Twenty-eight years after it opened in cinemas worldwide, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) has finally been given a sequel. To be fair, the film has had a number of sequels – as well as a spin-off television show – but for most people, this week’s new release, Terminator: Dark Fate is the true follow-up to T2.
The film brings Linda Hamilton back to the franchise, to join the series’ most enduring star, Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action-packed fight for the future. Things explode, the timeline is influx, and the immortal phrase “I’ll be back” is uttered at least once.
But is Terminator: Dark Fate something wondrous, which can breathe new life into the Terminator movie series? Or are audiences destined to remain in a time loop, re-watching endless rehashes of what has come before?
Er… it’s a bit of both really.
The good news is that Terminator: Dark Fate is a decent movie, with some really great moments. It is also far superior to Terminator: Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Genisys (2015) – far, far superior.
The bad news is that Terminator: Dark Fate does not push the envelope enough and as a result, it is… well… just another Terminator movie. Aside from a few moments here and there, it is exactly what you expect it to be and there is a sense that old ground is being covered.
For those who didn’t click on the trailer above, or who have no real idea what Terminator: Dark Fate is all about, the film sees a terminator travel from the future to wipe out someone from the past (our present). This terminator – a Rev-9 model – has a target in mind – and for once it has nothing to do with Sarah Connor.
However, Connor finds herself involved with this latest fight for survival, along with a T-800 – a new (or should that be old) 101 model that has been kicking around the planet for 20 years. Working together Connor, the T-800 (which calls itself ‘Carl’) and an ‘enhanced’ human called Grace, team up to protect the new saviour of mankind, while the Rev-9 slices its way through everything in its path.
And if you’re wondering how this gels with all of the previous Terminator sequels, all you need to know is that Dark Fate disregards movies 3 through 5. Those films take place in an alternate timeline, so all you need to worry about is T1 & T2.
OK, so now we are up to speed, let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t – while trying to tread very carefully so not to drop any major spoilers.
First and foremost, convincing Linda Hamilton to return to the role of Sarah Connor is one of the film’s strongest assets. When Hamilton is on screen the movie is elevated and the bonus here is that she is a huge part of this picture.
Going into this movie I feared that Hamilton would crop up in nothing more than a glorified cameo, but that’s simply not the case. The actress appears more or less all the way throughout the film and it is great to pick up with her after all these years.
Hamilton’s return also allows for a very nostalgic moment at the beginning of the movie. I won’t say what happens, but the opening is guaranteed to give long-time fans a huge buzz – especially those who grew up watching T2.
But it isn’t just Hamilton that brings this picture to life, so does Arnie. It pretty much goes without saying, but at this point in the series’ run Schwarzenegger really is the glue that holds these films together.
Seeing him alongside Hamilton makes this film much more of an event than the previous sequels – it is just a shame that it has taken this long for it to happen. However, the gap between T2 and Dark Fate is addressed and Arnie’s terminator is given an appropriate backstory to allow for the time difference.
In fact, I really like what is presented here to explain Arnie’s new terminator. This is a different terminator to what we have seen before and it is interesting to see new facets to this well-worn character.
Big thumbs up!
Outside of Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna proves to be a strong bad guy in the shape of the Rev-9, while Mackenzie Davis is fine as a time-displaced soldier with enhanced abilities. There is also a nice new wrinkle to humanity’s never-ending war with machines, which explores the idea that the future is forever in a bad place.
All of these components are what makes this film work as well as it does. It is just a shame that it stumbles in places and this exposes the problems.
For me, the movie’s biggest faux pas is that it simply doesn’t have enough interesting material to keep the story ticking along. There is a basic structure (i.e a standard Terminator template) which gets characters from A to B to C, but there isn’t enough meat on the bone.
It almost feels as though the film knows it needs to introduce Hamilton, the new terminator, and Arnie, but beyond that it doesn’t know what else to do. As a result, there are a whole bunch of scenes which feel pointless, with set pieces thrown in for good measure.
During one sequence, the central characters have to cross the Mexican border, leading to a drawn out section of the movie as we watch the situation unfold. This scene could have easily been removed, or condensed down without the need to introduce new characters.
The same could be said for a scene in which an ‘important device’ is introduced into the movie, only for it to not be that important after all. I get that scenes like this are designed to inject tension, but all they really do is slow down the film instead of getting to the inevitable showdown.
So pacing issues are a problem, but they aren’t my biggest gripe. The main offender here is the lack of screen time given to Arnie – he’s not in the movie enough.
I know that it can be argued that in the original Terminator he barely had any lines and his screen time was less than Hamilton’s, but he has been with this series so long I expected more. Don’t get me wrong – he is in a decent chunk of this film – but it takes far to long to introduce him.
When he is on screen, the picture sings. When he is not, it is clear that this franchise needs him.
That is worrying for the future of this series, as Dark Fate does appear to be taking steps towards the inevitable Arnie-less sequels. Oh, the series may not jettison Arnie for a while yet, but one day it will happen and I’m really not sure this franchise can exist without him.
But let me dial things back… because I do feel like I’m being a little too negative about this movie. After all, I did enjoy it and it offers up a lot of entertainment for fans – old and new.
Do I think it is a worthy sequel to T1 or T2? Well, I think it is a good sequel, but it doesn’t sit on the same level as those films and after all of these years, and with all the nostalgia attached to those pictures, I’m not sure any film can.
Is it the best ‘third’ Terminator film? Personally I like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), so for me it’s a no, but for those who dislike T3, then it is a yes.
Ultimately what is presented is a good sequel that will win some new fans and certainly won’t alienate those who have invested years into this series. Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are worth the ticket price alone and this movie is certainly a step in the right direction.