The Terminator franchise is a mixed bag, to put it mildly. The first two films are masterpieces of sci-fi, Terminator 3 has some good moments but doesn’t quite work as a whole, I liked Salvation more than most people but it is a mess and Genisys is a complete disaster. So my expectations for Dark Fate were muted at best, even with Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor and James Cameron working on the story. Furthermore, I think I’ve made it clear a few times that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Deadpool, I thought it was okay, and I wasn’t sure what Tim Miller would do with this franchise. The film itself though is easily the best Terminator film since Terminator 2, although there are still some problems with it.
The film follows Dani Ramos, a factory worker in Mexico, who has been targeted for termination, with an advanced Terminator being sent back in time to kill her. The resistance in the future send back Grace, an enhanced soldier, back to protect Dani, whilst Sarah Connor, who knows when the new Terminators are being sent back in time, joins them to stop the terminators. The team of Dani, Grace and Sarah later have to join forces with an old Terminator who has integrated into human society to put a stop to the Terminator sent back to kill Dani, in order to ensure Dani’s role in the future is preserved. Now what works about the film is more of the social commentary that the film has. Like how Terminator 2 used the iconography of the LAPD to enhance the tension and provide commentary on police brutality, this film uses the iconography of the border patrol and ICE in Trump’s America. As a Mexican national, Dani knows the dangers of border crossings and, for when Dani has to be an undocumented immigrant, the border patrol and ICE represent as much of a threat to her as the Terminator. These elements of the film create strong tension throughout and, combined with making the main character a Mexican national, shows the multicultural nature of the world today. There are also good elements related to the expectations held by Sarah about Terminators based on her prior experiences, both in why she believes Dani is being targeted, which also brings up issues of internalised gender roles, and her relationship with the older Terminator they go to for help. There are some elements of the social commentary which could have been explored a bit more, such as issues of automation, but the immigration element of the film is handled effectively. An issue I did have with the film is that I don’t think enough time was spent with Dani prior to her being chased by Terminators. Whilst this does create a fast pace for the action throughout the film, it also means we don’t seen enough of Dani’s life and learn about who she is prior to being targeted. Compared to the first two films, we get a few scenes with Sarah and John Connor prior to them encountering the Terminators sent to kill them, which helped to build their characters and I think it’s a missed opportunity for something like that not to be included here.
The performances I feel add to the character of the film. Natalia Reyes as Dani makes for an effective lead, having this sympathetic quality that encourages empathy and a magnetic screen presence and her character growth as she becomes more confident and assured is effectively presented. Mackenzie Davis as Grace meanwhile is a born action star, having a screen presence perfectly suited for action, showing her skill in protecting Dani, along with the limitations of her enhancements being designed for short bursts. Linda Hamilton is effective again as Sarah Connor, showing a more cynical, jaded side to the character, although I won’t spoil why she’s like that, with her showing an effective degree of mistrust in Grace and showing off the practical nature of the character based on years of hunting Terminators. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Carl, the older Terminator the group goes to for help, is effective as well, showing how a Terminator can come to grow a conscience and learn to love and feel guilt and the scenes between him and Hamilton are some of the best acted in the film, showing a lot of history between their characters. Gabriel Luna as the Terminator sent to hunt Dani meanwhile is an intimidating presence in more of the Robert Patrick mould, adding to the tension of the film, along with his Terminator being more blunt that some of the other Terminators we’ve seen.
The technical elements of the film are also well handled. The CG is pretty good for most of the film, with the design of the new Terminator being an effective showcase for this, mainly due to its ability to split itself into two separate Terminators. There is also some good de-ageing effects used for Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, along with creating a younger Edward Furlong, for scenes set in the past, showing the motivation for Sarah Connor. The action scenes meanwhile are effectively done, with a good mix of practical and CG effects, creating a level of excitement and tension throughout the film, along with showing the efficiency of the enhancements for Grace and the power of the new Terminator. The music by Tom Holkenborg meanwhile is a good mixture of the classic Terminator theme and some decent new music, creating the feel that this is passing the torch but also creating something of its own thing.
Overall, Terminator: Dark Fate is a pretty good film overall, and easily the best Terminator film since Terminator 2. Whilst there are some elements I think could have been handled more effectively the characters are engaging, the action scenes are well executed and there’s some decent social commentary about the experience of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and a good foundation is laid for the Terminator franchise to return to the heights of the first two films.
My Rating: 3.5/5