Linda Hamilton looking badass as Sarah Connor

Terminator: Dark Fate

Dept. of Retcons


A good story that’s well told will make you want to hear it again. And again. And then again. Because a good story that’s well told contains, within it, a multitude of layers waiting to be uncovered. That is the creative impulse behind why we keep getting inundated with remakes, reboots, refreshes, and reimaginings. A belief that there is more within a particular narrative that’s worth exploring, either by way of telling a new story, or coming up with a novel way of retelling an old one. The simplest of contrivances can, as well we know, give birth to a whole universe of movies.

In fact, the entire Terminator franchise has been built on one of these simple contrivances. Every movie, television episode, and comic book spin-off over the last 35 years share the same underlying assumption: that an AI called Skynet would become sentient, that it would design and build powerful machines that all but wipe out the human race, and that it would send those kill-bots – the titular Terminators – back in time to kill off anyone who might prove detrimental to their plans.

But The Terminator – like Alien, like First Blood – was never meant to be a franchise. Released in 1984, with its cinematic roots firmly in the slasher genre as opposed to science fiction, the movie went on to be a runaway success, launching James Cameron’s career and cementing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s position as a leading man. Also like Alien and First Blood, The Terminator lays claim to two other significant achievements: spawning a sequel that is arguably better than the original (it’s no coincidence that James Cameron had a hand in writing T2Aliens, and First Blood, Part II) and then proceeding to squander that rarest of feats with year-after-year of jerry-built follow-ups, each one more pointless than the last.

So when I tell you that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator movie since T2: Judgment Day, I do not mean to damn it with faint praise. Quite the contrary. I see it as a genuine return to form. 

Gabriel Luna makes for a mean looking Terminator.

This movie builds on very familiar elements. We have two all-new cybernetic beings playing a game of cat and mouse. We have a chosen one whose fate will determine the future of the human race. We have Linda Hamilton. We have Arnie. The Skynet of the previous instalments may have been replaced by a new killer AI called Legion, but all the beats are pretty much the same. With both humanity-hating AIs being indistinguishable from one another.

Terminator: Dark Fate is derivative. It is entirely unoriginal. But it is also precisely what the franchise needs. A reminder of why it was great in the first place. Just like Star Wars needed the dependable hand of J. J. Abrams and the familiar comfort of The Force Awakens, Terminator needed Tim Miller to reinvigorate a franchise that has been so tragically let down over the years.

Mackenzie Davis is Grace, a new hybrid terminator sent back in time to protect Natalie Reyes' Dani Ramos.

Terminator: Dark Fate is derivative. It is entirely unoriginal. But it is also pretty damn fun. Tim Miller handles the material with a steady workmanlike approach. Every action set piece is fantastically choreographed. Every performance – from newcomers Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna, to series die-hards Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger – feel true to the characters they’re portraying. Tim Miller manages to successfully recreate the kind of action movie we still occasionally find gasping for breath in our multiplexes (see: Rambo: Last Blood).

Terminator: Dark Fate is derivative. It is entirely unoriginal. But it isn’t uninspired. Tim Miller reminds us that The Terminator was always Sarah Connor’s story. About a woman who sacrificed everything for the sake of humanity. About a woman who never stopped fighting. And all this despite the sombre message of the movie, the Dark Fate that the title alludes to: that you can’t fight the future, you can only brace yourself for it. 

Arnie is back as the T-800 in Terminator: Dark Fate.

No sequel will ever be able to surpass the genius of T2. That movie was lightning in a bottle. That movie was an absolute revelation. A sequel that was essentially a remake of the first movie, but one that did everything better. Not only did it introduce us to the unrelenting terror that was the T-1000, the movie also established Sarah Connor, like Ripley before her, as an icon of twentieth century cinema. The truth of the matter is that a movie like Terminator: Dark Fate cannot exist in a vacuum. Irrespective of how good (or bad) the movie is, its performance at the box office is reliant on the expectation that a jaded fanbase might show up with the hope that they finally made a decent one this time. And they did. It is a shame, however, that it comes to us so late in the game.

Terminator: Dark Fate
128 minutes
Director: Tim Miller
Writers: David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray
Story: James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David Goyer, and Justin Rhodes
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

Kate and Tom "looking up".
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