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).

Film Review: ‘Terminator Genisys’ (spoiler free)

He always said he’d be back…

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney

Directed by:  Alan Taylor / Written by:  Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

In a war torn future where machines are intent on humanity’s extinction, resistance leader John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah.  On his arrival, Reese discovers that the past is not exactly as he was told it would be…

In review

Like Arnie himself, the Terminator franchise refuses to stay inactive.  Whilst James Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are considered to be solid cinematic masterpieces, subsequent Cameron-less installments Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation were found to be, well, lacking.  Now arrives Terminator Genisys and with it the hopes of reinvigorating a beloved and valuable Hollywood property.

Despite the torrent of negative opinion that has preceded the film’s release, Terminator Genisys is actually a fun, exciting and visually impressive science fiction blockbuster that is appreciably superior to Rise of the Machines and Salvation.  Employing the Terminator franchise’s time travel concepts to good effect, Genisys serves as part sequel/part reboot as it takes its lead from Cameron’s films and creates a divergent timeline (a la J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) where new stories can be told – “the future’s not set” as we were told in T2.  It’s a device that also allows for some nifty twists and turns, some of which have sadly been spoiled in the film’s marketing (and diminishing the impact of one particular plot element).

Whilst Terminator Genisys doesn’t hit the heights of T1 or T2 (nor would it ever have hoped or expected to be), for those prepared to go in with an open mind and realistic expectations, there’s still much to enjoy.  Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his most iconic role as the T-800 model Terminator, much as you remember him from those previous outings – stoic, resourceful and armed to the tooth.  Affectionately nicknamed “Pops”, there’s subtle hints of warmth seeping from inside that cold metal exoskeleton as Arnie’s reprogrammed T-800 plays surrogate father and protector to Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor.  It’s not quite as resonant as the relationship we saw played out in T2 but helps establish the emotional core of Genisys.

Given the overly dour tone of Terminator Salvation, Genisys opts to incorporate a fair amount of humour that for the most part succeeds – not as well balanced as Judgment Day but, bar the odd moment, is less jarring than some of the silliness of Rise of the Machines.

Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke presents a version of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor that is somewhere between that of T1 and T2, melding elements of youthful naivety with that of battle hardened resistance fighter – allowing for some good interplay with Arnie’s “old, not obsolete” cyborg.  Jai Courtney (unfortunate to have made his Hollywood break in the abysmal A Good Day to Die Hard) is surprisingly decent in the role of Kyle Reese, although lacking the grit and intensity of Michael Biehn’s turn in The Terminator (and the “special edition” cut of T2) it’s a take that feels appropriate in Genisys.

Jason Clarke is afforded the opportunity to add new layers to resistance leader John Connor, whilst also conveying the familiar weariness and determination we’ve seen previously.  There’s also another enjoyably creepy and haunting interpretation of the liquid metal T-1000, brought to life this time by South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee.  Sadly, J.K. Simmons is given little to chew on in a semi-comedic role as a washed out L.A. cop and Dayo Okeniyi’s Danny Dyson isn’t given much presence either.  The same could have also been said for Doctor Who’s Matt Smith (credited as Matthew Smith), yet his role carries more significance.

Aided by a lavish production budget, director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) delivers some excellent CGI-infused blockbuster set-pieces in Terminator Genisys, from the opening future war battles of Los Angeles 2029 to the climactic showdown in San Francisco – it’s all as explosive and frenetic as today’s audiences would expect but never verges on nauseating.  It’s also laudable that Taylor stages recreations of key moments of Cameron’s The Terminator with skill and reverence and coupled with references to Terminator lore peppered throughout there’s plenty for fans to be geeky about.

The bottom line:  Terminator Genisys is a decent stab at reinvigorating a beloved, albeit creatively mixed, franchise.  It’s as fun and exciting as a modern Terminator film could hope to be and is well worth a look.

Terminator Genisys is in cinemas now.

Back for more: Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in the enjoyable 'Terminator Genisys'.

Back for more: Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in the enjoyable ‘Terminator Genisys’.