The Terminator franchise hasn’t had the greatest track record since the disappointing release of Rise of the Machines (2003), following that up with the disastrous Terminator: Salvation (2009) and the half-decent Terminator Genisys (2015), but things seemed to be different in the lead-up to this one.
Terminator: Dark Fate depicts the day after judgement day, meaning it takes place directly after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and disregards all of the other sequels that followed. Directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool, 2016), the story picks up over 20 years later and follows humans and Terminators both new and old who unite to protect a young girl from an evil Terminator threat.
The problem with the recent Terminator sequels has had nothing to do with the action, visual effects or performances (to an extent), the fact is they haven’t been able to settle on a strong enough story to warrant making a sequel… until now. What sets this one apart from the other Terminator sequels is a damn strong story that is creative, interesting and holds your attention for a full two hours. Right from the opening few sequences there are surprises that kick this adventure off in the right direction and it continues to deliver regular twists and turns resulting in a pretty thrilling journey. It does a fantastic job at setting up a new story with new characters and acting as a worthy followup to T2. There are some minor story beats that don’t play out as well, mainly with the newer characters, but overall it’s a very fun and exciting journey that is enjoyable right to the end.
One of many things Tim Miller brings to this film is his ability to tell a story that flows really well and has a nice three-arc structure to it. He sets up the story and introduces characters really efficiently in the first act while building some tension, lets it settle for part of the second act and then goes all-out with the final 30 minutes. It’s a structure that works and keeps you invested through all parts of the film. It does dip in pace through the second act, as I mentioned, and it does so for maybe a little too long but the presence of a specific character through these scenes makes the whole thing fine to sit through. The payoff in the end is brilliant, the story promises quite a bit early on and it ties things together very well as things start to close out.
The Terminator franchise is known for its large-scale action sequences, explosive chases and tense hand-to-hand combat, and who better than Tim Miller to deliver a good balance of all three. You get a regular dose of action throughout the entire film and it only gets bigger and more intense as time goes on. Tim Miller is fantastic when it comes to filming action sequences and it hasn’t been more fun watching two terminators fight since T2. The action is very easy to follow and makes for some of the best scenes of the movie. When Brad Fiedel‘s classic score starts to seep into a couple of action scenes it only adds to the awesomeness, giving you genuine chills. Although, it could have been featured a little more than it was.
When it comes to the characters, the standout is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), the Terminator sent from the future to protect Dani. She’s a complete badass from the moment she first appears. Despite not being the main protagonist, she definitely makes the biggest impact through a strong performance and great execution of her action scenes. Davis pulls off the badass Terminator attitude well but she also shows off her human side for some stellar duality. The lead actor is Natalia Reyes who plays Dani, the “Sarah Connor” character of this new story. She puts in a good performance to get you on her side and rooting for her in this story, but when it comes to the team she’s running with, she’s the least compelling character. There’s nothing wrong with her performance, she has some great chemistry with Mackenzie Davis, it’s just that her character pales in comparison to the sat-power around her.
There’s a story decision that is bought up late in the film regarding Davis and Reyes’ characters that I didn’t love. It’s a beat that’s been done a number of times and seemed way too familiar for a story that was impressing up until that point. It didn’t ruin their characters, but didn’t help them either.
Now we get to the OG characters with Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor for the first time since T2 and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as a T-800. Linda has a crucial role in the story and jumps right back into the role of Sarah Connor with ease. This is a different Sarah who has seen a lot and gone through some shit and Linda depicts that well through her performance. However, all eyes are on Arnold who has a substantial presence through the majority of the film. He’s still a brutal killing machine and after all these years he hasn’t lost that, it’s great seeing him up and about, kicking ass. He also contributes to the humour in classic Arnold ways and has one of the strongest emotional arcs. There are a couple of lines he has which are classic Arnold lines and get a good laugh.
Overall, Terminator: Dark Fate is a return to form for the Terminator franchise boasting a strong and surprising story, good performances and thrilling action set-pieces around every corner. Tim Miller’s directing ability is on show as he paces the story very well and makes the fast-paced action sequences very fun and exciting. That’s what this film is, fun and exciting, right through to the moment the credits roll. For fans of the franchise this is a great continuation, and for any newcomers this is a good action film you can enjoy with basic knowledge of prior events.