Tim Miller’s new sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day brings Sarah Connor back to face off against a terminator; but this film’s target and her bodyguard may have done fine without her.
When I saw that Linda Hamilton was going to play Sarah Connor again in the coming Terminator: Dark Fate, I couldn’t have been more excited. I had loved her transformation from damsel in The Terminator to hero by the end of T2: Judgement Day; and I considered her my hero, to have made that transformation, right before my eyes. Sarah Connor is indeed back in Terminator: Dark Fate, but she is barely the same person: she talked of hope at the end of T2, but now she is utterly (and understandably) jaded.
Terminator: Dark Fate is definitely still a Terminator film, though. We have a relentless human-passing android sent to the present day from the future to kill a Latina woman (not “a young girl”, as IMDb describes her), and a soldier also sent back to protect her. Somehow – don’t ask me how – the woman and her bodyguard team up with an almost elderly Connor and an apparently recovered terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to even the match. So we have an alliance of minority interests versus a single tyrant: very 2019.
For the most part, Terminator: Dark Fate is made up of the Terminator formula (albeit through a modern lens) and some great action scenes. The modern (some say “liberal”) aspects include broadening of the story’s scope outside of just the English-speaking world, immigration issues, and women doing more than just support and enable the John Connors of the future. It’s also somewhat fatalistic, though: according to this film, no matter how we change what’s coming, the future will still turn bad, and we will still need defending from it.
It is actually mostly about the women, so it’s a damn shame they’re not more well-rounded. The soldier/bodyguard sent from the future is Grace, played by Mackenzie Davis in her Halt and Catch Fire persona (and dress sense) rather than San Junipero. She has allowed her body to become enhanced, in order to stand some chance against a terminator; but it comes at a price, as her metabolism is affected. We get a few flashbacks to what brought her here, showing her to be as devoted to her leader as Kyle Reece was to John Connor. Although Grace’s motivation and commitment are clear, that’s all there is to her, unfortunately. Well, them and the kick-*** fighting skills.
The person she is protecting is Dani (Natalia Reyes), who considers herself to be a nobody until some robot disguised as her father goes berserk at the plant where she and her brother work; and equally suddenly, there is Grace defending Dani and telling her she is important. I did find her character easy to accept, thrown into a bizarre situation combined with grief, she reacts with believable shock before treating it as a crisis that deserves a practical head. However, when we had glimpses of Dani in the future, they seemed just a little too far-fetched, which – unfortunately – spoiled the premise of the film.
The men in Terminator: Dark Fate were generally cannon fodder or robots. Ah yes, the robots; or “terminators”. The Big Bad in this film is a slim and versatile model played by Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), who has a rather neat ability to separate his liquid metal outer from its chassis. Apart from that, his fighting and metal-morphing techniques were pretty similar to those we saw in T2 and 3, though nicely applied at times. And he is – of course – utterly relentless, and without feeling; both of which Luna portrayed very well. The other robot is the Arnold Schwarzenegger model, and I’m afraid his character lost me my suspension of disbelief utterly. I mean he’s a very interesting character (and Schwarzenegger shows the best acting talent out of all the stars of this film), but I simply could not accept any terminator having that character at all: a conscience? Aging? A family?
The action scenes, whether a fight in a factory or detention center, car chases or explosions, were utterly spectacular, but some of them were way over the top. Did the plot really have to involve escaping from an exploding plane via a Humvee? I was glazing over by then. But I know that every time a blockbuster film spawns a series, there is a trend towards each successive film being “bigger” in some way. But big does not make a film brilliant.
Having slept on it, I’m still very torn about Terminator: Dark Fate. It was, of course, wonderful to see Hamilton and Schwarzenegger on-screen together again; but it was clearly indulgent, and the plot could have been tighter perhaps without them. I was also quite disillusioned to realize that Hamilton’s acting ability has gone down (though she is still the badass we loved before). Worse though were the logic problems within the film’s plot, and in fitting this film with the others; for example, Grace and the Terminator came back from a different future than we’ve seen before, but – by sheer fluke – using the same (blue ball of light) technology.
If we accept the film as it is, then, it is a success: a reunion of old favorites for the fans, with some modern touches and some great action. Sure, but it can never match the first two films. And I would rather remember Linda Hamilton as she was then, so I’m going to go to bed and watch Children of the Corn. Her character has not aged as gracefully as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode, and I have a feeling this film may have been made in response to Halloween’s success.