense of fierce physicality to her role and the concept of a human/cybernetic hybrid is both intriguing and frighteningly prescient.  Natalia Reyes also holds her own as Dani, who is given a strong arc that helps drive the heart of the story, completing the film’s trio of engaging heroines.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Terminator without Arnold Schwarzenegger who once again returns as the original form of Terminator – the Cyberdyne Systems T-800, model 101.  Notwithstanding the pure nostalgic delight of seeing Schwarzenegger and Hamilton reunited on screen, Arnie brings that extra bit of presence to proceedings and is given new layers to explore as Dark Fate provides an interesting and neat twist to his character.

Gabriel Luna provides a palpable and deadly threat as the new breed of Terminator – a sort of ‘dual’ combination of the T-800 exoskeleton and the morphing liquid metal T-1000 – giving audiences another new spin on the old as Luna slices, stabs and crashes his way through anyone and anything that stands in the way of the Rev-9’s mission.

Whilst he’s no James Cameron, Tim Miller is an efficient action director, utilising his experience from Deadpool and marshalling his skills effectively in balancing the visual effects (the odd weak CGI moment forgiven) and exciting set-pieces – including an edge-of-the-seat tussle aboard a C5 cargo plane and a satisfying and scintillating finale – with character and story.  The narrative may evoke a sense of familiarity, it’s overall structure undeniably reminiscent of T2 which perhaps make Dark Fate a little predictable in moments, but there are enough small tweaks that add elements of the new and keep the commentary (and cautionary statement) on technological progression meaningful and relevant.  The real challenge will be where to take the franchise next but for now, Terminator: Dark Fate is something of a shot in the arm for the series.

The bottom line:  Resetting the future of a troubled franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate is an enjoyable and effective sci-fi action blockbuster that combines the comfort of the familiar with some pleasing touches of the new.

Terminator: Dark Fate is in cinemas across the U.K. now and opens in the U.S. and other worldwide territories on 1st November.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Predator 2’

The ultimate hunter returned to cinema screens in 1990’s first ‘Predator’ sequel…

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On the hunt: a new Predator stalks L.A. in ‘Predator 2’ (credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  1990

Starring:  Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton

Directed by:  Stephen Hopkins / written by:  Jim Thomas & John Thomas

What’s it about?

As gang warfare rages in the heat-soaked city of Los Angeles, LAPD cop Mike Hannigan, investigating a series of bizarre murders, discovers a new threat in the form of a lethal alien, hunting humans for sport…

Retrospective/review

With the popularity of John McTiernan’s Predator it was only a matter of time before a sequel would surface, and so it did, in 1990 with Predator 2 – directed by Stephen Hopkins.  An enjoyable, albeit inferior, follow-up to Predator, Hopkins and returning writers Jim & John Thomas help to deliver an entertaining science fiction action blockbuster.

Moving the action from the isolated jungles of Central America to the chaotic urban jungle of Los Angeles in the, then, not too distant future of 1997, Predator 2 creates the perfect environment for the creature to hunt, where the L.A. police are locked in an unrelenting conflict as they engage in street wars with Colombian gangs and Jamaican crime lords during an oppressive heatwave that not only adds to tensions but further drives the Predator’s thirst for the hunt.  It’s a decent idea that works rather well, altering the setting to keep things interesting yet retaining those key atmospheric elements at the core of Predator, the sense of comforting familiarity enhanced by the return of Alan Silvestri as composer of the film’s music score.

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Danny Glover as Lt. Mike Hannigan (credit: 20th Century Fox).

Leading the cast is Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover in an enjoyably energetic performance as no-nonsense police lieutenant Mike Hannigan who, whilst not as muscular as Arnold Schwarzenegger (looming production on Terminator 2 preventing the Austrian Oak’s participation) certainly holds his own in the action scenes of Predator 2.  Supporting Glover is Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso (The Running Man) and a wonderfully enthusiastic Bill Paxton (Aliens’ Private Hudson) as fellow L.A. cops Archuleta, Cantrell and Lambert, respectively as well as Kent McCord as their captain.  Gary Busey brings antagonism into the fray as the shady Peter Keyes, as Hannigan learns that the true perpetrator of a wave of gang murders is not from this world.

Although it doesn’t feel as new and exciting as Predator and is in some ways less suspenseful with its slightly less mysterious and faster paced approach (and the portrayal of the Jamaican criminals at times a little silly), there’s still a lot to enjoy about Predator 2, not in the least in its action – including a deadly subway train encounter with the Predator, the inventive slaughterhouse battle with the creature as Keys and his team attempt to capture it and the apartment building/rooftop chase which leads to a climactic finale aboard the Predator’s ship.  It’s all staged capably by director Hopkins who keeps things intense and engaging.

