In Review: Terminator – Dark Fate

"He's Back . . ."

Synopsis: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is in Mexico, with her young son, John Connor (a CGI retroactive appearance by Edward Furlong as the young character from T2), following the successful battle against Skynet. As it happens, the fight isn’t quite over yet.

Jump to the present day and Daniel Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is getting ready for work, along with her younger brother. Shortly after she leaves, their father gets a visit from someone (Gabriel Luna) claiming to know her, and who is very keen to find her. When Daniel and her brother arrive at work, the visitor is not far behind. Fortunately, she also gets another visitor,(Mackenzie Davis) who tells her to buckle in, as she’s about to be in for a very bad day . . .

Story

Terminator Dark Fate certainly earns that name, early on. The film’s introductory sequence is eponymous. What’s revealed is the fate of John Connor, following the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). Arnold Schwarzenegger as the terrifying T-800 is also introduced, alongside a cut in Linda Hamilton. Retro-framing isn’t the only visual aspect that is noteworthy, though.

After the titles, the film gets down to the business of telling this story. Close up images of robots that are now responsible for so much that comes off a production line, keep things thematic. This is a good use of cinematography, and clearly deliberate, by Tim Miller. It helps to make the message clear: Terminator films should always be about humans and machines. The relationships are the central tension that makes the dramatic action justified. This element is what helps to maintain the suspension of disbelief. It’s all the more relevant now than it was in any of the previous films (though this film is very much a direct descendant of the two “real” Terminator films, of 1984 and 1991). We’re that much closer . . .

Daniel Ramos (Natalia Reyes) learns who she will be, and struggles to accept that. her rejection begins once more to ask questions of destiny, in the franchise. Free will and the hero arch are again summoned, to drive forward a plot which them to be embraced. Before that can be the case, the inevitable journey must be taken. Fortunately, Daniel will have more than one mentor, to get her up to speed on what’s needed to kick robot ass.

Acting

With quite a crowded roster, this movie is still big on individual performances. Grace (Mackenzie Davis) bursts on and makes a believable mark as an “enhanced” human from the future. She looks tough, acts like a soldier on a mission (throwing herself at the danger), and is also skillful enough an actor to bring that much needed human side to the events, too.

Natalia Reyes is essentially the Sarah Connor of this movie. Hers should be the standout role, and the performance most memorable. Sadly, that isn’t the case. She lacks a presence and doesn’t appear to be as terrified as she ought to. Given, she can only be how she is written, but still, her performance was notably the weakest.

Gabriel Luna (known from his role as Ghost Ride in Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D)is rev-9. takes the mantle from Robert Patrick, as liquid metal bad guy, and is remarkably similar, but more advanced. Luna must have studied T2, as so many traits are there. The detail doesn’t go unnoticed and is a pleasant nod to the blockbuster. Slick and nuanced, he makes sure the film gets the adversary it ought. Great job.

Enter Sarah Connor. Linda Hamilton reprises her role. She waltzes onto the screen and could almost be mistaken for a Terminator. Mean, tough, uncompromising and packs a hell of a punch. Oh, and heavily armed, as always. This is offset with the very real reminder of the trauma of her life, and how it has formed her current state. Only glimpses are shown. Not just being hunted by advanced machines from the future (three times), but a life on the run. Being apart from the rest of society has left her increasingly isolated, with the evidence of self-abandonment showing. It’s Sarah Connor, how she would have aged. Authentic and with the occasional glib that remark, that captures the need for comedy in even the darkest of tragedies. She sums up the human condition and results of holding on, regardless

He did say he’d be back. he is . . . A Terminator movie without the original pyscho-robot is unthinkable. What you don’t know is what you’ll get, with Arnold Schwarzenegger now. This is new territory for the part of Cyborg. It requires different skills than previous movies. Arnie nails it. he drops the odd joke but is never too far from being what’s really needed. A machine. Not easy to behave mechanically, and attempt to mimic emotion. Arnie shows a range of skills and helps make the role one of the film’s best aspects

CGI and Action

With so much going on in a film like this, it’s hard to focus on specifics. The section at the start, showing Edward Furlong that age is impressive in its own right, and just one example of advancing technology. It’s the next level of CGI’s ability, made all the impressive when considered in context to the “computer’s getting smart” narrative, which underpins the entire Terminator franchise. Things really have moved on, and it’s only seeing it in the context of a film that deals with what makes us human that brings home that even the greatest CGI doesn’t work without a good plot and script.

The fluidity of the rev 9 (Gabriel Luna) is visually stunning. An absolute masterclass in what modern technical wizardry can do. Deserves a mention in its own right. As terrifying as it’s impressive, the modern monster is every bit of man’s own making. The movement is seamless, the abilities wholly believable. a stand out capability is the newly gained division of main body and liquid skeleton. As well as looking fantastic, the danger is instantly doubled.

One scene which is perhaps unnecessary is the jet which plummets to the ground. It’s overkill and feels like it’s been added because a “big stunt” was required. It brings little to the film and is nothing that hasn’t been done before. There’s simply no need for this sequence, and it adds nothing to the movie. With so much that it gets right, it doesn’t spoil anything, though.

Overall

a smart caper, that cleverly side-steps the films which have been made following T2. Tim Miller uses intelligent cinematography to invoke the feel of the franchise, proper. A mostly good script allows for the plot to come into its own and explains away what’s needed, whilst bringing about exposition for the story to play out. Eagerly anticipated by fans of the first two films, this one gets the injection of James Cameron that was lacking. His presence can be felt, and the visuals capture his original intentions.

The Highlight has to be the return of Linda Hamilton. That, and her interactions with the T-800. It’s easily forgotten how much the role of Sarah Connor cost her, as an actress. Yes, she didn’t need to work again, but the option was taken away, after her original reprisal. Hollywood wasn’t ready for women who didn’t fit the perfect hair and make up look. Now it is, they get the Sarah Connor they deserve, the one she wanted to play. The one James Cameron created. Her performance underpins a film which he should be proud of. Well done to Tim Miller.

7.7
Terminator: Dark Fate
  • Story
    7.6
  • Acting
    7.2
  • CGI and Action
    8.5
  • Incidental Music
    7.4
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