He’s back. Again.
Of all the iconic roles superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever taken on, the T-800 is arguably his most famous and the one that he has revisited the most times across the Terminator franchise, from movies, games to theme park rides. And he’s back in the latest sequel, Terminator: Dark Fate, the fifth movie sequel to the original, the fourth that he’s actively participated in, but also the second direct sequel to the original.
And before you go “Huh”, just know that franchise creator James Cameron wrote and directed the first movie and first sequel, Terminator: Judgement Day (T2), but was not involved in the next three films that came after. Produced by Cameron, Dark Fate ignores that last three movies, and is a direct sequel to T2.
It’s good to see Arnie back in this installment, helmed by Tim Miller of Deadpool fame, and to see that this ageing T-800 still has got what it takes to pack a punch. But the T-800 is not the focus of this movie.
Instead, the key character is original star, Linda Hamilton, who makes her first return as Sarah Connor since T2. It’s been 28 years, but it is a definite joy to have her back, because as the previous sequel has shown – Arnold might be the heart of the franchise but without its soul in Hamilton, the series doesn’t work.
This time, an advanced Terminator (a very no-nonsense but good-looking Gabriel Luna) is sent from the future by Legion to, well, terminate Dani (Natalia Reyes, who looks like a friendlier version of Michelle Rodriguez), a teenager who is a threat to what is happening in the future.
Wait. Legion? Don’t you mean Skynet?
Actually, the first 5 minutes, which also sees a short return of T2 star Edward Furlong as Sarah’s son, John Connor, future leader of the Human Resistance, establishes that Sarah and John succeeded in stopping Judgement Day in T2, and Skynet never went online. Ever. Boom, out goes all the three sequels – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015).
But the war against the machines rages on as a new threat has created the Terminators in the future, and the Resistance has sent a new hero, this time in the form of a hybrid cyborg human (Mackenzie Davis, whose tough gal persona is giving Brie Larson a run for her money), to fight off the new Terminator, which is a liquid Terminator who can operate independently from its metallic frame. Boom, two killer robots in one-time travel bubble.
To be honest, the news of a new director and star to the series isn’t what hardcore fans want, but both Miller and Davis are clear on their objectives – to tell a good story, and propel the once stagnant franchise forward.
If you’ve enjoyed the kinetic energy of Deadpool’s action sequences, you will feel right at home here, with lots of action, ranging from car chases to fist fights that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Frentic doesn’t even begin to describe the pace of this film, and no Terminator movie is complete without scary machines and liquifying metal that can take on different forms.
Miller manages to put together a coherent story that focuses on how humans will reign over evil machines with sheer determination and fighting spirit. We also like how the filmmakers did not attempt to tone the fury down (countless F-bombs are heard), and you can feel the angst of the characters as they put up one tough fight against the machine after another.
There are quieter moments during the 128-minute film as well, as we see how the hybrid cyborg came to be, and how lives have been shattered by Legion. Providing on what kind of viewer you are, these scenes either slow the movie down, or some breathers to the adrenaline rushes. If you are feeling pumped up like us, you wish these emotional scenes would move along faster.
The casting is perfect. We love Mackenzie’s fresh face and gutsy persona, and can’t wait for her to take on more tough gal roles. Reyes is pleasant enough not to become a whiny protagonist who is obviously surviving because of the people around her. Luna has a quietly menacing look that is disconcerting yet attractive, and that makes him the right person to play a dangerous Terminator.
Old timers will love seeing Hamilton and Schwarzenegger on screen, but this is basically Hamilton / Connor’s story. The banter between these two old frenemies plays out like fine wine – you will reminisce the moments long after the movie ends. The 63-year-old Hamilton portrays Sarah Connor with the right amount of sorrow and anger, while the 72-year-old Schwarzenegger provides some laughs with his deadpan delivery of lines. It is also heartening to see the 38th Governor of California (2003 – 2011) play a character who is past his prime, and is doing his best to be connected to the real world.
Without Kyle Reese or John, Dark Fate is actually a female-led action movie and Connor acts as both the mother, protector and guardian of the other two women, and defender of the franchise. Arnie’s extended cameo is great, but this movie effectively wraps up the classic Terminator’s storyline and open up a new wave of possibilities for the series moving forward.
Another reason why this movie works is due to the involvement of Cameron, who contributed to the story and took on the producer role. He knows the Terminator universe best, and is the best candidate to tell a story about war against the machines, and what it means to be human.
And the first thing he did, is to make sure the original stars make their return.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Hasta la vista, baby – the Terminator franchise is back on form!
Story - 7.5/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 8.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10