Film review: Terminator Dark Fate
"I'm going hunting..." the lyrics ring out over the haunting tune steadily keeping pace with the explosive action playing out in Terminator: Dark Fate's trailer. We can only imagine it was an identical mantra playing in producer James Cameron's head four years ago, as he sat down and watched 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the subsequent two billion dollars it earned. Because, just as Disney essentially remade A New Hope for the 21st century and came up trumps, Cameron has trapped and bagged the formula by lifting his original The Terminator (1984) plot and flipping the gender roles a la Rey/Luke Skywalker for a modern crowd.
In this respect, the film completely knocks it out of the park. Natalia Reyes' Dani, the hunted... er... new hope; Makenzie Davis as Grace, the soldier of fortune sent from the future to protect her, and Linda Hamilton reprising a battle-hardened Sarah Connor after 28 years, are a joy to watch. The generational interplay, social commentary on issues as varied as xenophobia, immigration and the automisation of the workplace, not to mention the non-stop live-action fight sequences all hit their marks. The humour between the three leads - particularly Hamilton's initial scepticism towards Davis' character - also provides a good few laughs.
Where Dark Fate falls down, however, is precisely the reason Cameron presumably thought it would flourish. Familiarity. We've seen it all before. The terminators are now a bit slicker (Gabriel Luna is suitably menacing) and Arnold Schwarzenegger looming into view provides a welcome jolt of nostalgia, but leaves fans questioning the timeline and circumstances of his being there rather than simply going along with the story. The special effects, on the whole, are decent but not jaw-dropping and formed an inadequate substitute for what made the first two instalments so legendary: the intense character relationships and their shifting dynamics. Over the course of T1 and T2 Sarah Connor evolves from frightened teenager who falls in love with her protector, Kyle Reese, to iconic warrior who will do anything to protect her son, John. Though, in Dark Fate, she appears in a state of arrested development with no further character arcs to ascend. The T-800 goes from assassin to father figure in the original and sequel. After 30 years around humans, in this one, it has adapted to the world around it but doesn't provide much else other than a couple of chuckles and, as a result of its imperviousness to bullets, convenient shelter. The Grace/ Kyle Reese role remains much the same minus the romance and thus audiences' amplified interest. Combine these elements with some rather on the nose dialogue designed to signpost beyond any reasonable doubt parallels with the two previous films (T3, Salvation and Genysis have been erased from the canon) and you'll have a fine time at the movies, but we can't say the franchise is 'back' just yet.