TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Tim Miller

Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta.

Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is one of the great sci-fi action movies of the past thirty years, boasting some impressively staged action sequences and state of the art special effects. Subsequent sequels though have been somewhat hit and miss as they have played around with the chronology of the series and the concept of time travel. Now producer James Cameron has hit the reboot button to give us this spiritual sequel to T2. It pretends that the other sequels – particularly the disappointing Salvation and its video game aesthetic and Genisys and the tv series – didn’t exist. This sixth film in the franchise slavishly repeats many of the same action beats as T2, which saw Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 cyborg assassin bring down Skynet and potentially save the word from destruction.

Dark Fate however plays around with that familiar chronology. While Sarah Connor and co may have destroyed Skynet in 1991 it seems that a new AI system known as Legion has evolved and set about wiping out humanity in the not too distant future. Again, an unstoppable killer cyborg sent back from the future to kill a potential threat.

This film is set in Mexico City in 2020. Dani Ramos (played by Natalia Reyes, whom we recently saw in Birds Of Passage) and her brother Diego (Diego Boneta, from Rock Of Ages) head off to work at the local auto factory. There Dani is surprised to see automatons begin to replace human workers. But then the shape shifting and ruthlessly efficient Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna, from Agents Of SHIELD, etc) turns up and mayhem ensues. Fortunately, Grace (Mackenzie Davis, from Blade Runner 2049, etc), a cybernetically-augmented human from the future, also arrives to fight off the killer robot. She has been sent from the future to protect Dani, who apparently will play a role in saving humanity in the future.

During a frantic and destructive freeway chase (this set piece is easily the film’s stand out action sequence) Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton reprising her iconic role after a thirty-year absence) turns up to slow down the Rev-9. The weary, paranoid and battle-hardened Sarah has been nursing her own grief and pain caused by a surprising and unexpected preopening credits sequence that will cause much debate with fans. Packing some serious firepower, she has been regularly defeating robot attacks on the world with help from a mysterious source somewhere in Texas.

Sarah, Dani and Grace head off to El Paso to find the source of some mysterious transmissions, where she meets her former nemesis the T-800 cyborg assassin (Schwarzenegger). But this is a different interpretation of the character, now known as Carl, who has settled down after completing his mission and works as a carpenter. He has aged. He also has managed to grow a conscience, and has a surrogate family of his own, which gives him an unexpected humanity.

Cameron and five other writers, including David S Goyer (The Dark Knight, etc) and Billy Ray (Gemini Man, etc) have worked on the script, which delivers in terms of spectacular action, but also serves up some horribly clunky and cliched dialogue. The action races through a series of exciting kinetic set pieces, including lethal fights in a detention centre, aboard a plane in flight and inside a hydropower station. But it also works in broader themes like sacrifice, family, the inherent danger and threat posed by technology, America’s immigration crisis.

But bringing back Linda Hamilton in her signature role as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the film’s major asset and biggest selling point. The reunion between Hamilton and Schwarzenegger lends a sense of tension and shared history to the material. Hamilton in particular makes for a formidable kick-ass heroine here, and she also delivers some killer one-liners. Schwarzenegger has a formidable presence and again delivers his reliably solid performance with his dry delivery of lines. Davis makes for a formidable action heroine in a physically demanding role. Reyes makes the most of her opportunities in easily her biggest role to date. Luna imbues his indestructible Rev-9 with a creepy malevolence and daunting physicality.

The director is Tim Miller who is best known for his irreverent and violent comic book adaptation of Deadpool. Here he plays it essentially straight, although Dark Fate is leavened with touches of humour and a few references to earlier Terminator films. Dark Fate boasts some great pyrotechnics and special effects, particularly with the creation of the Rev-9, a leaner, meaner and more technically advanced improvement on Robert Patrick’s T-1000 from T2. The film has been crisply shot by Miller’s regular cinematographer Ken Seng, whose lensing of the action sequences is clean and uncluttered. The score from Mad Max: Fury Road’s composer Tom Holkenberg reprises some of that relentlessly pounding T2 score.

For many the thought of a female-centric Terminator movie may have been anathema, but Dark Fate works well and is an entertaining addition to the series. A minor return to form, this is easily the best film in the series since T2, but it doesn’t match the brilliance of the first two films in the series and still falls victim to the many familiar failings of most unnecessary sequels and nostalgia-themed reboots in that it lacks originality.

★★★

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