The Terminator franchise has had it rough over the past three decades as it’s tried to find the proper way to help keep the story moving forward after the hugely successful, highly acclaimed Terminator 2: Judgement Day way back in 1991. There was the continuation of John Connor’s story in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, where audiences were told that judgement day was in inevitable, regardless of what Sarah, John and Arnold had done in T2 to prevent it. That story didn’t continue after that, and the series lay dormant for eight more years until Christian Bale took on the role of John Connor as an adult to give audiences something new in Terminator: Salvation. This time instead of jumping back to the past to prevent the end of the world, we instead got to see things play out in that dreaded future where humans are hunted by machines.
Salvation was set up to be a trilogy, but it faltered at the box office for numerous reasons and no sequel ever saw the light of day. Salvation was also the first Terminator film without Arnold attached (though they did have a CGI double at one point) so the studio took note that maybe a Terminator film without the T-800 was the wrong way to go. Jump ahead six years later and we have Terminator: Genisys, the return of Arnold and a soft reboot of sorts to the franchise, bringing in Emilia Clarke as a young – yet strong, and fully aware of the machine threat – Sarah Connor, Jason Clarke as John Connor gone bad, Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese (who this time needs saving from Sarah) and Arnold back in action as an aged T-800 who has helped train Sarah for years preparing for the arrival of Reese and the new terminator threats.
As you can see there was a lot going on in the movie and it just got really bogged down by too much happening, plus the assumption that it was also going to spawn two sequels to tell the full story. Again, that didn’t happen and even with the return of Arnold and some interesting – yet in the end flawed – ideas, Genisys bombed at the box office and is viewed by many as the worst film in the franchise. Any chance of the sequels being made were quickly dismissed and it seemed like the series may have finally been terminated for good; however, James Cameron and Director Tim Miller didn’t want to say hasta la vista just yet.
That brings us to Terminator: Dark Fate, which doesn’t make the same mistake that both Salvation and Genisys made in assuming there would be a sequel and building the script around that. That’s an issue a lot of blockbuster films have these days as they try to build universes and franchises without first focusing on the foundation of the film at hand. While Dark Fate didn’t set the box office ablaze (likely due to just how much fans of the franchise had been let down from recent entries) it tells a story that does leave the door open for more, but very importantly is a film that can stand on its own and be a final chapter to the Terminator saga if that ends up being the case.
Dark Fate picks up after Judgement Day ends, Sarah has saved the day and all is well in the world – well, until tragedy strikes for Sarah just when she thought it safe to lower her guard. Jump ahead 22 years to the present day and we get the familiar flash of lighting at night when a naked Grace (Mackenzie Davis) appears from the sky in Mexico City. Police attempt to apprehend her, though she dispatches of them with ease. Meanwhile, in another part of the city the Rev-9 (this movies machine antagonist played by Gabriel Luna) appears and immediately goes on the hunt for its prey.
This time it’s not John though, as we’re introduced to Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) a young woman who works at an automobile plant alongside her brother, while helping to take care of her dad at home. It’s unclear why Dani is the target of the Rev-9, but it’s out to terminate her the same way both Sarah and John were targeted in the first two films.
Now it must be said that the Rev-9 is a beast of a terminator and just awesome to watch. Back in 1991 the visuals of T2 were like nothing many of us had seen before, but these days it’s hard to blow away audiences and bring something new to the table, but they do their best here and deliver what I think is the coolest set of skills one of these futuristic assassins have had yet. It’s a traditional endoskeleton covered in a mimetic polyalloy, and both of these parts can separate from one another and fight on their own. The mimetic side of it allows the Rev-9 to replicate other humans much like the T-1000 did in T2, however, it’s much more advanced and lethal. Add on the fact that the Rev-9 is more intelligent than its predecessors and can evoke emotions and other human behaviours that allow it to blend in like no other machine that’s come before.
