Movie Review: Terminator – Dark Fate

The Terminator has become synonymous with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a bit hesitant to take on the role of a villain not long after playing Conan in 1984. The “I’ll be back” quote is served as a promise for the franchise, which has been reinvented over the last 35 years. While James Cameron lost touch with the Terminator saga, taking on more of a backseat role as it went through several iterations, he’s returned to the story with Terminator: Dark Fate, ignoring everything the has come after Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Luckily for the beloved time travel franchise, it could literally keep changing the rules and reinventing itself forever. Reaching back in time, the machines could keep sending their assassins further back in time or develop better technology as the future marches on.

Whether you’ve been able to follow the timelines or not, the story of a time-traveling robotic assassin has fused with pop culture and captured the imagination of millions over the years. That’s why it probably didn’t come as much of a surprise that yet another sequel was underway. While Cameron has taken a greater interest, the director has become more involved as a producer rather than director, hiring Deadpool’s Tim Miller to get the job done with Terminator: Dark Fate. Miller showed great promise with the Deadpool series, finding a good balance between CGI, action and comedy. These core elements of Terminator, make him well-suited to realising the realm of relentless chase downs and sci-fi action thrills.

Terminator: Dark Fate sees the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, the tough no-nonsense heroine of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. While inextricably linked with the character, she’s survived off TV movies and series since her iconic debut in The Terminator. Reprising the role of Connor, it’s as if she didn’t miss a beat, embodying the tough, self-made soldier as if second nature. As a regular and mascot of sorts, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back with an amusing supporting role. Together they recapture the spirit of Cameron’s first films, serving as a tribute and rebooting the series in a similar capacity to Jamie Lee Curtis in the new Halloween.

The reboot sequel is led by Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes as Grace and Dani, who begin the hot pursuit. Adhering to characteristics of the series, they’re being hunted by a modified Terminator. The protector is hybrid cyborg human, Grace, who arrives from the future to serve as a guardian for Dani. Pursued by a liquid form Terminator played by Gabriel Luna, the two find themselves on the run, struggling to keep one step ahead. While the cast is solid, the emphasis is on action rather than drama with performances serving as a conduit. The figureheads get some fun one-liners and there’s some good relational tension, but it’s ultimately a team effort with very little in the way of ego.

“My name is Sarah Connor… you killed my son, prepare to die.”

There aren’t really any stand out performances with each actor accepting the challenge of maintaining consistency while withstanding the physical demands of an action-intensive film. The wry tone makes the emphasis on entertainment over finesse and this helps keep the over-the-top action in check. It’s never dry and the performances are captivating and convincing, it just pales in comparison with the glory of T2. The thrill of the pursuit and spirit of adventure are what keep the tension going in Terminator: Dark Fate. It’s leaning on classic trademarks of the Terminator series, revitalising it with a Mexican slant, but following familiar stepping stones and typical patter.

This edition is loaded with CGI, so much so that you wouldn’t be surprised if someone said every frame had something digitally coerced. For a film that is so jam-packed, it’s passable but the over-reliance does undermine the sense of realism. There are many incredible action sequences, which are interspersed by more dramatic scenes that give audiences some comic relief and a chance to refocus on the story. Unfortunately, the normalisation of high octane action with predominantly digital artistry makes it difficult to wow when it becomes the new standard.

Terminator: Dark Fate may be weighed down by its computer generated effects, but it’s got some curious reflections in terms of theme. The series was progressive for its time, enabling Hamilton to adopt a gun-toting role usually reserved for men. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for women to take action leads and Dark Fate takes full advantage in the trio of Davis, Reyes and Hamilton. Allowing them the space to roam and internalise aspects ordinarily bestowed on men, there are a few moments that would probably seem quite jarring next to a 1984 film like The Terminator. It’s not overtly so, falling back on Schwarzenegger from time to time, but its a fair reflection of current changes and trends.

The Mexican slant is welcome, taking some different viewpoints within the Terminator universe, while retracing more familiar territory. While there are hints of socio-political commentary, this is ultimately an action movie. The casting and locations are directly influenced, but the universality of the picture make these elements more of a liquid skin than a metallic skeleton.

Tim Miller has done a good job of keeping Terminator: Dark Fate in the Terminator universe. The screenplay lacks depth and has as many hits as misses when it comes to writing choices, some of which could have possibly been remedied by Miller or the ensemble in terms of delivery. While the action sequences are familiar and the fight choreography is imaginative, the CG component is inconsistent. It’s a welcome return for Hamilton and a curious follow-up with many question marks, but it’s unsteady under the weight of trying to recapture the past and power forward into the future. Terminator: Dark Fate remains entertaining despite its flaws, but it isn’t quite the reboot sequel the series needed.

The bottom line: Half-hearted