With some tweaks and refinements to the creature’s appearance, this Predator (once again played by Kevin Peter Hall) is subtly unique from the previous one and its expanded array of gear, including a staff and spinning disc make it more even more formidable.  Predator 2 also contains a neat little Easter egg for fans of both of 20th Century Fox’s SF creature franchises with the skull of a xenomorph displayed amongst the Predator’s trophies – leading to numerous Alien vs Predator comic books, novels, video games and a pair of not-so-great films.  Although it may not be as worthy a successor as Aliens was to Alien, Predator 2 does enough creatively to set it apart from the original film and with some solid and well-executed action sequences it provides a good measure of entertainment.

Geek fact!  Gary Busey’s son, Jake, known mainly for his role in Starship Troopers, appears in 2018 sequel The Predator as the son of Busey’s character in Predator 2.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘Joker’

Joaquin Phoenix is the man beneath the clown make-up in Tod Phillip’s Scorsese inspired reinvention of DC’s iconic villain…

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Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerful performance in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Joker’ (credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Douglas Hodge, Dante Pereira-Olson

Directed by:  Todd Phillips / written by:  Todd Phillips & Scott Silver / 122 minutes

What’s it about?

Grappling with mental illness amidst the crumbling society of Gotham City, a victimised and broken man walks a dark path as he adopts a deranged persona known as ‘Joker’…

In review

After riding a wave of festival focused critical plaudits and finding itself subject to some pre-release controversy (cancelled screenings and increased police presence rising from concerns that the film may incite acts of violence), Warner Bros. Pictures’ Joker, based on the iconic Batman villain, has landed in cinemas.  Featuring an intense and Oscar-worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix, Joker is much less a traditional “comic book” interpretation of DC’s Clown Prince of Crime and far more a bleak, at times disturbing and often unnerving character study of a man cast aside by society, broken and pushed to the limit and through violent means – pushes back.  As has already been suggested since the film’s inception, Joker finds its roots within the celebrated works of director Martin Scorsese (who at one point was attached to produce) – specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a loner struggling with mental illness and afflicted by a condition which leads to uncontrollable bouts of laughter (something that may sound silly on the surface but is realised painfully by a startlingly gaunt Phoenix).  Caring for his mother (played by Frances Conroy) and making a meagre living as a sign twirling street clown, Fleck looks to pursue a career in stand-up comedy…but one bad day too many sees the tragic figure consumed by his demons as he transforms himself into the deranged and homicidal persona of ‘Joker’.

Joker is certainly a good piece of filmmaking (captured beautifully by cinematographer Lawrence Sher) and in many ways compelling, unshackled from its comic book origins and unburdened by any requirement to connect to a wider universe, favouring it’s Scorsese inspirations – the character of Fleck very much informed by Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, perhaps more so than he is by the Joker as we’ve seen in previous iterations.  Director Todd Phillips (who also co-writes) takes these influences and runs with them, proving his capabilities beyond the crowd-pleasing comedy fare of The Hangover trilogy.  It does, admittedly, make it a tad derivative and adds an element of predictability to proceedings, but at least provides a viable approach to this reinterpretation of a classic comic book foe.  Joker also benefits further from a small but key role for acting legend Robert De Niro (as talk show host Murray Franklin, who Fleck idolises), who certainly brings a heap of gravitas to the project – yet, the film unmistakably thrives on Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal.

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Joaquin Phoenix as the haggard and troubled Arthur Fleck (credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

Despite some of its creative laudability, the film is not exactly “fun” in any sense, but nor does it aim to be given the themes it explores (the societal tensions and spiralling crime rate sadly all too relevant) and Fleck’s descent into madness can make for a difficult viewing experience.  Truth be told, Joker cannot match itself to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight which was able to depict a satisfyingly dark and dangerous version of the Joker whilst offering some semblance of hope via Bruce Wayne’s war against crime.  It’s also arguable that the Joker is very much defined by his ‘relationship’ with Batman which makes the approach of Joker, although invigorating, ultimately lacks something without that counterbalance.

Joker does however maintain its links to the comics, the Wayne family playing an important role within the story and the (seemingly early 1980s) Gotham City setting, though a more grounded extrapolation of a crime-ridden New York of the 1970s, a familiar placing.  Fleck’s failure as a comedian is also, of course, an identifiable homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke.

Joker leaves itself open to the interpretation of viewers and is likely to provoke fierce debates about not only the film itself but in its world-view and subjects it doesn’t take lightly – it may not be “entertaining” in a manner most would expect and the Joker is arguably better presented in his battles with the Batman but this is still a bold take on a particular, standalone, version of the character.

The bottom line:  ‘Dark’ in every sense of the word, Joker pulls no punches in its depiction of crime, violence and a society in decline, driven by Joaquin Phoenix’s powerful and mesmerising performance.

Joker is in cinemas now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).