Tim Miller, who previously directed “DEADPOOL” (2016), takes a seat in the director’s chair for this next installment in the Terminator franchise which James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd created way back in 1984. The film brings a new concept to the audience because playing with time travel in the last films changed future events in canon, it also brings new fresh faces to mix too, as well as old faces that people will know from previous films. With lots of action and a high octane fast pace, this sci-fi adventure film could be a dividing film with fans; on one hand it might make up for some previously poorly received films in the franchise and on the other hand it might just alienate fans of the franchise even more. Let’s have a look…
In a Nutshell
Murder robot sent from the future to kill somebody in its past who will become important in the future when man is at war with machine. Also sent back is a guardian to protect the person who the murder-bot plans to kill. Chase ensues. Old characters return to help and spark nostalgia with fans.
Gimme some more details
Dani Ramos is minding her own business, unaware that a killer robot, a REV-9 from the future has been sent back to kill her. Fortunately, an enhanced super soldier has also been sent back from the future. Grace has been charged with getting to Dani and keeping her safe before the REV-9 can kill her. Dani loses her loved ones along the way and must rely on the help of strangers. First Sarah Connor intervenes, having had a call telling her where to find Dani and Grace. The three of them cross Mexico and enter America to head for another stranger offering help, Carl, a T-800 unit that got left behind after the future he came from got changed. The 4 form a formidable team and decide that the only way to survive is to make a plan and fight the REV-9, taking a stand rather than making a run for it.
With “Deadpool” (2016) director Tim Miller taking the lead I anticipated this film would be high octane and brutal, and in places I was not disappointed. The main writing team on this film are David Goyer, Justin Rhiodes, Billy Ray, Charles Eglee and Josh Friedman, using characters and concepts that were created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. Importantly, Miller wanted Cameron involved in some capacity, and he did come in as an additional writer and worked on the production team. Cameron had a demand though, if he was coming in, he wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger involved too. Cameron admitted to being intrigued by Miller’s vision, who wanted to make a direct sequel to “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991), ignoring the less successful sequels that came after it.
The idea was that this film would pick up straight after T2 and create its own timeline, which is explained in this film. Sarah and John Connor are hiding out after changing the future with events that occurred in T2. A T-800 unit, one of many Cyberdyne units that Skynet sent back, manages to track them down and kills John. So, despite saving the future, the future was completely changed straight away again when John Connor was killed. There is no Cyberdyne, there never was, but there is space for something like it – enter Legion. The future is not set, it is destined to repeat itself. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. Legion was inevitable.
To reinvent the franchise, Miller consulted various novelists, including Joe Abercrombie, Neal Asher, Greg Bear, Warren Ellis and Neal Stephenson. With their input and a massive creative team involved, lots of potential ideas where pitched, lots of disagreements were had, some happy times where had too – but hey, that’s the creative process.
In the lead role, Natalia Reyes plays Dani and is good in the role without ever being outstanding. She goes from naive and reluctant at the beginning, to battle hardened and resolute at the end of the film after she’s watched everybody she loves get killed. It’s future Dani that sends a friend and soldier, Grace, back in time. Played by Mackenzie Davis, Grace is tasked with finding young Dani and protecting her. Davis is refreshing as the augmented and enhanced super soldier. When she’s first encountered she doesn’t seem to have the stature of presence to be intimidating, but as soon as she begins clobbering people and spouting badass dialogue it soon becomes clear that she’s not to be trifled with. There are times when she commands the audience attention, but occasionally she does manage to fall into the background, particularly when Sarah and Carl show up later on. Grace was enhanced as an augmented super soldier in her own time period of 2042 after being fatally stabbed by a future Rev-9. This isn’t particularly a new concept as the there was an enhanced warrior in “Terminator (4) Salvation” (2009) remember – however this time the enhancement was aby choice not by design.
