Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019)

Deadpool director Tim Miller’s sequel to Judgement Day, Dark Fate takes place 27 years after Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her team prevented Judgement Day from happening and it sees unassuming factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) being targeted by an incredibly dangerous new type of liquid metal terminator known as a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), sent from the future by a new malevolent AI known as Legion, but help soon arrives in the form of the technologically enhanced, future resistance fighter Grace (Mackenzie Davis) as well as a battle harded, and now highly wanted, Sarah Connor and a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the four of them fight to keep Dani alive and to stop the seemingly unstoppable Rev-9 from altering the future and damning the human race to an existence of horror and misery.

While James Cameron’s first two Terminator have been extremely well received and are very popular among movie fans, the sequels that followed weren’t exactly showered with the same amount of praise and I think it’s fair to say that the three of them (Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys) have fallen into obscurity and clearly aren’t on the same level as the astounding first two films were (although I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen Salvation). But here we are now with a brand new, 2019 Terminator film and after watching the trailers numerous times, I predicted that it could either be astounding or appalling, anxious to see which way it would go.

Having now seen the film, I’d say that Dark Fate is neither appalling nor astounding but I would definitely put it at the positive end of the spectrum as, whilst not being any competition for the first two films, it is an exciting and entertaining film with some brilliantly staged, good looking action sequences, an interesting, if a little derivative, story, an effective score, and a central grouping of strong characters/performances.

But to start off with the film’s biggest flaw, it’s that it doesn’t exactly take the franchise in a new direction and it perhaps plays things a little too safe; the story closely follows in the footsteps of the first two Terminator films and as such, we have an innocent young protagonist who is essential to mankind’s future and she is chased by a liquid metal Terminator, sent by what is essentially a “new Skynet”, and the battle hardened allies, which includes a helpful T-800, have to fight it and move from place to place (eventually ending up in yet another industrial building, just like in the first two films), avoiding the authorities, in the hopes of either outrunning or destroying the evil, unstoppable machine. Although the film has other strengths that outweigh all of this, it is a little disappointing that the film treads some very familiar ground and even though it attempts to add a little twist into the classic formula, it’s a twist that you might figure out very early on (I sure did) and in addition, the film is prone to a few plot contrivances and questionable moments (such as why a certain dog doesn’t bark when near the T-800) and on the whole, though the story is engaging and entertaining enough, the script is technically the film’s weakest element and it can be a little iffy at times, operating as fan service more than anything else.

Although, after the insanely messy Genisys, maybe going back to basics wasn’t such a bad idea.

Aside from those aforementioned problems, Dark Fate is an otherwise great film and one thing it has going for it is the action sequences and visual effects; although the trailers showcased some dodgy CGI, the effects work is better than you’d expect and while it isn’t always smooth sailing, the special effects are cool (showing off some impeccable de-aging technology at the beginning and using certain technology that essentially digitally recreates one of the franchise’s main characters – leaving me wondering “how did they do that?!”) and the action sequences are staged well, managing to be energetic and exciting, if a little too frantic and choppily edited at times. Junkie XL provides the score and it is another one of the film’s saving graces as it establishes that necessary sense of tension, drama and excitement, while also being genuinely touching and emotional in the slower scenes, and it reintroduces Brad Fiedel’s classic theme while tweaking it at the same time by occasionally giving it a Mexican flavour, which works surprisingly well when it’s used.

And perhaps the biggest pro of Dark Fate is its cast and characters. Stepping back into the popular role, Linda Hamilton is as badass as ever and although her position as “tough as nails protector” is essentially shared between her, Mackenzie Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the three of them fulfilling the same purpose, it’s great to see her back after all this time and in the role, she effortlessly oozes confidence, toughness and that “don’t f**k with me” attitude that we’ve come to expect from her, playing the popular part as if she’d never left. Mackenzie Davis also makes a huge impact as the enhanced solider Grace; this film is probably Davis’ meatiest role so far and it’s clear that she has fully committed to the role, showing off an undeniably strong and fit physique, and as she gets the lion’s share of the fight scenes, she fully throws herself into them and she definitely impresses in the physically demanding scenes. She effectively shows us how determined, resilient and protective her character is but she also gets to show a softer, more caring side in her scenes with Dani and gets us to sympathise with her without letting her performance veer into mawkishness or oversentimentality. And as Dani Ramos, Natalia Reyes is equally as impressive as her more seasoned co-stars because she convincingly starts off as the young, scared and unassuming victim but as the “hunt” continues and the bad things keep happening, she toughens up a great deal and shows off plenty of quick thinking and intelligence so that by the end, she has matured a great deal and even orders “veterans” Grace and Sarah around. Dani has the most interesting character arc and in the role, Natalia Reyes is excellent as she nails all the aspects of her character, coming across as an ideally supportable protagonist, and she stands up tall (though not quite as tall as the 5″8 Mackenzie Davis!) alongside her co-stars.

Arnold Schwarzenegger also steps back into his iconic role of the T-800 and although his part in this is arguably superfluous (why have another protector when you’ve already got Grace and Sarah?), he gets to demonstrate some deadpan humour and, let’s face it, the movie wouldn’t be complete without its most popular (second most?) popular character, and in the antagonist role, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Gabriel Luna is creepy and unsettling as the Rev-9, also getting to demonstrate some admirable infiltration qualities as he effortlessly blends in with the unassuming humans.

Step aside, Charlie’s Angels

Though it treads decidedly familiar ground and has an imperfect script, Dark Fate is an engrossing and entertaining entry in the Terminator franchise with several impressive action setpieces, a great score, neat special effects, and some very strong performances.

★ ★ ★ ★

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