Monday , 6 February 2023

Terminator: Dark Fate deserves a better one – review

“No fate but what we make.”

The present, the past and the future all collide once again in the latest installment to one of the greatest sci-fi action franchises of all-time. Welcome to Terminator: Dark Fate. When James Cameron’s low-budgeted The Terminator was released in 1984, its time travel tale riveted audiences, made a mega-star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger, previously best known for his muscle-bound Conan movies and put his co-star, Linda Hamilton, on the map. Cameron went on to direct Aliens and The Abyss, before returning in 1991, along with Arnold , Linda, and a much bigger budget than he had his first go-around, for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The film was a bona-fide smash, as it took the visual effects techniques begun in The Abyss to a whole new level in creating the advanced, shape-shifting Terminator, the T-1000. Three more sequels followed, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator: Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Genisys (2015). There was also the TV series spinoff, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which ran for two seasons on Fox from 2008-09, and which starred Game of Thrones‘ Lena Headey as Sarah Connor. Now, if you were a fan of any of the sequels or TV show, well, they exist in a different timeline now, as Terminator: Dark Fate ignores them and serves as a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

After a startling opening prologue, Dark Fate moves ahead two decades plus, where we are introduced to several new characters. Daniella ‘Dani’ Ramos (Natalia Reyes) lives a rather uneventful life with her father (Enrique Arce) and brother, Diego (Diego Boneta) in Mexico City. All that changes when an even more advanced Terminator, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) is sent from the future to, well, terminate Dani for reasons unknown. Luckily for her, a protector is also sent, a cyborg soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who states in no uncertain terms, “I am human, just enhanced.” As Grace struggles to prevent the Rev-9 from fulfilling his mission, the one and only (at least in this timeline) Sarah Connor (Hamilton) appears to help save the day…..for now. As we all know, Terminators are annoyingly persistent, and near impossibly hard to kill, and this Rev-9 has a few new tricks up its molten sleeve. Perhaps some additional help will be needed, in a surviving T-800 model, going by the name of Carl, and played once again by Schwarzenegger. As much mayhem ensues and the bodies pile up, one surprising revelation is revealed after another, all building to an emotional conclusion.

“Come with me or you’re dead in the next 30 seconds.”

For those who may have been disappointed with the last three sequels (not this Gore 4er, mind you), Terminator: Dark Fate can be looked upon as a return to form for the franchise. The action sequences are spectacular, the fight scenes, stunning, and the visual effects are a wonder to behold. But what makes for a truly terrific Terminator film is the heart and soul on display, even when it comes in the form of alloys and mechanics. While the story can be seen as a bit redundant – someone sent back in time to protect a person who holds the key to the future from a Terminator hellbent on killing him/her – it still remains a compelling concept with all the elements of time travel and the ramifications they present. Even if we were only given the new characters introduced into this Terminator timeline, the film would still make for a thrilling ride as these superhuman and super-nonhuman characters battle it out in amazing action setpieces, with an unknowing innocent caught in the middle. Throw Hamilton and Arnold’s Sarah Connor and T-800 into the mix, and you can’t help but get nostalgic. This classic Terminator makes you tingle all the way.

It is so great to see Linda Hamilton return to the role she made famous, and for the first time since Terminator 2 twenty-eight years ago (though her voice is heard in Salvation). It’s rare nowadays, or anydays for that matter, to have a female action star in their 60s. Her character is still strong and capable, though a little worse for wear after all she’s sacrificed and been through. It’s commendable that her extreme cynicism doesn’t prevent her from continuing to risk her life to prevent Armageddon. It’s also a welcome return for Schwarzenegger, though he’s never really been away from the big screen franchise, having appeared in some way, shape or form in every film. Here, he too is a bit grizzled, but can still pack a punch, and do so believably, impressive for someone over seventy. However, it’s the newbies who really get the lightning timeball rolling. Canadian actress, Mackenzie Davis, best known for the TV series, Halt and Catch Fire, is indeed a fireball in Dark Fate. Whether portraying heartfelt moments or performing heart-stopping action, Davis makes for a commanding presence, no easy task when you’re up against THE Sarah Connor. Her Grace is similar to a cheetah in that she is capable of tremendous bursts of energy for short periods, but needs time to recuperate before striking again. Having noticed Davis in last year’s Blade Runner: 2049, we’re also looking forward to her headlining role in January’s supernatural horror, The Turning. Natalia Reyes, who hails from Colombia, is another force to be reckoned with, possessing an energy and strength that belies her diminutive size. She too is more than able to hold her own against so many powerful friends and foes. Gabriel Luna, who plays Ghost Rider in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is another formidable entity here, taking up the Terminator mantle from Arnold, Robert Patrick and Kristanna Loken before him, while adding a bit of wit and charm.

While the Terminator films have always been teeming with testosterone, there has also been no shortage of strong women. From Hamilton and Loken, through Moon Bloodgood in Salvation and Emilia Clarke in GenisysDark Fate continues that tradition, triple fold. Here we have three tough, tenacious women at the core of the film. It reminds one of last year’s Halloween sequel, which also featured three more than capable women at the forefront. In Dark Fate, without giving anything away, there is a sexist assumption made early on in the film, but those making it have some surprises in store for them.  As we’ve seen with other films, from the Ghostbusters‘ reboot to Captain Marvel, there will be some basement-dwelling fanboys who will be intimidated by this force of women, but they’re a lost cause. Another aspect that sets this Terminator apart from previous installments is its relevancy to today’s current events. A good portion of the film takes place in Mexico and deals with attempts to cross the border into the U.S. While not overtly political in its message in any way, the film is still able to shed a light on the present day border crisis and some of the issues being faced. That much of the cast is Latino, with a number of scenes presented in Spanish with subtitles, is hopefully a sign of the things to come in Hollywood, as it better reflects the evolving American demographic. Again, no doubt, there will be some put off by all this, but it’s tough to please small-minded people in the first place.

Maybe, I’ll be back.

With James Cameron back in the fold as co-producer and story contributor, a screenplay co-written by genre vet, David Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy) and director Tim Miller (Deadpool), the behind-the-scenes talent cannot be denied. Like with the aforementioned Halloween sequel from last year, the decision to forego and completely ignore the last several sequels is an interesting one, but one which makes more sense in a franchise where alternate timelines are the norm. As the last three sequels were not especially well received, picking things up after the events of Terminator 2, which was a critical and box office smash, was probably a wise decision. Whether it was wise or not, returning to an R rating after the last two films were given a PG-13, is at least appreciated. It’s interesting to note, that a potentially divisive decision, the idea coming from Cameron himself, that affects the opening moments of the film, eerily mirrors that made with the sequel to Cameron’s own Aliens with Alien 3, which he was not a part of. As with Alien 3,  unfortunately, audiences, especially in America, have not responded enthusiastically to Dark Fate either. Whether it’s a ‘been there, done that’ attitude, dissatisfaction with the last couple of films or overall franchise fatigue, the return of Cameron, Schwarzenegger and Hamilton hasn’t been enough to lure audiences back into theater seats. In all honesty, neither of the two stars have had any box office clout in decades, but that doesn’t detract from the joy in seeing them on the screen together again. Other once reliable franchises, like Alien, Predator and Rambo have also seen each of their last chapters disappoint at the box office. Nonetheless, Terminator: Dark Fate still proves to be an exciting and welcome entry into the sci-fri franchise. It has everything you’d want in a Terminator movie, and more. And if Dark Fate proves to be the last in the Terminator timeline of films, it’s at least going out on a high note.

— review by Brian de Castro