There have been three films since Terminator 2: Judgement Day (you could be forgiven for forgetting that) and they all tried to do something a little bit different. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines showed, er… the rise of the machines which might seem obvious but Terminator 2 did not really feature judgement day. Terminator Salvation took us back/forward to the events prior to the first film and Terminator Genisys tried to rewrite the whole thing and got tripped up in its timeline even more than the Terminator films normally do.
Terminator: Dark Fate is steering well clear of such originality though, probably because those other movies were a bit rubbish, and is going back to the winning formula. Once again, as with the first two good Terminator films, an unstoppable (theoretically at least) killer robot has been sent back from the future to murder a younger version of someone who will stand up against the machines in the big war and someone else has been sent back to protect them. The saviour of humanity is Mexican this time though which is great for representation and also wonderful because it will upset Trump when he is watching the film (undoubtedly in his penthouse hot tub with two young women on each arm with Marty coming in, turning the screen off and dropping the remote in the water). In fact this movie cleaves so closely to the template of the first two Terminators that, like so many of the films that restart famous cinematic franchises some years later, it is pretty much just a remake.
Remakes can be great of course but for every Thomas Crown Affair there is a Let Me In. Actually the great ones are rare and for every Thomas Crown Affair there are about ten Let Me Ins and Terminator: Dark Fate probably falls in the latter camp. Still, problematic and pointless as it was, even Let Me In picked up on enough of Let The Right One In to have some enjoyable sequences of its own and so too does this. Dark Fate, for example, has a yet another highway pursuit with the good guys in a little vehicle and the Terminator in a big truck but taken entirely on its own merits it is still quite exciting. Irrelevant of their overall quality, all of the Terminator films have had their moments and so does this. It doesn’t have as many moments as 1 and 2 but it’s got more than 3 through to 5 put together so that’s worth something.
In fact not stopping at eclipsing Terminator 3, 4 and 5, this movie also tries to eradicate them. The story follows on from the first sequel wiping out the plots of all that has come since and even brings back Sarah Connor, recognising that she is what those films were most missing, even though the character had previously died. It isn’t afraid to borrow from those now redundant films though and crucially takes some of the better bits, those good moments, and improves on them. T4 and 5 already had augmented humans but this handles the idea better and T3 had a Terminator that was liquid metal around a hard skeleton but this one takes that concept and does more with it. The film also picks up on some of the narrative weaknesses from 1 and 2, such as why Skynet only ever sends one Terminator at a time and whether peeling open your robot arm was really the only way you could have shown that you were not just another human. Finally it takes a leaf out of the Alien 4 method of adding to a James Cameron masterpiece and throws in a cool underwater sequence to give us something we’ve not seen the monsters do before.
Terminator: Dark Fate is not a great film. It is pretty predictable for a start. One character is as good as dead as soon as he turns up and there is a line spoken by a doctor inspecting a fallen robot body where they say “I’ve never seen anything like this, let’s get some pictures” which they might as well have finished off with the words ‘just in case we need evidence of this technology for the sequel again’. The film is diverting enough though and if you just want entertaining for a couple of ours then it won’t really disappoint.
The Sarah Connor Factor:
The best thing that these films have ever given us is strong, if slightly unhinged, women and this movie doubles down on that. Connor has returned and with her is a new innocent who is more than just another mother of a man who will save the world. This time the hero from the future is a female too. Arnie is back as well but even he is stripped of much of his OTT manliness and he is definitely playing second fiddle to the girls.
Unlike T3, the makers of this film have recognised that the best way of adding more females to the story is not to give us a sexy lady robot but to put more real women in there and to show them developing into empowered leaders through strength and fortitude.