James Cameron, the Governor and Sarah Connor are back!
At the beginning of Terminator: Dark Fate, the old and the new come crashing down together. The first comes in familiar doses of music videos, both vintage (again we get Linda Hamilton’s terrifying monologue on the end of the world) and reconfigured (a beach provides a Norman invasion of robots). The latter is served in a surprising introductory scene, in which everything the main characters fought for in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is undone in one horrible moment. Years later, we meet Dani, a new female protagonist (played by Natalia Reyes), living in Mexico, whose day quickly turns into a living nightmare; Under the protection of a future warrior (played by Mackenzie Davis), Dani is on the run and relentlessly pursued by a new Terminator (played by Gabriel Luna). Sarah Connor, again played by Hamilton, whose last major movie role was in Dante’s peak 22 years ago. Oh yes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is, as he always promises, back, again, like Terminator numero uno.
Arguably even more remarkable than the participation of Hamilton and Schwarzenegger is the return of James Cameron, whose The Terminator and T2 created a Mount Everest franchise that subsequent (and not always welcome) sequels had to climb. Terminator: Dark Fate is the sixth in this series, and while he’s pretty good and one of the best parts of the series, he’s still halfway there.
Despite Cameron’s involvement (as a co-writer and co-producer), it doesn’t seem quite up to his high standards. Dark fate relies too much on digital effects to provide settings and character movements, which doesn’t always sound convincing. Throughout his legendary career, Cameron has used CGI and digital special effects in general as a storytelling tool. What we’re getting here is over-reliance on CGI, with settings and character movements that sometimes seem blatantly wrong. In fact, there is so much CGI that it cuts the suspense. Concrete example: an action scene taking place on a crashing plane, with actors flying around as the plane collapses. It’s pretty fun to watch but it’s cartoonish in the way it plays out. As strange as it may be, Cameron’s other contribution in 2019, Alita: the angel of battle, to which he also contributed as a writer / producer while someone else directed his ideas, is a smaller but better film.
There’s the novelty of seeing a lavish studio flick worn by three women (most of the film is devoid of Schwarzenegger), although this series isn’t as progressive as it thinks it is. While Sarah Connor is unquestionably a compelling and strong character, most of the women in this franchise needed to be saved and protected by the former governor. The filmmakers’ clear efforts to make this latest installment contemporary and socially relevant have mixed results. The feminist angle is well defined, but having much of the film set in Mexico and dealing with the border patrol isn’t a slam dunk. If anything is a very-2019 movie.
While the film is skillfully carried by two powerful actors (Davis gives a star-studded performance and Hamilton is fun to watch in his iconic role), Luna, as good as he is here, does not have the opportunities that Robert Patrick had. in T2 make his role scary. As much as the loaded script copies the narrative, rhythm and character arcs of T2, this one is quite ambitious and successful enough to add some fresh touches (especially the ones involving the character of Schwarzenegger).
The dialogue is often lousy, although it adapts in B-movie fashion (Ah-nold, as usual, gets all the best lines). Unlike the last two Terminator sequels, which didn’t hold up on landing, this one does, with a climactic battle that is hugely exciting and emotionally satisfying.
While Terminator the diehards often make fun of me for defending any series follow-up not directed by Cameron, I appreciate T3 (with its astonishing fire truck decor and daring final scene) and the uneven but muscular scene Terminator: Hi. however, Dark fate is good enough to end any total recall of Terminator: Genisys, and put an eraser on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Looks like this series has finally come to an end but never count Schwarzenegger: he’s got at least 10 movies ahead of him where, whether he’s motivated or not, he’ll say “I’ll be back.”
Two and a half stars
Rated R / 128 Min.
Image courtesy IMDB