Terminator: Dark Fate, while being the 6th film in the Terminator franchise, is set after T2 and meant as both a soft reboot and a sequel to the Terminator saga. With the failures that were Genisys and Salvation, Terminator: Dark Fate chose to go back to the basics, with James Cameron assisting in producing and writing the story, and Tim Miller (Deadpool) directing. Also returning are Arnold Schwarzenegger (a Terminator) and Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), both of which provide a superb performance. Newcomers are Mackenzie Davis as Grace, an augmented human soldier from the future, Gabriel Luna as a Rev-9, the newest and most deadly Terminator series we’ve seen yet, and Natalia Reyes as Daniela “Dani” Ramos, a young woman who is the Rev-9’s new target.
A Familiar Story
Dani is working at a car factory plant in Mexico when Grace, an augmented human soldier from the future, arrives to save her from Rev-9, the latest Terminator from a new terrible future. In their attempt to flee from the Rev-9 they encounter Sarah Connor, and then later another older Terminator, who all work together to protect Dani from the deadly and seemingly unstoppable Rev-9.
Dark Fate was an exciting, thrilling way to spend 2 hours. It is definitely better than Genisys and Salvation, and a solid addition to the saga, but because of its need to reboot the series, it seems that the director and writer here didn’t want to take any chances by trying things outside the box. There was nothing particularly new in this movie, which can be both a good and a bad thing.
Visually, it was very well done. There’s a fast-paced car chase scene that reminded me of the highway chase scene in The Matrix Reloaded. There’s also a thrilling plane chase scene which was done in a creative way, and also reminded me of the plane scene from Fast and Furious 7. There were also a few nods to the previous films, in terms of parallel scenes, and it’s always nice to see the gang back together obviously.
A New Subtle Dynamic
What I wasn’t expecting was how much I enjoyed watching three different kinds of women that were all bad-ass in their own way. Sarah Connor is a grizzled, bitter, hard-as-nails human with enough emotional trauma in her past to make her cold non-nonsense character make perfect sense. Grace is a highly-capable super-soldier whose sole focus is her mission, and by extension her compassion towards protecting her charge, Dani, from harm. The short flashbacks of Grace’s character did a great job filling in her motivations as well. Finally, the whole film is tied together by the completely human responses that Dani delivers while learning she is being targeted by a robot death machine and needing to adapt on the fly to everything happening around her. She makes some mistakes and is shocked and frozen in place at times, which is exactly what she needs to do to ground the film in a realistic human reaction to an unrealistic situation. She also does a much better job of it than Sarah Connor did in T2.
I look forward to seeing more films with highly-capable action heroines that can actually perform the action well. Halle Berry’s performance in John Wick 3, for instance, left me a little wanting. Dark Fate did not.
In fact, for most of the film, there are hardly any men at all. The only men we do see are actually robots, and therefore aren’t really men at all. There are no male guardians telling these women what to do, and no male saviors of the world, which has always been the cliche in the majority of action films we’ve seen before. This made for a very interesting dynamic.
More interesting characters
The characters in Dark Fate were a lot better developed this time around compared to Genisys and Salvation, and as a result it made me care more about what happened to them. I also liked the sense of despair that gripped the characters, and the viewers, as nothing seemed to stop the main terminator antagonist. All three female protagonists are struck by tragedy in one way or another at some point in their story, which makes them deeper characters. For Dani, it’s something that happens early on in the film, so her pain is raw and fresh. For Sarah, it’s a tragic event explained at the beginning of the film, which is revisited later on. For Grace, it’s the traumatic experiences that came with the end of the world in her dystopian future, which she relates to the others and gives her greater depth. However, her backstory was a bit shallower to the other two, and I would have liked to have seen more of her story developed, but it may have been cut for timing reasons.
A New Terminator
Despite expecting everything to be the same, one thing that really surprised me in this film was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. In the film this Terminator has lost any connection with Skynet, and therefore has no more mission objectives. So what happens to a T-100 without orders, but with the same processing and adaptability capabilities that it had before? This film answers this question. In retrospect it makes sense and I guess I should have seen it coming, but although I recognized the moment when the Terminator would present himself, up until that point I had no idea when or where he would come up in the story, and that was great. Also, what happens to the Terminator by the end of the movie felt like a very elegant way to wrap up Schwarzenegger’s involvement in the series, allowing for different models and different faces in the future, if ever a sequel is made. There were other clues to Schwarzenegger perhaps ending his involvement in the series, such as him choosing not to pick up his iconic black sunglasses after considering them for a second, and telling a family he was with that “I won’t be back,” modifying his classic tagline. For Terminator fans, these subtle moments spoke volumes.
This film takes place in Mexico, at the border, and in Texas, which allowed the film to offer soft nods to current cultural clashes such as immigration and gun control. There’s an exciting car chase and highway scene at the beginning, and then another scene in the air with a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and a Humvee, as well as a heart-pounding scene underwater at/in a Dam. While most of these scenes are different from previous Terminator films, some, in particular the final scene of the film, felt very familiar to the previous films, which was great.
Although I left the theater feeling like, while enjoyable, this film offered little new (it stays formulaic in its plot of vulnerable human who is the salvation to mankind is protected and on the run from an unstoppable robot killing machine) upon reflection there were a lot of things that I really enjoyed in this film. The female heroines, both the T-100 and the Rev-9, Sarah’s performance and backstory, the action, the set locations (mostly Mexico, which is something different for the series, but also in the air and underwater), it all combined for an exciting and enjoyable film.
My final rating for this film is 8/10. It’s not a very complex plot and doesn’t offer much new, but the performances, action, and special effects were all great, making this a very enjoyable film to watch and a welcome addition to the Cyberpunk genre (even though this film had a limited amount of high-tech, low-life elements in it).
It’s a shame that this excellent film under performed in the box office. I would guess that it’s performance has nothing to do with the quality of the film, and more to due perhaps with audience fatigue with the series, coupled with bad associations with the previous films and perhaps a general decrease in the numbers of people going to the movies. This unfortunately means that a sequel will probably be shelved for the indefinite future.