35 years ago, a new filmmaker in town gave the world a glimpse of his vision, creativity & passion for storytelling when he created a sci-fi horror that would not only launch his career but would go on to become one of the greatest & most influential films of its kind. James Cameron’s The Terminator remains one of the still-standing benchmarks of sci-fi storytelling, and its uncompromisingly bleak vision of the future still remains in a league of its own. Cameron would eventually return to this post-apocalyptic world with a bigger & better sequel, one that decimated the original on all fronts, and the standards it set for sequels & action filmmaking remain unsurpassed to this very day.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the final instalment that told the complete story that Cameron wanted to tell, and it wrapped things up beautifully & perfectly. The franchise should have been left at that but that’s not how things work in Hollywood. Terminator 3 was put into production without Cameron’s involvement, and the result was an inferior product that never grasped what made its predecessors work. It was an absolute failure. Another attempt was made to resurrect the franchise with Terminator: Salvation and it failed as well. One would think the studio executives would learn from their mistakes, but they cashed in on making another one, this time a reboot, only for it to go down the same road.
It ultimately took James Cameron to come back to the franchise that he started to redeem the unnecessarily extended saga to an extent, and the first thing he did is retcon it to free this latest entry from the awful stench of everything that came out after T2. Terminator: Dark Fate is the sixth & hopefully the final entry in this long-running saga that should’ve been terminated years ago, and serves as the direct sequel to Judgment Day, disregarding all the events that took place from Rise of the Machines to Genisys. Cameron’s return & involvement in some capacity results in a sequel that’s actually better than anything that surfaced without his participation. The plot storyline has a solid footing this time around, but it is still no match to the first two films.
Set 25 years after the events of Judgment Day, the story follows a battle-hardened Sarah Connor who after averting the annihilation of the human race by rewriting its fate now comes to the rescue of a young woman who finds herself being hunted by an advanced cyborg from the future. As before, the human resistance sends a saviour to protect her, this time an augmented soldier with superhuman capabilities. But they are completely outmatched by the relentless machine that’s packing more surprises than one under its sleeve, ruthlessly destroys everything & everyone in its path, and would stop at nothing until its mission is complete, thus compelling the trio to seek someone from Sarah’s past who might as well be their last best hope for survival.
Directed by Tim Miller (best known for Deadpool), Dark Fate gets a few things right that the inferior chapters didn’t, best of all being the realisation that the real MVP of this saga has always been Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and not Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800. The premise has a valid storyline, at least to some extent, but the plot is still derivative of Cameron’s works. Miller’s direction provides its moments of action an extravagant factor that will keep the audience entertained, but neither the plot structure nor the characters are strong enough to make things even half as captivating as the first two films. It piques the interest for a while and was going well too until it decides to travel the same tiresome road that forgettable blockbusters appear to have an affinity for.
Regarding the screenplay, the plot outline does make some sense but the characterisation is poorly handled. The new characters aren’t compelling at all, and the girl who becomes the mission of both the terminator & protector is scripted even worse. As before, the film is dependent on our nostalgic attachment to returning characters but it just isn’t enough to make us look past all the shortcomings. Unlike the formidable build of T-800 or hawk-like demeanour of T-1000, there is nothing about the new terminator that makes it stand out, which in turn never allows us to assess the danger it poses. The film does have a lot of chases & gunfights & one-on-one combat but it’s all soaked in excess CGI and is lacking the dramatic heft required to elevate the action to higher levels.
The opening segment is impressive, properly carried out, and creates a sense of intrigue. Even majority of the first half is passable despite few issues. But after that, it starts going downhill and there’s no stopping it. That airplane sequence has no basis whatsoever and exists only to showcase an unnecessary CGI spectacle that adds nothing of significance to the plot. Camerawork goes into fast-forward mode when capturing the action, the muted palette has no effect, and the futuristic world doesn’t leave any lasting impression either. Editing is a mixed bag, inconsistently pacing the narrative, and it only gets worse during the second half. The direction regarding Schwarzenegger’s character arc isn’t convincing enough. And Tom Holkenborg’s score manages to work only in bits n pieces.
Coming to the performances, Dark Fate marks the return of Linda Hamilton to the series since Judgment Day, and she makes her relevance felt instantly. Also returning to the fold is Arnold Schwarzenegger in his signature role that undergoes a massive modification in persona. New additions include Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes & Gabriel Luna, but only Davis is the one who manages to make her mark. Reyes is cringeworthy here while Luna feels like a miscast. Hamilton is the only one who plays her part expertly, and delivers an absolutely badass input that overshadows the rest. In fact, it’s suffice to say that she’s the one who carries this sequel past the finish line, for even Schwarzenegger was lacking the screen charisma in the role he’s played in almost every Terminator film over the years.
On an overall scale, Terminator: Dark Fate is a definite improvement over all the sequels that surfaced after Judgment Day but it’s no cause for celebration since the bar was set so low by those terrible instalments. Nevertheless, James Cameron’s return to the cinematic project that provided him his big break in the industry, and later catapulted him into the league of Hollywood’s foremost visionaries, does have some positive effects as Dark Fate at least gets a few basics right, offers sufficiently satisfying entertainment, and definitely redeems the franchise by a slight margin. A little more polished script & character work might have added more enhancements and made the cinematic experience more richer. All in all, Dark Fate better be the final nail on the coffin than a revival of the Terminator saga, for the franchise fatigue is evident and there is nothing more left to add. Just let it rest.