You can’t help but be pessimistic, can you? After multiple attempts at sequels, reboots, ret-cons and new trilogies, it’s no wonder that so many fans of James Cameron‘s game-changing original duo of films have become disarmingly less interested in yet another film, making it harder for the filmmakers and marketers to drum up enthusiasm. We’ve had Machines rising, salvations and a new genesis – sorry, genisys – but no about of crash-bang-wallop has compensated for the lack of quality and grasp of the material. Now, however, the big daddy is back – and he’s brought an old friend or two with him.
Beginning almost immediately after the events of Judgement Day in 1997 – and we mean the next day, pretty much – Terminator: Dark Fate eradicates, like the machine at the centre of its story, those previous sequels/iterations and acts as the true “three-quel” with the opening credits replaying Sarah Connor’s hysterical yet prophetic assessment by Doctor Silberman in T2. Her anger still as palpable as back then, straight away you know where you are and what’s ahead, including a typical Cameron opening of the future war – only subtly different.
But Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is back and she is once again central to the narrative, which is brought forward to “modern day” and a new threat initiated: the REV-9 (Gabriel Luna), the most advanced weapon of its kind that can morph, transform and detach itself from its endo-skeleton. His mission is to kill a young Mexican woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes), who holds the key to the new future that has been set but with a fate that is still heading down similar paths. Sent back from the future to protect her is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human soldier who is as fast and efficient as the REV-9 but is still irrevocably human.
And, of course, there’s Arnie’s T-800 who is back once again (“Do you guys come off an assembly line or something?!”) but to say too much more would be a little spoilery but let’s just say you’ve never had a drapes salesman like this before. His appearance is a token one in many ways and, as with Hamilton, they serve a similar purpose to that of the “old guard” in The Force Awakens but with different narrative arcs – it works (just about) but given this is Schwarzenegger’s fifth outing, it feels a little forced.
Directed by Tim Miller, who so brilliantly helped bring Deadpool to the screen in 2016, brings his usual chutzpah to proceedings as well as merging them with the typically Cameron-like style-exposition told during chase scenes and a leaning on practical effects with great applomb.
Sadly, though, the third act goes all “Michael Bay” on us and loses its momentum horribly on both action and character. However, the opening hour is extraordinary and this is the first time amongst the sequels that it all feels like it was intended, that you’re back in that world for the first time since 1991 – and that’s not to be sniffed at, with Davis, Hamilton and Luna hugely impressive in their respective roles.
So is this, finally, the Terminator film we have been waiting for? Well, given the competition, it’s an easy yes but standing on its own it’s a brilliant half of an action film that gets bogged down by a bloated ending and some narrative missteps. But if it can utilise the good things down in this entry, it’s follow-up (if we get one) could be something really special.
Sci-fi, Action | USA, 2019 | 15 | 23rd October 2019 (UK) | 20th Century Fox Pictures | Dir.Tim Miller | McKenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger