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(SURP)RISE OF THE MACHINES
Terminator: Dark Fate (15)
Review: David Stephens
Is there another movie franchise out there that has been retconned and rebooted as much as “Terminator”? Err… well, yeah, actually. “Halloween” for one, and “Friday the 13th” and “Child’s Play” are in with a shout for a much-mucked-about-with medal. But the “Terminator” franchise stands out because purely because the last two big-budget reboots have tanked so badly and then been immediately erased from the timeline. “Terminator Salvation” (2009) gave us a future-set continuation that remains well-known only because of Christian Bale’s meltdown and the most unlikely heart transplant in history. “Terminator Genisys” (2015) was endorsed by James Cameron as a “new beginning”, causing sniggers when the new story-arc crashed-and-burned amongst much indifference. As with any other initially successful franchise, the studios try again and again. Literally. So here we have “Dark Fate”, which was directed by Tim Miller (“Deadpool”), from a screenplay/story credited to about 7 different people (Uh, oh!), although one of those names is James Cameron (who also acts as producer). The big draw here is Linda Hamilton, playing Sarah Connor for the first time since “T2: Judgement Day” (1991), although Mackenzie Davis also stars and remains an actor that we’ve been constantly impressed by ever since (believe it or not) “Freaks of Nature” in 2015. Anyhoo, the time portal opens, and YGROY goes to see if this new entry is the franchise’s “Judgement Yay!” or “Genishyt!”
After a quick rewind to Sarah Connor’s “Armageddon-is-coming” ramble, which kept her in a mental asylum between T1 and T2, we discover that this is a direct sequel to “T2” and a loose end is shockingly resolved. Sarah’s actions DID reset the future, and mankind didn’t meet its end in 1997 as originally destined. But as we see, fate can be bent but not broken, as two butt-naked warriors travel from the future - one to protect and one to destroy. Grace (Davis, bloody great) is an “augmented” human warrior who seeks and saves young Mexican national Daniella "Dani" Ramos (Natalie Reyes, convincingly tough). Whereas the extravagantly powered “Rev-9” (Gabriel Luna, “Ghost Rider” from the “Agents of Shield” series), combines all the best abilities of past Terminators (and then some) to splat Dani for her importance to the future. Then Sarah Connor (Hamilton) joins the fray, as does another mysterious benefactor with a link to the near-future. Time’s running out…
First things first… This is easily the best entry in the franchise since “T2”, although that could be said to damn it with faint praise. That’s mainly due to three factors; Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, and Tim Miller’s brisk direction. It’s also due to the fact that the plot doesn’t delve into the ins-and-outs of timey-wimey quantum bollocks as “Genisys” did. Dani accepts the evidence of her own eyes pretty quickly, and the narrative flows pretty well with no slowdown or time-wasted. In one neat scene, Grace gets important evidence from a mobile phone. How? “Future shit” she mumbles, and that’s it. Another scene sees her pick up a clue from afar when somebody comments that they can’t see anything, she responds; “Yeah, well you’re not an augmented super-soldier from the future are you”. Alright, that might seem a lame line, but every world-weary one-liner from Davis’s cyborg warrior is delivered perfectly, as is her performance. With just the right amount of f-bombs, sarcasm, emotion, and gutsiness, Grace is made into a worthy successor to Kyle Reece. And just check out her fight scenes with Rev-9, bone-jarring stuff and the sequences with sledgehammers and swinging chains are action-movie poetry in motion. Especially with Miller’s “Deadpool”-Esque slo-mo photography.
Hamilton also hits the nail on the head with her effortlessly seen-it-all-before-but-I’m-still-going-to-pump-you-full-of-bullets persona. It’s a surprisingly layered performance, and one scene with her emotionally confronting a “friend” from the past is completely sold by her believable reaction and body language. Class acting. You won’t realise how much you missed her as Sarah until you watch her here. And yes, we know that Schwarzenegger is in it, but the less you have spoiled by the reason for him being there, the better. Suffice to say the debacle of cuddly “Pops” from “Genisys” can be put to rest… although we could have done without the drapery gags! Reyes and Luna are also perfectly acceptable in their roles, with Luna acting as a cross between a scud missile and the T-1000!
But there are a few issues along the way. Beats from T1 and T2 repeat themselves (the climax is in yet another deserted industrial area). Perhaps most disappointing is the pre-climax sequence in the air. An OTT physics-defying spectacle that makes the “Fast and Furious” franchise feel like a real-life documentary! The fact that a lot of this also happens in twilight or murky darkness is also frustrating. Sure it probably saves on the SFX budget, but it would have been nice to see the airborne mayhem happen in daylight so you could see exactly what’s going on! Some of CGI FX are a bit “rubbery” as well. Rev-9 bounces around like Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom at some points! When practical effects are used, it’s much more impressive, such as the truck-chase which comes close to beating the classic opener in “T2”.
As for the rest of the experience, it’s a fair attempt to get the franchise back into a better space. Both Hamilton and Schwarzenegger give gravitas to their roles, and the actual plot flows pretty effortlessly, even if things like the changes in the future timeline and Sarah’s “lost” years are glossed over pretty quickly (“I had a whole episode of America’s Most Wanted to myself”). Davis is a great addition to the cast, and the extra abilities of Rev-9 (cloning itself, etc.) are great fun to watch (if not always entirely convincing). It’s never going to have the impact of the first two films, but at least it honours the memory and achievement of them without sullying the reputation (unlike its immediate predecessors). This is something that only “Halloween” has managed to do in recent years, and whilst it’s not quite as successful as that franchise reboot, it’s a step in the right direction and passes the time nicely. Extra marks are also earned for “keeping it real” or rather “keeping it R-rated”, with the “mature” language and hi-octane violence. We’d be up for more entries in this new timeline, but only if they manage to get Sarah and Amazing Grace back together again.
“TDF” is a smooth sci-fi actioner with great turns by Davis and Hamilton, and plenty of respect for the source material. It’s also the best franchise entry since T2 and contains a lot of well-choreographed cool action sequences. But there are some minor problems that prevent it from real greatness, and the murky cinematography at certain points doesn’t help. Still, much better than the last three films and a step into a better future…
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