For a film series whose premise focuses on correcting the wrongs of the past, Hollywood’s attempts at reinvigorating The Terminator series have proven about as successful as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hosting career on The Apprentice.
With many directors and screenwriters having unsuccessfully re-launched The Terminator (1984-) series, including entries that removed Arnie from the fold and introduced the Mother of Dragons as a character, there begs to question whether the franchise can survive the new millennia.
Under the direction of Tim Miller (of Deadpool fame) and the return of James Cameron (who serves as producer), the sixth instalment of The Terminator series, Terminator: Dark Fate, dares to claw the floundering series back into franchise royalty. Its spin being a politically heavy-handed, female-led vehicle that finds Hamilton and Schwarzenegger reunite to prevent a new Skynet-esque figure (known as Legion) from destroying humanity.
If you thought the Charlie’s Angels reboot featured the hardest trio of women warriors on-screen in 2019 then think again. The trio of women at the forefront of Dark Fate are not to be taken lightly. Newcomers Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically enhanced human from the future, and Dani (Natalia Reyes), who holds the key to humanity’s survival, deliver sound performances in what is set up to be the Linda Hamilton Arena Spectacular.
Hamilton, who makes a return as heroine Sarah Connor, is given open slather to wisecrack and recite one-liners. A decision made on behalf of her character to highlight her hard-boiled demeanour and demonstrate a progressive move forward by the series. Connor is a woman wronged and out to enforce justice by any means (and force) necessary. While it is refreshing to see her character mature, Hamilton’s hollow delivery makes it difficult to take her the dialogue and suffering seriously.
This wouldn’t be a problem had Dark Fate not made ample efforts to ground itself within politics. The film’s heightened sense of self-awareness, making both political jabs and transforming Arnie’s character into a deadpan joke a la Drax the Destroyer (2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy), is where the film shows signs of rust. Terminator: Dark Fate goes all-in on the topicality front, with the film providing an onslaught of half-hearted critiques on surveillance society, environmentalism, immigration, gender inequality and big-corporation (hello tech companies of 2019).
Where Dark Fate attempts to be empowered by diversity, it inadvertently becomes tokenized because of it. The film is so desperate to point out its new-found wokeness that it forgets to seamlessly integrate it into the story. A feat that could have been achieved had writers David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray watched Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) a few more times. Arnie too proves a pointless inclusion; feeling out of place amongst the fold of leading actors.
The manner whereby the series can correct any shortfall by pressing the CTRL+Z time travel button continues to remove any feelings of peril. How can you create stakes in a film able to course-correct itself?
Aside from rough CGI, the hand-to-hand combat in Dark Fate is fast-moving and frenzied. Grace proves herself a bodyguard not to be crossed (a Mr Miyagi inspired moment a cringe-inducing highlight), with her impressive athleticism matched by the villainous Rev-9 model Terminator (Gabriel Luna). The Rev-9’s list of advancements include the ability to shapeshift, appear in alloy form, duplicate itself by splitting from its exoskeleton, and seemingly possesses as many lives as a cat.
The effect of the Rev-9’s bulletproof indestructibility reduces tension significantly. The fights reach a level of incessant repetition that leaves the viewer asking, as Austin Powers had, “why won’t you die?”. This absurdity bleeds into the production design to the point of it being forgivable for thinking that this movie was called Terminator: Dark Fate of the Furious. It is a bold move by the series to invest so heavily in bonkers set pieces, yet it renders anti-climactic due to how incomprehensibly dark environments become.
Wearing its new-found wokeness as confidently as a pair of aviator sunglasses, Terminator: Dark Fate sets up a liberal direction forward for the series.
During filming, Tim Miller had to tell Linda Hamilton to stop smiling when she was firing guns.