By Nick Maylor
Following the plot/timeline of any of the Terminator films is tricky. The time-travel and pre/post-apocalyptic plot elements don’t make for a simple narrative structure. The 4th and 5th installments of the franchise each ignored (in part or completely) one or more of the films that preceded it and Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) by necessity, does the same. The first film in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) to have the involvement of James Cameron (and star Linda Hamilton) ignores the events of the third, fourth and fifth installments and is considered by the filmmakers to be the third part of a trilogy. Is this terribly important for anyone who wishes to watch and enjoy Dark Fate? Not really. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself recently admitted that it didn’t particularly matter to him when it came to his performance and thus, shouldn’t be the focus of extensive analysis. While Schwarzenegger has starred in all but one of the Terminator films, the involvement of Linda Hamilton and James Cameron was marketed as the significant aspect of Dark Fate to set it apart from the rest of the sequels.
Describing the plot of a Terminator movie is usually confusing, bordering on futile. The time travel elements along with the inherent changes to the timeline that occurs with every sequel are tricky enough to dance around without revealing too much detail. Moreover, Terminator: Dark Fate has a prologue that features way too much of a spoiler to reveal here. As a result, plot details will be scarce but with these films, that’s not really the point.
Following the events of T2, we are taken to 1998. After a shocking prologue (featuring a large spoiler I won’t break here), the film’s action picks up 22 years later where we are introduced to the film’s new characters.
The premise largely resembles that of previous films; a cybernetic assassin traveling back through time to kill a target while a second time-traveler has come back to protect the target from the assassin. Diego Luna plays the Rev-9, the robot assassin sent back to terminate Dani (Natalia Reyes). Mackenzie Davis portrays Grace, a cybernetically-enhanced human from the future who acts as Dani’s protector. The Rev-9 takes the place of the film’s antagonist and largely resembles the T-1000 portrayed by Robert Patrick in T2. The Rev-9 is essentially a Terminator that can become two; a solid-metal endoskeleton and the liquid metal covering that can separate, allowing the two parts of the machine to act independently. The Rev-9 is (like the T-1000) able to shape-shift and appear as any human it comes into contact with. Luna portrays the character aptly, with a silent danger emoting from his presence through most of the film, although some scenes allow him to open his mouth and get some dialogue in.
Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes are both well-cast and provide the film’s emotional centre. During their first encounter with the Rev-9, they are interrupted by a heavily-armed Sarah Conner who has nothing on her mind but kicking ass and taking names.
After watching the previous films and upon seeing Dark Fate, it’s clear that the most interesting part of the franchise has always been Linda Hamilton. Sarah Conner enters the action like a bat out of hell and owns every scene she is in. We are instantly drawn to her demeanor and drive, making rooting for her as natural as breathing. Her return breathes new life into the series which has long felt tired and redundant. Along with Reyes and Davis, Hamilton provides the film with plenty of hard-ass-nails girl power, a significant part of the franchise’s (and this film’s) appeal.
After escaping from the Rev-9, the trio embarks on a journey to stop the assassin robot’s mission (much like previous films) and along the way they encounter a T-800 Model 101 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) who has been living in this timeline for over two decades. Having completed its mission years ago, the Terminator has spent years learning to “become human” and even has a family; a wife and an adopted son. The Terminator says that it intends to help protect Dani for the same reason it chose to live as a man; to give it “purpose”. It also declares that this mission is as much for Sarah’s sake as it is for the Terminator itself.
Schwarzenegger fits back into his role as the Terminator comfortably and there’s a lot of great humour that comes with his machine trying (and failing) to act human. While limited by the obvious pitfalls of playing a robot, he gets to flex his acting muscle just a tad more than he had previously due to the nature of the situation he finds his character in.
Many (if not all) of the Terminator sequels since T2 have been unnecessary and this one, for the most part, is no different. It does, however, bring back something refreshing via Hamilton and Cameron. The movie’s biggest strength and biggest weakness are that it feels like T2, the best of the franchise. The reason for this is however because Dark Fate is largely derivative of the sophomoric installment. However, it is well-acted, competently directed and a good bit of fun. Tim Miller showed great confidence while directing his debut outing Deadpool (2016) and here he shows that while his directing credits are sparse, he knows what he’s doing behind the camera. The film has great action pieces worthy of the blockbuster franchise and the R-rating feels like a return to form.
As was intended by the filmmakers, Terminator: Dark Fate separates and elevates itself apart from and above the previous sequels that it ignores. James Cameron helped craft the story but the return of Hamilton is what really sets it apart from the 3rd, 4th and 5th installments of the franchise. Moreso than those films, this one feels like the true sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day and feels like the completion of a trilogy.
It’s a worthy adventure and a fun ride that should provide most of what any fan of the franchise is looking for and thus, ultimately feels like a success.
There’s also plenty of fan service and homages to the previous films, with an appropriate amount of humour. Worth checking out for anyone who’s enjoyed the franchise.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is currently working on a book about the American Cinema Renaissance (1967-present) with John H. Foote. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor