Straight to it. Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film since T2. Granted, that isn’t a high bar. But it’s progress, right?
None of the previous sequels came together into a convincing whole that really continued the story. Dark Fate does, and despite being unsteady at times, manages to move things forward. It does this with a hefty dose of visceral action; a far cry from the more PG-13 approach of more recent films, and strong propulsion through to its climax.
The story is quite straightforward and is very much a ‘if it ain’t broke’ type of deal. But there are some interesting wrinkles this time. And I’m not just talking Arnold’s face.
The face of the franchise is back again, and once again the story leans into his ageing. I love Arnie, and I love seeing him in his signature role. Dark Fate takes a different route from the classic ‘he’s programmed bad/good’ approach and raises a lot of thematic questions. Plus seeing him back on screen with Linda Hamilton is just good cinema.
Hamilton’s return as the mother of the future is a strong one, with Sarah Connor terribly broken. Events have further hardened her, but the film is careful not to make her too rough or unlikable. The highest compliment I can give is that it doesn’t feel like 27 years since she last inhabited the character; she clearly still has a strong handle on being Sarah.
As usual there’s new Terminator (not a ‘T-whatever anymore!), and it has something they haven’t had before – charm. Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 is far more human in his interactions. A bit of personality can go a long way in making a machine a more efficient killer. Luna fits the Robert Patrick mould well; it’s pleasing to see good physicality and an actual ability to run.
Terminator: Dark Fate is the best of the rest, and does a lot right, but isn’t perfect. The CGI is good but sometimes a bit too noticeable, whilst it could be argued that the story veers too close to what we’ve seen before. But we’ve had ‘different’ a couple of times now, and that hasn’t worked, so why return to the basic DNA of what worked?
Thematically, Dark Fate fits in nicely alongside its timeline predecessors. It also manages to move things on enough that we could get some interesting stories moving forward. It won’t go down as a classic like its forbears, but it’s so far ahead of the other sequels that it’s got to be viewed positively.