So, I’m just going to say right at the top that I loved Terminator: Dark Fate. Where Genisys was an actual(sadly failed) attempt to do a real reboot, Dark Fate is a true sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s just not one you can binge watch. It needs a buffer period to make what it does resonate in a meaningful way. And for a first viewing, 28 years is about right.
The plot is familiar: A terminator from the future comes to kill someone. A hero from the future comes to protect them. And Old Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger (I feel like saying more would be a spoiler) are there to help, too. There are action-filled fight scenes chock full of spectacle (maybe a little too much), the same time paradoxes that have existed for far longer than anyone wants to admit and a return to form that paid homage to the movies that came before without feeling like a straight copy/paste.
Not everything about it necessarily worked. For instance, while it returned to that T1-styling of “we’re running, we’re running, we’re running, we’re making our last stand because we literally can’t run anymore,” there wasn’t the same degree of tension that there was in The Terminator. Maybe it’s because the fight scenes were so big and fast and ridiculous that there wasn’t really time to feel the terror of the chase. Maybe it’s because we’ve all seen modern action movies before and are a little cynical.
But whatever it was lacking in suspense, it mostly made up for in other ways. I really liked all the characterizations in this. Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is exactly the way I expected her to be and absolutely perfect, and with each movie Schwarzenegger brings something new to his Terminator. Franchise newcomer Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an “augmented human” sent back through time, brings a new dynamic as someone who shares the same goals as Sarah but isn’t afraid to push back.
It’s delightful to watch as they both try to protect Dani, a girl who is very much like ye olde 1984 Sarah. And let’s be real, no shade to the original Terminator, which I love, but it helps that Grace has motivation that goes beyond “You’re my hero’s mommy; oh and I fell in love with your photograph like some kind of creep.” Though, I will say: Once you think you know her deal…you pretty much know her deal.
Dani gets a little more depth than young Sarah did thanks to 30 extra minutes over the original film, and I think in some ways its a stronger movie for it. Not only do we get to see her grow and adapt to her new reality, but we also get to see more of her as a person before everything goes to hell. And while some people might deride the film for spending the bulk of its first act in Mexico with people speaking subtitled Spanish, something about it really struck a chord for me. Maybe it was that it opened the film up into the world, acknowledging that there’s more to it than just California, USA. Maybe it was because for all that I love movies and TV, I process the written word better than the spoken one. Or maybe it was just that I’m partially of Hispanic descent and even though I don’t speak the language, it’s still nice to see it treated well in such a big budget film rather than being scrubbed out to appease an audience that just won’t stand for it.
I don’t know, but it was a relatively small thing that added a richness I really appreciated.
I also really like Dark Fate’s bad Terminator, played by Gabriel Luna (most known to me as Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD). He’s got kind of a Robert Patrick/T-1000 vibe: Not quite as physically menacing just standing there and skilled at getting along with people in order to hunt for Dani, but once he’s all-in on a fight he’s got a speed that is disconcerting. His main hook as a new and advanced Terminator is the ability to shed his skin to chase and menace both fight both as a liquid metal threat and the endoskeleton, which is interesting. Two terminators for the price of one, basically.
All-in-all, Dark Fate has a lot of the trappings of The Terminator, the humanity of T2, and honestly a little bit of the cheesiness of T3. It did some controversial things (one of which I literally can’t talk about without spoiling something the trailers actually refrained from spoiling for once) but certainly felt like a good use of my time and money. Because of The Spoiler, I completely understand why some people take issue with it, but for me Dark Fate lands firmly in my “second or third favorite depending on my mood” position, and I really hope it does better than its opening weekend implies.
Man, writing a spoiler-free review of this was tough. If you want to go know the big spoilers before you go or if you’ve seen it and want to talk about how right or wrong I am, I’ll have a post all about that some time tomorrow.
Don’t say it.
Don’t say it.
Okay, fine, say it.
I’ll be back. With spoilers.
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