In Terminator: Dark Fate, Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger shine in a return to form for the franchise, delivering exciting R-rated action.
James Cameron launched the now long-running Terminator franchise with the original film in 1984, following it up seven years later with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. However, after the second film, Cameron departed the franchise and there was a noticeable shift, many would argue for the worse. Now, Terminator: Dark Fate sees Cameron return to the action sci-fi series he created, albeit as a producer, with Tim Miller (Deadpool) directing. Significantly, the sixth movie in the franchise ignores all sequels after Terminator 2, soft-rebooting the franchise back to the Cameron era. In Terminator: Dark Fate, Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger shine in a return to form for the franchise, delivering exciting R-rated action.
For Dark Fate, Hamilton reprises her role of Sarah Connor from the first two Terminator movies, the mother of John Connor (Edward Furlong), who would lead the resistance against Skynet in the future. However, this time the future has sent back a new kind of Terminator, called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), whose mission is to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). The future also sent back an augmented human soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to protect Dani, and Sarah joins the fight to protect Dani because she used to be in Dani's place. They'll need all the help they can get, though, and they end up turning to an original T-800 Terminator, who's assumed a life as a human and taken on the name Carl (Schwarzenegger). Together, they'll have to protect Dani and, in doing so, protect the fate of humankind.
Much of Terminator: Dark Fate's success stems from returning to the original premise of the franchise: a group of humans stand up against a cold, seemingly unkillable machine. That premise tapped into the technophobia of the 80s, presenting a world in which computers gained sentience and decided to kill all humanity. Although folks are perhaps more comfortable with technology now, there are certain aspects - especially the ways in which technology can be used for surveillance - that instills fear in people. Dark Fate smartly adapts the Terminator premise to tap into those fears and modernize the franchise, but not without losing the main focus of humans versus machine. But while Terminator: Dark Fate deals with this theme, the movie places less focus on the sci-fi aspect of the Terminators, and much more on the thriller nature of the heroes running from the predatory Rev-9. This brings the film back to the formula that worked in the original Cameron movies, a somewhat simplistic story that doesn't get bogged down in world-building and instead focuses on thrilling action.
And there certainly is plenty of action in Terminator: Dark Fate, solidifying it as a perfect popcorn movie. Miller brings his particular style to the fight sequences. Though there are a few instances when the CGI of the Rev-9 is laughably bad, for the most part, Dark Fate blends practical effects and VFX well enough. Luna also brings a fantastic charming menace to his new Terminator, setting him apart from Schwarzenegger's T-800 and Robert Patrick's T-1000. Reyes is also good as Dani, though, despite being the character around which the whole story is built, doesn't really get much to work with. Davis, too, is solid as Grace, excelling in the action set pieces. Though Dark Fate is ostensibly about the new characters, Hamilton and Schwarzenegger steal the show in their returns to the franchise. Hamilton, who hasn't been back since Terminator 2, brings a wonderful depth to Sarah, delivering a grizzled action movie heroine unlike anything we've ever seen before. Conversely, Schwarzenegger brings a warmth and oddball charm to his T-800 Carl. But both are easily the biggest badasses of Terminator: Dark Fate.
Where Terminator: Dark Fate stumbles is in its handling of Dani being a Mexican national. Not only is Grace a literal white savior, but the movie has a number of tone-deaf jokes and plays on quite a few stereotypes. Like, for instance, Dani's uncle is conveniently a coyote who can get them across the border into the U.S. when needed. The movie also flounders its way through an action sequence at a border detention center, with little to no regard for the optics of how it will play in this current moment in U.S. history. At best, Dark Fate's portrayal of race is a bungled attempt at diversity. There are quite a few cringeworthy moments the way it's handled in the film. So, for all that Terminator: Dark Fate feels like a step forward in terms of gender diversity in action movies, it comes at the expense of its Mexican characters.
Undoubtedly, those issues will be a sticking point for some viewers - and rightfully so - while others will be able to look past them. Terminator: Dark Fate is a perfectly exciting popcorn flick, one that expectedly focuses more on thrilling action than thoughtful discussion of race and gender in modern America. It is, otherwise, an incredible return to form for the franchise. Dark Fate is the Terminator sequel fans have waited nearly 30 years for - and, thankfully, it's well worth the wait. The action spectacle perhaps warrants a viewing in IMAX, though that will make the rougher CGI moments stand out more. Ultimately, Terminator: Dark Fate delivers pulse-pounding action, some sci-fi thrills and plenty of badass moments for original stars Hamilton and Schwarzenegger.
Terminator: Dark Fate is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 128 minutes long and rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity.
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- Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019