The past is littered with the corpses of failed Terminator sequels and reboots.
It’s a testament to the iconic status of James Cameron’s 1984 original The Terminator (T1) and its 1991 follow-up Terminator 2: Judgement Day (T2) that those two movies still far outstrip whatever Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015) could come up with, despite the far superior CGI effects and technology they could call upon.
The problem with T3, Salvation and Genisys wasn’t their visual effects or action setpieces. It was that they completely missed the fact that the true spirit of the franchise isn’t John Connor, nor is it even Arnold Schwarzenegger.
No, the first two Terminator movies were really about the evolution of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, who went from a timid, helpless waitress destined to give birth to the future saviour of mankind to a butt-kicking, warrior hero who would do anything to keep her son safe.
The true heart of the franchise has always been Sarah, something that the short-lived The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series (starring future Cersei Lannister Lena Headey) got right, but sadly didn’t get enough time to truly expand upon.
Well, Hamilton’s back. And with her return, the flagging franchise gets the reboot it deserves. Yes, it only took them three movies and 28 years, but we’ve finally got a worthy sequel to T2.
Cameron, who produced Dark Fate, has said that this is a direct sequel to T2, conveniently consigning the previous three Terminator movies into “alternate timelines” oblivion.
Set 27 years after events in T2 (in which Sarah destroyed Skynet before it could cause Judgement Day), a new modified liquid metal Rev-9 model Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is sent from the future to kill a Mexican factory worker named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes).
At the same time, an augmented half-cyborg soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is also sent back by the human resistance in order to protect Dani. Along the way, they get help from Sarah and a T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger, who finally looks like he is having fun in the role).
So far, so Terminator. In terms of storyline, director Tim Miller (Deadpool) keeps things relatively simple, with none of the headache-inducing time-travelling shenanigans of Genisys or the insufferable dystopian gloom of Salvation. Sure, there are loopholes aplenty, as you would expect from a movie involving time-travel, but nothing that will stop you from enjoying the spectacle as a whole.
As expected, there are numerous callbacks to what made T1 and T2 great, from the usual catchphrases to the stunning action sequences. Luna’s Rev-9 Terminator is just as single-minded in its mission as the original T-800 and T-1000 models were, and its unique features (which we will not reveal here) make for some eye-popping visual imagery which flows with the action perfectly.
Meanwhile, their “protector and charge” dynamic may remind you of T1’s Sarah and Kyle Reese, but Reyes and Davis manage to elevate their relationship beyond that with some strong emotional performances.
After three failed attempts to keep it going, the Terminator franchise has reached its Judgement Day. Dark Fate may mark a welcome comeback for Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, but the franchise cannot solely depend on these two veterans if it is to have a future.
Cameron and Miller, together with Reyes and Davis, have given us hope that there can be a way forward for the Terminator franchise, so here’s hoping it resonates enough with audiences to be able to break free from the shackles of its two most iconic characters. Otherwise, it’s hasta la vista, baby.
Terminator: Dark Fate
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta
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