Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna. Director: Tim Miller.
Admin-wise, Terminator: Dark Fate is technically Terminator 6: Terminator 3 – take 4, the fourth supposed true sequel to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This is the first since the second film that James Cameron has any involvement in, producing and getting a story credit. Cameron did something incredible with the move from abject horror in The Terminator into full-throttle action in T2.
Dark Fate picks up some years after Sarah and John Connor saved the future from killer robots with the help of the T-800. Now, a new future emerges, with the evil corporation Legion sending their ultra-hardcore Rev-9 to kill Mexican twenty-something Dani, so the resistance send enhanced human Grace, and before long Sarah Connor shows up, and things go boom.
Tim “Deadpool” Miller might have had his hands tied by budget constraints on that Marvel movie, but this time he has a lot of money at his disposal. Unlike Deadpool, there’s little in the way of humour or personality, perhaps because Miller is trying to emulate what Cameron did. His work is good, able to construct a good looking action sequence, and clearly there’s a level of practical work you can feel, but there is still a feeling that Judgement Day looms too much over the film.
The cast are all solid: Linda Hamilton owns her role as Sarah Connor, hardened by tragedy and years of battling Terminators, although there’s not a great exploration of the struggles within her. Schwarzenegger manages to remind us that the change in T2 was something that showcased his ability as a performer, even if he is still quite stilted.
The new cast, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes and Gabriel Luna are all very good at playing a saviour, the future and the unstoppable killing machine respectively. Luna in particular manages to show menace while also having flashes of personality.
The film soars when it’s establishing mood, and setting, giving you a feel of real places and events; it gives you a sense that care and attention has been put into making the thing look good, and it pays. It also helps that the film isn’t too into fan service – a couple of musical cues here, a line or two there, but unlike Genesys it doesn’t opt to recreate things.
There’s also a nice underpinning of free will and fate, explored best in the revelation that the T-800 has taken the alias Carl and has a wife and stepson that he actually cares for. It is a nice compliment to the role that he played in T2 as the father-figure, showing that the machines grow and learn.
Where the film fails is in the feeling that it’s a little pointless. The film doesn’t do anything extraordinary in comparison to the move from Horror movie to action movie, and the late-in-the-game twist isn’t nearly as satisfying as the T-800 being a hero from the second film.
At times the CGI is a little cartoony when robots are jumping up and down from things, but there’s a nice line in physical performance from the villains.
There is also an emotional core missing from the film, that while it wants to be like T2 so much it fails to have the heft that comes from lines like “I know now why you cry, but it’s something I could never do” or the lasting image of the Terminator putting the thumbs up as he dies.
The score by Tom Holkenberg is very good, and there are moments to enjoy, but in the end this Terminator film feels a little pointless. Unlike the machines, there’s no evolution. Certainly, it’s the best Terminator sequel since T2, but like saying Paul McCartney is the best surviving Beatle… that’s not saying much. But go with it, if you want to be entertained.