Terminator is back! Well, sort of. The bad memories of Salvation and the shudder-inducing Genisys can now be tossed aside with a cry of “Hasta la vista, baby” because Terminator: Dark Fate is very much a step in the right direction. It’s a big, bombastic blockbuster that delivers thrills and silliness, even if it never really breaks new ground.
There’s a new Terminator on the prowl this time in the shape of Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 – a near-unstoppable killbot who can separate his liquid metal exterior from his endoskeleton to form two, equally lethal parts. His target, for reasons that aren’t initially clear, is Dani (Natalia Reyes). Fortunately for her, she has protection in the shape of sent-from-the-future cyborg Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and the battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
With Deadpool director Tim Miller at the helm, Dark Fate is very keen to banish the spectres of the past. Skynet is gone in this film, with Judgement Day averted. “That future never happened,” intones Hamilton’s badass warrior, “because I stopped it”. Don’t mistake this for innovation, though. There is still a Terminator, still a target and still a protector sent from the future, while they’ve basically just renamed Skynet to “Legion” and hoped no one would notice.
Where this film excels is in the action sequences. The heavily trailed early freeway chase is gripping and pacy, while the climactic sequence amid the clanging machinery of a factory, which feels like a franchise hallmark, delivers brutality of an inventive kind. Much of this puts Davis centre stage as a defiant fighter who uses every inch of her body as a weapon. She’s a long way from her indie darling comfort zone here, and she’s brilliant as a quasi-Terminator with a very human heart driving her choices.
It helps, too, that this is a Terminator film with a coherent plot. There’s a refreshing simplicity to the storytelling in David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray’s script – franchise creator James Cameron gets a “story by” credit – which prevents the movie from becoming bogged down in timey-wimey nonsense and mangled series continuity. The plot moves, in fact, at a reasonable lick for the first half, keeping the characters moving, with the omnipresent threat of Luna’s rampaging mega-bot permanently lighting a fire under the arses of the protagonist.
Everything slows down fatally, however, when Arnold Schwarzenegger lumbers into frame. His appearance here, one suspects, is driven entirely by the fact he’s very much part of the franchise furniture, rather than any sort of creative impetus. It’s not that Schwarzenegger is bad in the movie, but his presence is so thoroughly perfunctory that every impact he makes upon the plot feels as if it has been taken away from either Davis or Hamilton in order to give the big guy something to do. If, as Cameron has hinted, there are more Terminator movies to come, they need to ditch Arnie and give the new breed a go.
But Dark Fate deserves credit for acting as a narrative restructure, shifting the franchise train back onto the tracks towards success after decades of being off the rails. In Davis and Reyes, the movie crafts truly memorable protagonists, while also winking at the past through Hamilton’s stellar work. There’s nothing to get massively excited over, and much of what occurs is entirely forgettable, but this is still the best Terminator movie since T2. It’s admittedly a low bar to vault but, if there’s one thing recent outings have taught us, it’s that a solid, enjoyable Terminator film can never be taken for granted.
Dir: Tim Miller
Scr: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta
Prd: James Cameron, David Ellison
DOP: Ken Seng
Music: Junkie XL
Run time: 128 mins
Terminator: Dark Fate is out in UK cinemas now.