After over a decade of bad reboot and sequel attempts, ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ cracks the code with an amazing group of talented leading ladies
There’s a reason the first two Terminator features are remembered so fondly. Coming out in the mid-’80s and early-’90s, they perfectly blended sci-fi and horror with the burgeoning field of special effects. Directed by James Cameron, they were suspenseful and engaging, with a dynamic lead performance from actress Linda Hamilton.
Since the last Cameron/Hamilton pairing, 1991’s T2: Judgement Day the franchise has fallen down a black pit of despair, from the uninspired Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 (if only we knew that, up till now, this would be the high point); the utterly terrible Terminator Salvation in 2009; and the reprehensible Terminator Genysis in 2015. So to say it’s hard to muster up excitement for a Terminator feature is an understatement. And yet, director Tim Miller understands what people want.
Terminator: Dark Fate is a welcome return to form, remembering what made the franchise so indelible: Linda Hamilton. Say what you will but the life’s blood of this franchise has been and always will be Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, and yet she is just one of a group of strong cogs turning Dark Fate’s wheel. Natalia Reyes is the film’s new take on Sarah Connor, Dani Ramos.
Dani is a kindhearted woman who works in a Mexico City factory with her brother. Her life is turned upside down when a mysterious woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) comes into work demanding Dani go with her. (Surprisingly the “come with me if you want to live” line is one of the few iconic lines not reconstituted here.) Dani and Grace have to work together to outsmart the newest model of Terminator (played by Gabriel Luna) and stop judgment day once again.
As many others have pointed out, it’s a shockingly low bar saying Dark Fate is the best Terminator film since Judgement Day, but it’s also true. It also does something unique in acknowledging the previous films and their flaws. Criticism has always been lobbed on T2 for how it completely removes femininity from Sarah Connor’s world. Here, not only is the frame filled with women – often outnumbering the men onscreen! – but they also discuss the subtle misogyny of the original films. The previous film’s emphasis on Sarah’s son, John Connor, and Sarah’s role as mother of the future are deconstructed, though never too deeply enough to completely fix things.
More than anything, watching the interactions between the film’s trio of women is what’s subversive. It’s amazing to see Sarah Connor return to the franchise and the minute she steps out it’s the ultimate “yas kween” moment. Hamilton’s retained the character’s hard, grizzled edge, but there’s something more. She has regret over how John’s life has gone, anger that nothing has truly changed and, if anything, she is no longer special. Davis’ Grace is a new take on Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, a human “enhanced” by cybernetic technology. Davis is pure animal ferocity and her final sequence with a chain is stellar. Ramos certainly plays the third wheel, but as the film opens up she’s given more chances to assert herself. It’s hoped that any future installments will allow the series to continue to develop questions of how femininity can be showcased in a male-dominated action franchise such as this.
Schwarzenegger returns because, of course, and it’s obvious where Miller – the director of the first Deadpool – works well with the material. Schwarzenegger’s T-800 has an understandably contentious relationship with Sarah and the best moments of levity are within their scenes. If anything, Sarah is in the right since the T-800 believes his existence gives Sarah “purpose.” (Told you the movie doesn’t fix everything.) He also shows the distinctions between his model of Terminator and the new Rev-9 played by Luna. Luna isn’t given the charisma of Robert Patrick’s character, but he’s certainly an intimidating presence.
Terminator: Dark Fate won’t please everyone and, at times, it can feel derivative. Despite setting up a confrontation between Sarah and the T-800 the movie sort of forgets about it, resorting back to what we loved about Judgement Day.
But considering where we came from, the film has to be hailed as a step up. I never thought I’d openly want to see another Terminator sequel and Dark Fate made me a believer again.