Film Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

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

Terminator Dark Fate (a)

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.

Terminator Dark Fate (b)

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).

TV Review: ‘Altered Carbon’ – series premiere

A Blade Runner for the smaller screen? 

Spoiler-free review

 

Altered Carbo 1-01

Joel Kinnaman stars in the dazzling and intriguing Netflix Original ‘Altered Carbon’.

Starring:  Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Kristin Lehman, Will Yun Lee, Chris Conner

Series created by:  Laeta Kalogridis (based on the novel by Richard Morgan)

Written by:  Laeta Kalogridis / Episode directed by:  Miguel Sapochnik

What’s it about?

250 years after his death, Takeshi Kovacs awakens in a new body to find he’s been enlisted to solve the murder of a wealthy industrialist…

Episode review

A Netflix Original, Altered Carbon is an intriguing and stylish piece of dystopic cyberpunk science fiction that takes themes of identity and society and infuses them into a futuristic murder mystery that, in its first episode – titled “Out of the Past” – gently absorbs the viewer into this rich and visually astonishing world.  It’d be fair to cite that for seasoned fans of classic SF, Altered Carbon doesn’t necessarily offer anything completely new and original – the lavish, expansive cityscapes, existential ponderings and societal examinations are well worn tropes that have been represented in various cinematic classics including Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis but it’s more a case of homage and acknowledged appreciation than outright uninventive riff.

Following a violent and bloody opening, we’re transported 250 years into the future as the ‘terrorist’ (as he’s perceived at this point at least) Takeshi Kovacs is ‘re-sleeved’ into a new body – introducing series lead Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, Suicide Squad) – thanks to bureaucrat Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) who wishes to enlist Kovacs to investigate his ‘murder’ 48 hours prior.  You see, in the world of Altered Carbon the human personality is digitally stored in a ‘cortical stack’ that can be transferred to a new body and Bancroft has survived thanks to a regular backup of his stack to an orbiting satellite…albeit any memory of his ‘death’ lost due to the murder being conveniently timed before the next backup.  This appears to form the central narrative of the series and “Out of the Past” plays out as more of a tease for what is to come, instead serving to establish the main players of Altered Carbon together with its visual aesthetics and the ideas it wishes to emulate, the notion of the human body as something that’s disposable, like an old mobile phone, proving the most evocative (and the re-sleeving of a seven year old girl into the body of a middle-aged woman the most alarming).

Initially, a little attention is required as Altered Carbon makes efforts to explain its future jargon with terminology akin to Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica but it’s soon easy to grasp if one focuses on the more or less self-explanatory basics of ‘stacks’ and ‘sleeves’ and the concept of the ‘Protectorate’ as a state or ruling entity.

In terms of the cast, Joel Kinnaman is clearly the focal point and does a decent job of presenting a weary and brooding (yet darkly comic) persona uninterested in redemption and second chances, instead favouring a blast of excess before going back on ice for an indefinite period.  The supporting characters are a little sketchy to begin with, with a particular air of mystery and ambiguity surrounding James Purefoy’s Bancroft (together with his wife and son) who draws the suspicions of Police Lieutenant Ortega (Martha Higareda), whose presence facilitates some of the establishing exposition.  With this being merely the opening chapter, it’s surely a given that the series will delve more deeply into the characters as the story progresses across this ten episode first season.

The bottom line:  Slickly presented and with some substance to go with its style, Altered Carbon opens with an interesting and visually absorbing premiere.

All ten episodes of Altered Carbon season 1 are available to stream now on Netflix.

Film Review: ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Director Denis Villeneuve returns to the bleak future envisioned in Ridley Scott’s seminal masterpiece…

Spoiler-free review 

Blade Runner 2049

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford star in ‘Blade Runner 2049’, from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana de Armis, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve / Written by: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green / 163 minutes

What’s it about?

‘Blade Runner’ Agent K’s investigation of a long-hidden secret leads him to former Agent Rick Deckard who hasn’t been seen in thirty years…

In review

It’s always tricky to follow up a classic, perhaps even more risky when the gap between films stretches across the decades.  Thirty-five years after the release of Ridley Scott’s celebrated science fiction detective noir, Blade Runner (based on the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) comes the forever mooted sequel from Arrival and Sicario director Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049.  Whilst it doesn’t surpass Scott’s original, Villeneuve’s film deftly captures the look and feel of Blade Runner without merely imitating it, the filmmaker adding his own elements that serve as a progression, or continuation, of the ideas envisioned by Scott back in 1982.  This is one of the most visually striking pieces of cinema to grace the screen in recent years, the expansive, sprawling future Los Angeles cityscapes, seedy side-streets and sand drenched wastelands presented on a hugely epic scale that begs to be viewed on the largest of cinema screens.

