‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ MOVIE REVIEW: A Return to Form for the Bumpy Franchise

20th Century Fox

From the moment Terminator 3 hit our screens in 2003, Paramount have fought arduously to recapture the quality of those first two seminal classics. Unfortunately, the franchise has become such a myriad of twisted timelines and fractured narratives that it has evolved into a running joke amongst frustrated fans. When isolated, some of the sequels arguably have merit and deliver bang-for-buck to various degrees (except for Salvation… I hated Salvation), but when strung together they make for a second-rate choose-your-own adventure story that goes in all kinds of directions.

The mistake (as with many franchises) is each instalment’s attempt to ignore previous failures in order to realign with first two. Ignoring one, two and then three movies does a disservice to the integrity of any series while maintaining resentment amongst fans. Had the creators, instead, acknowledged the overall canon, they could have explained their way around them with integrity. Nevertheless, here we are again with the 6th instalment, whereby parts 3, 4 and 5 are ignored and James Cameron’s original story is continued (remember how they did that with Genisys? Yeah, forget that, apparently).

20th Century Fox

To give Cameron a modicum of credit, he did look over the sequels carefully in hopes of being able to link them all, but ultimately chose not to. Instead, he put out a quote advising fans to consider the sequels as alternative timelines. Fine, now that we are ignoring them, let’s get down to brass tacks. Is Terminator: Dark Fate any good? Yes, it is.

Linda Hamilton returns to the series alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in what is arguably the best sequel since T2. Tormented by those earlier events and baring an age-long grudge against Terminators, Hamilton’s Sarah Connor has made it her life’s mission to seek and destroy each and every one of them. With the guidance of an unknown caller, she is able to predict their point of arrival and obliterate them. When a new human visitor, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), arrives with technical modifications (let’s just call her a Cyborg – that’s cooler) and an objective to protect a young Mexican woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes), Sarah is reliving a scenario with uncanny familiarity.

Dark Fate is basically a rehash of the first two films, and this allows it to recapture the original atmosphere and sense of urgency. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but Dark Fate does live up to its promise of redemption, and had it been the actual third instalment, we’d be heralding it as a triumph.

20th Century Fox

James Cameron is back on board with ‘story by’ and producing credits, and he brings an integrity that the series evidently needed. In true fashion he puts his female characters in focus and lets them kick all of the ass. Hamilton’s return is believable, her forlorn and brutish persona a natural progression from the events of 28 years ago. She has led a rough life and Hamilton’s performance meets the brief. It’s great to see her on screen again and I can’t imagine the film working without her (and her potty mouth). Davis is also excellent in a role that echoes Michael Biehn’s Reece from the original ’84 movie. She makes for a no-nonsense heroine and takes the lead in her stride. Reyes also comes to the party locked ‘n’ loaded and delivers a strong turn that reflects the same trajectory as Connor all those years ago.

And of course Schwarzenegger is back as the T-800. The explanation for him ageing and assimilating into society is flimsy – to say the least – but it doesn’t diminish the situation surrounding him. He offers a few moments of levity throughout the otherwise unyielding storyline, chewing up his lines with relish and taking up the fight when it matters.

20th Century Fox

Director Tim Miller, who helmed the first Deadpool movie, comes to the Terminator series with a sense of nostalgia and commitment. And while there is certainly more style than substance in the movie, the substance is all-present. He has crafted a genuinely good sci-fi action film that meets the sense of impending doom of the first two and introduces new characters with a new – albeit familiar – future prospect.

Terminator: Dark Fate is a welcome continuation of Cameron’s legacy, and where it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, it certainly offers something integral. It has provided a stepping stone to a new future and should they persevere with more instalments, we can only pray that they avoid the mistakes of the past. Less convolution and more emphasis on story building will serve the series well moving forward, and just as Cameron demonstrated all those years ago: keep it simple, stupid!

SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ is in Australian cinemas from October 31 and US cinemas from November 1.

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Glenn Cochrane resides in Melbourne and is on the board of the Australian Film Critics Association. He is the creator of FakeShemp.Net, contributes to various publications, and works creatively with American director Albert Pyun. He recently hosted a series of promotional videos for CBSi and Netflix, and has a weakness for 80's cinema. You can find him on IMDB.