It might sound like we’re damning Terminator: Dark Fate with faint praise by declaring it the best Terminator sequel since T2, however that seems to be the way many Hollywood franchises are going nowadays.
After all, last year’s Halloween sequel was declared the best one yet simply because it retconned the events of its mostly dreadful predecessors and blasted them out of existence. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was declared (by us anyway) the very best sequel the franchise has ever gotten, but The Lost World and Jurassic Park III were hardly critical darlings.
The similarities between the Terminator and Jurassic franchises don’t end there though. You see, in an effort to reboot the flagging sci-fi series, Deadpool director Tim Miller has been brought in with the legend that is James Cameron returning to the franchise in a producing role, similar to how Steven Spielberg still produces the Jurassic movies to this day.
Yes, it appears that ignoring poor sequels allows film-makers to go back to the good old days, rather than trying to shoehorn poor sequel after poor sequel until audiences stop turning up at the cinema. That’s what has happened with the Terminator franchise. Following James Cameron’s incredible first two films, the sequels that followed ranged from dreadful to downright shambolic. But is Dark Fate actually good? Or just better than what came before it?
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton returning to the role that defined her career) and a hybrid cyborg human, Grace (Mackenzie Davis) must protect a young girl (Natalia Reyes) from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.
Seeing Linda Hamilton return to such an iconic role after almost 30 years is a real highlight over the course of the film and she slots back into Sarah Connor’s shoes particularly well. She gets a few clunky one-liners but manages to stop them from sounding too ridiculous.
Elsewhere, Mackenzie Davis is absolutely cracking as Grace, a human-cyborg sent from the future. She’s full of heart and the script allows her to develop more of a personality than we’re used to from this franchise. Grace is a nicely fleshed out character with enough backstory to allow the audience to care for wellbeing.
Of course, Terminator fans are here to see Arnie and although his screen time is more limited than we’d like, it’s nice to see both him and Hamilton squaring up against each other again. We won’t spoil the plot devices used to bring about his return to the series, but they’re very well integrated and don’t feel as clunky as you might expect.
Set piece after set piece after set piece is thrown at the audience… but each one is so inventive that the probability of you getting bored is very slim indeed
Unfortunately, Natalia Reyes’ Dani is a little more wooden compared to her on-screen co-stars. There’s nothing particularly wrong with her character, but she’s merely there as a plot device and doesn’t really get to do much. It’s no easy feat to go up against Sarah Connor and the T-800 and while she tries her best, she falls a little short.
When it comes to action, Dark Fate pulls no punches. Set piece after set piece after set piece is thrown at the audience in an almost Fast & Furious-like way, but each one is so inventive that the probability of you getting bored is very slim indeed. The film starts with a very nicely choreographed chase on a freeway, culminating in a tense showdown at a power plant.
Dotted in between these rollercoaster moments however are some touching moments and well-timed comedy. While not on a level with Miller’s Deadpool, there are a couple of instances that raised a chuckle from the audience, though most of them involved Arnold Schwarzenegger and his deadpan line delivery.
The CGI is mostly successful, though the lack of practical effects like those we saw in the film’s predecessors does lend an unnaturally glossy and artificial look to not only the Terminators themselves, but some of the landscapes. This is a bit of a shame as CGI body doubles are all too evident from time-to-time, but never does it pull you out of the film completely.
Overall, Terminator: Dark Fate is indeed the best sequel since T2. This is a film that successfully reboots a franchise that had been flagging for decades and is one of the year’s best action flicks. Not only does it bring back two of cinema’s most iconic characters, it places them in a film which is nicely shot, reasonably well-written and absolutely thrilling from start to finish. Now, if only the same winning formula could be applied to the Alien series, James Cameron may able to sleep soundly at night.