Taking place some thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 introduces us to Agent K (Ryan Gosling) who is in the same line of work as Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard – a ‘Blade Runner’, assigned by the LAPD to hunt down and ‘retire’ (i.e. execute) renegade androids known as ‘Replicants’.  World-weary and asking questions of his place in the world of a rundown, hopeless future, K’s latest mission finds him drawn into a deep and dark mystery that poses a great threat to mankind.  To say much more would spoil the goods but the story ultimately leads to a meeting of the new and older generation of Blade Runners as K seeks out the elusive Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Ryan Gosling takes the centre stage in a nuanced and introspective performance that makes K feel like an uncanny yet natural successor to Deckard whilst making his own mark on the beaten-up and worn-down archetype of this dystopic detective story.  Heavily laden by the demands of his profession and his LAPD chief (Wonder Woman and House of Cards star Robin Wright), he’s consoled by his only companion, Joi (beautifully played by Ana de Armis) who is the only light in an otherwise bleak existence.  As for Harrison Ford, it takes a bit of time to get to him but it’s assuredly worth the wait and as much as he did in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ford slips comfortably back into another iconic role but certainly doesn’t rest on his laurels.  The meeting of K and Deckard is an anticipated moment and handled greatly.

There’s also Jared Leto (Suicide Squad’s Joker) who puts in a strong and carefully measured performance as blind corporate titan Niander Wallace, master of the newest generation of Replicants and the aspiring villain of the piece, his right-hand woman – an enforcer named ‘Luv’ (Sylvia Hoeks) – in place to deal with any potential threats from those who might try to interfere in Wallace’s goals in perfecting the “more human than human” design of his ’works’.

The running time of Blade Runner 2049 can be a little challenging given it’s protracted pace, but it does allow the viewer to become fully absorbed into the moody atmospherics and simply appreciate and be awed by those mesmerising and astonishing, Oscar worthy visuals by cinematographer Roger Deakins.  The screenplay from Hampton Fancher and Michael Green is suitably mysterious and fairly straight forward in the grand scheme of things but poses plenty of questions of existence and identity in a similar manner to the original Blade Runner and the dialogue is lean and purposeful.  At its core, Blade Runner 2049 is more of a thought-provoking, visually arresting piece of art-house cinema afforded the budget and scale of a $100+ million blockbuster than out-and-out popcorn action spectacle.  Where its action beats are called upon, Denis Villeneuve executes them with reserve and grace that, coupled with all of the film’s other elements make for a sequel should please both fans of Blade Runner and those who appreciate intelligently implemented cinema.

The bottom line:  Arresting, mysterious and delicately executed, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy sequel to a revered science fiction classic.

Blade Runner 2049 is in cinemas now.

Film Review: ‘Arrival’

Denis Villeneuve delivers a slice of remarkable science fiction cinema 

that’s far from being a typical blockbuster…

_

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma

Directed by:  Denis Villeneuve / Written by:  Eric Heisserer (adapted from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang)

What’s it about?

When strange alien vessels appear around the Earth, linguist Louise Banks is called upon by the U.S. Military to try and communicate with the mysterious visitors…

In review

Wowed by critics and earning a respectable box office gross on its theatrical run late last year, director Denis Villeneuve’s intelligent and mesmerising sci-fi mystery has far more in common with the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar than more straight forward, crowd-pleasing (but generally enjoyable on their own merits) alien invasion blockbusters such as Independence Day.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, Arrival (not to be confused with the Charlie Sheen starring bargain-bin 1996 B-movie The Arrival) is beautifully acted, hauntingly realised and thought provoking with its intellectually challenging and mind-bending hard SF concepts that shuns the more generic, formulaic and predictable tropes that all too often afflict the genre.

Arrival concerns the mysterious appearance of twelve pebble-like extra-terrestrial vessels around the globe and the efforts to form a means of communication with the alien visitors and discover their intentions and purpose for coming to Earth.  Heading up the central cast is Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics expert enlisted by the military to board the alien ‘shell’ floating above the United States.  Sorely overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards, Adams delivers a powerhouse performance that subtly yet believably conveys the intellect and emotional strife of her character.  Supporting Adams is Jeremy Renner as physicist Ian Donnelly, a role that demonstrates his ability to stretch beyond the action-star heroics of the Mission: Impossible and Avengers franchises.  Completing the central core of characters is Forest Whitaker in a suitably authoritative turn as Colonel Weber.

Avoiding cliché, Arrival depicts the reaction of the global governments, their military solutions, the awe of the scientific community and the escalating panic of the world’s population with a laudable degree of realism and plausibility, presenting a painfully true reflection upon the world as it stands today.

Earning plaudits for his work on Sicario, Denis Villeneuve – currently putting the finishing touches to Blade Runner 2049 – brings strokes of arthouse cinema to Arrival whilst maintaining a focus on the principal cast, keeping the overall experience dazzling and captivating via Bradford Young’s incredible cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s wonderfully atmospheric and immersive music score (embellished by the film’s inspired audio design), skilfully ratcheting up the tension as the final act satisfyingly unfolds.

Sure to be revered as a modern science fiction classic in the years to come, at its heart and beneath heady intellectual ideas, Arrival contains messages about communication and understanding that expresses a sense of hope, even in the face of darkness.

The bottom line:  Haunting, beautifully constructed and simply mesmerising, Arrival is a wondrous piece of intellectual SF cinema that’s masterfully directed and superbly acted.

Arrival is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats now.

Arrival

Preparing to make contact: Amy Adams stars in Denis Villeneuve’s captivating sci-fi mystery ‘Arrival’.