When first encountering Linda Hamilton, in her reprised role of Sarah Connor, Sarah knows that Grace isn’t what she says. Sarah is grumpy and angry at the world. Watching her son die and then having little-to-no purpose as a result of the future changing will do that I guess. Linda Hamilton does a decent job as portraying that angry, untrusting person at war with the world. Admittedly there are times where her performance is a little cringy, but 60% of the time it is decent enough. One of the cringy moments is when she encounters Carl, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He killed her son, he admits to it, I half expected Sarah to be fury and vengeance, but instead she was only half as angry as I expected, and a lot more ‘just frustrated and tired’. Both Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are old in this film – that’s not me being derogatory, it happens to everyone. While Sarah Connor is supposed to have grown old and angry, Carl has managed autonomy and integrated himself/itself into human society. Schwarzenegger manages to carry off being a T-800 well, he doesn’t bring much emotion to the performance, which works, but he’s much further into his career and life than the performance he gave in the first Terminator films. Still it’s nice to see him from a nostalgia point of view, and with CGI the production team can still make him act younger than he is to try and make the machine he is seem convincing. There are times I was expecting him to go full tongue-in-cheek and repeat lines from previous films to pay homage, but thankfully this doesn’t happen. Even a brief moment when he picks up some sunglasses does develop beyond it being a nod to the past, rather than a fully played out homage. This is a good move; I think if there had have been lots of nostalgic moments of homage it would have made the film cheesier than it needed to be.
The last main player in the film is Gabriel Luna as the REV-9 which has been sent back in time with the murder mission. He comes across good, he is mostly emotionless and direct for the most parts – exactly how I’d expect him to be. There are moments when he speaks to people and he’s clever and articulates well, similarly to the way Robert Patrick’s T-1000 did in T2. The REV-9 he is portraying is similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in “The Terminator” (1984), Robert Patrick’s T-1000 shape-shifting robot in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991), but also has some minor cross over with Kristanna Loken’s T-X in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003). The REV-9 features the traditional endoskeleton, but it is covered in liquid metal. The REV-9 can separate the liquid metal and the endoskeleton to make two fully autonomous units. One of the big differences is though is presence. For me, Arnie and Robert Patrick were the most intimidating terminators because they had presence, they did not say much, they would just destroy their target, first with a glare before wading into them. Patrick went on record to say he prepared by studying birds of pray to get the glare down to an art. Luna did not quite deliver on that level, but for today’s audiences he is a good enough murder-bot.
Wrap it up
At 2-hours and 8-minutes you are likely to create a butt-groove in your chair, and with a 15 rating you would be advised only watching this with older kids due to the action and violence involved. The question is, did I enjoy it?
Well… yes, I did, perhaps it was driven in part by nostalgia as well as an enjoyment for the spectacle the film brought. It was a rip-roaring thrill ride from start to finish, there was lots of action, plenty of character development from the new guys, and having the old guys back was kind of like finding paper money that’s fallen down the side of the sofa.
My criticism is though that it felt like a bit of rehash for a new audience. It was not anything new. You know how Star Wars made “The Force Awakens” and it was basically just “A New Hope” again…. That is kind of what this film felt like in places. Rather than it being a sequel to T2, the concepts brought about in this film terminate the first two films, making them obsolete. “Terminator: Dark Fate” retells the events of the first two film with a slight spin on the original idea. Dani is the new John Connor. Legion is the new Cyberdyne. Grace is the new Kyle Reece and T-800 rolled into one – with sexing up Sarah obvs. Sarah Connor is, well, she remains Sarah Connor but just angrier and older. With some of the retcon that’s attempted it also goes against what was detailed in the first two films – if Skynet was sending back multiple T-800’s, what was the point of destroying the only CPU left over from the first film in T2? If the future has changed because Skynet was destroyed in the past, how are there T-800 units still around, I’m sure that by some paradox of time travel they wouldn’t exist… in fact if Skynet was destroyed, would the first two films exist? But then how would Kyle Reece travel back in time to impregnate Sarah Connor, to birth John Connor, to stop Skynet from existing, negating the T-800, the T-1000…. Oh, it’s not worth thinking about, it’s a messy loop still and this film doesn’t really help it.
The definition of insanity is said as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. After 28 years the franchise has not moved forward since 1991, and in Dark Fate it is doing a “Force Awakens” and retelling things for a new generation. It is fun, but ultimately there is no point. If you want to leave your brain at the door and just watch a sci-fi action adventure film then this is a good one for you. If you want to have your brain engaged or you are a fan of the originals, approach this with caution. I will probably watch this a few more times rather than just giving up completely, so on that basis I am giving this a 7. Better than “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) and “Terminator (5) Genisys” (2015), but it is not a patch on “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991) or “The Terminator” (1984).
You may think, why 7? Well, this film can stand on its own two legs rather than be in dire need of the other films to support it. It fulfills it is brief as being an action-packed sci-fi adventure. It is nice to watch with decent scenes, effects, and cinematography. The negatives I have mentioned are my issue with being a fan of a franchise, and those should not detract from being able to impartially rate a film. “Dark Fate” might be for a generation that I am no longer part of, but I can not hold that against it – 7 it is.