Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta
Runtime: 2 hrs 1 min
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 24 October 2019
Synopsis: More than two decades after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor sets out to protect a young woman named Dani Ramos and her friends as a liquid metal Terminator, sent from the future attempts to terminate them.
‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ marks the return of James Cameron since ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’, and though Cameron is here in just a producing than directing capacity, his fingerprints are all over this reboot. Not only does it boast his signature action bombast, ‘Dark Fate’ retains the core elements of Cameron’s 1984 and 1991 entries for a do-over that will feel awfully familiar to those who have seen his earlier movies.
Like ‘Judgment Day’, this latest revolves around a soldier who has been sent back from the future to protect who is ostensibly going to give birth to the leader of the resistance against the machines. That soldier here is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human bionically enhanced with superhuman strength; and her mission is Dani (Natalia Reyes), a fierce factory worker who will soon have much bigger concerns than losing her job to a robot.
Whereas it was once Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-1000, the Terminator baddie in this case is the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), which combines the metal skeleton of the original and the oozing liquid menace of the T-1000. What’s more, the Rev-9 is capable of operating independently in either its metal endoskeleton and mimetic poly-alloy exterior, and that nifty quality is beautifully exploited in the film’s high-intensity/ high-adrenaline sequences (but more on that later).
Grace’s quest to protect Dani is aided by the return of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whom we learn in the film’s opening had not managed to save her son John from being killed back in Guatemala in 1988 by a version of Schwarzenegger’s T-800 robot even after averting the events of ‘Judgment Day’. Though initially distrustful of each other, Sarah and Grace soon find that they need to rely on each other’s strengths, smarts and resources in order to out-run and out-last the Rev-9, or long enough in order to reach out for some unexpected help from a certain aged T-800.
Oh yes, it is no secret that Cameron’s return has also brought the reunion of the franchise’s most iconic duo – Schwarzenegger and Hamilton – and we assure you if you are a fan that you will most certainly be gratified. Given their history, it isn’t surprising that Sarah isn’t enthused by the sight of her former android foe, and underlying their crusty dynamic is years of accumulated sorrow and regret. Both veterans are clearly relishing the opportunity to go at each other again after so many years, and their chemistry gives the second half of the film a much-needed jolt.
Yet to be fair to both Davis and Reyes, it isn’t that they pale in comparison; rather, by virtue of the fact that Sarah and the T-800 have a lot more history and baggage, their relationship is a lot more compelling. In fact, we dare say that you’ll be wowed by Davis kicking ass, especially in the close-combat scenes where she goes head-to-head with Luna’s Rev-9 with everything from a giant hammer to a huge metal chain. On the other hand, it will take some time to warm up to Reyes, especially given how daft her character can be at the start, but you’ll soon come to embrace the steeliness within her as she resolves to take the fight to her enemy (than to keep running away).
That we aren’t as moved with Grace and Dani is also a consequence of the episodic storytelling, which is more or less an extended chase punctuated by some jaw-dropping action sequences. Despite being credited to three Hollywood heavyweight writers (namely, David Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray), there is both little surprise to the plotting and little depth to the characters; and if anything, their most notable achievement is giving Hamilton a constant string of quips that the actress delivers with just the right dose of sarcasm.
Keeping the story straightforward gives director Tim Miller (of ‘Deadpool’) plenty of latitude to serve up some of the most breatheless metal-to-metal mayhem in recent memory. A mano-a-mano fight between Grace and the Rev-9 transitions into a exhilarating highway vehicular chase; a cat-and-mouse game at a border detention facility for illegal Mexican immigrants segues into a full-blown zero-g fight in the back of a falling military cargo plane; and last but not least, the final showdown sees a fierce robot against robot fight at the bottom of a dam before the last stand inside the hydroelectric power plant. It’s intense stuff to say the very least, and kudos to Miller for staging the action with thrilling clarity.
And really, that was the foundation on which the ‘Terminator’ series was built, so ‘Dark Fate’ marks a welcome return-to-basics. Those looking for their sci-fi to come with some dose of socio-political commentary will no doubt be disappointed, for there is little, if any, to be found here – even with an immigration subplot thrown in together with its Latinx lead. Fans will be delighted though at the numerous call-backs, in addition to the sheer joy of seeing Hamilton and Schwarzenegger return to the franchise which was arguably built on both their shoulders (than just the latter). If it’s adrenaline-pumping action you’re after, rest assured that ‘Dark Fate’ will keep you on the edge of your seat; and if you’re wondering if there is life in the ‘Terminator’ series after ‘Dark Fate’, let’s just say the future just got brighter.
(As thrilling and rousing as you would expect a reteam of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as James Cameron, this back-to-basics do-over breathes new life into a franchise that was close to being terminated)
Review by Gabriel Chong