Luckily for Dani, Grace has also been sent back from the future to protect her. In order to again keep things fresh, Grace is a human soldier with cybernetically enhanced features that allow her to go toe to toe with machines such as the Rev-9; however, just to make things even more difficult, her cybernetics run incredibly hot and enhanced soldiers such as herself are more or less made for one battle against something with the fighting skills of a Rev-9 before they burn out. So while Grace is prepared to do all she can to protect Dani, the longer they’re being chased, the more likely it is that Grace will fail and the Rev-9 will succeed.
It’s a good thing for Grace that Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) isn’t done hunting terminators just yet, as she arrives on the scene to help them out of a tight spot thanks to the advanced warning from an unknown friend that sent her Grace and Dani’s coordinates. Now, it did just happen to be luck that their paths crossed in this way, but getting an angry, battle ready Sarah Connor on your side can never hurt.
The return of Hamilton and Cameron are this film’s olive branch to long-time fans of the franchise saying, “See, we got them back! Join us for the ride because clearly it’s going to be good with the gang back together!” And I say gang because Arnold is back too, reprising his role as a T-800 model terminator. This is anything but a spoiler, as just about any and all advertisements pushed this fact as hard as they could – and rightly so.
The fact is, Dark Fate really does work. It’s an intense, action-packed, two-hour chase movie that rarely lets its foot off the gas. It’s definitely got an uphill battle to fight because of just how many hits the franchise has taken over the years, but Dark Fate is easily the best Terminator sequel since Judgement Day. The fact that it was written as a stand-alone film helps it in the storytelling department above all else.
While it doesn’t break new ground on this front, following the traditional Terminator storyline of protecting one so that the human race can survive in the future, and the emotional connection to Dani and Grace isn’t as powerful as it was when audiences first met Sarah Connor back in 1984, the leading ladies are still strong enough characters that they make the throwback tale being told a fun and interesting one. Another plus is that Dark Fate doesn’t worry about setting up potential sequels and simply focuses on the story at hand, so decisions made throughout have more weight to them overall because all that matters is what happens over the course of this 120 minutes.
That’s not to say that the door wasn’t left open a crack for a sequel, it’s just that it doesn’t need one. It could be easily argued that Judgement Day didn’t need a sequel, as it also focused on just being a great film and it stood on its own because of it. I believe this could be viewed as a third film in a trilogy that includes The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and finally Terminator: Dark Fate. The three work well together and if this is the end then Dark Fate is an incredibly entertaining, explosive and often humorous (without being overly so) way to bring the franchise to a close.
The movie looks fantastic in 4K, with some flawless animations and fight scenes that really come to life on screen. There’s a lot of digital stuff happening with the Rev-9 and battles throughout, yet it looks beautiful and never distracting, off-putting or obviously fake. Top marks for the digital transfer here, as this is just a fantastic looking movie. It’s got an equal mix of action taking place during the day and at night, and both look equally amazing. On the sound front, the surround sound is superb, with absolutely wonderful sound effects, score and overall sound mixes. The dialogue is never a challenge to hear, even when it’s happening during intense battle sequences. Just a great film overall on all fronts here.
A Legend Reforged – This is a 20-minute feature that talks about the series so far and how Director Tim Miller wanted to approach this sequel, as well as why James Cameron was integral to the film being made in the first place. It also talks about Linda Hamilton and Arnold returning, as well as the new cast of characters and what they bring to the table. It’s an interesting piece for sure and well worth the watch.
World Builders – This feature is even heftier at just under 33-minutes in length and it focuses more on the shooting locations, digital effects and bringing the action to life. Another fun watch for fans of movie-making and the Terminator franchise.
Dam Busters: The Final Showdown – This feature is 8 and a half minutes long and is pretty self-explanatory, focusing on the climatic final battle sequence, from choreography to the location itself. You really can’t go wrong with any of these three main special features, as all are fun watches.
VFX Breakdown: The Dragonfly – This is a two and a half minute featurette that showcases the film’s battles that take place in the future and their progression from a visual effects standpoint.
Deleted and Extended Scenes – Lastly there are some deleted and extended scenes for those who enjoy them.
Paramount Pictures Presents Terminator: Dark Fate. Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna. Running time: 128 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 27, 2020.
Tags: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna, James Cameron, Judgement Day, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, terminator, Terminator Dark Fate, Tim Miller