Movie Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate is the sixth installment in the Terminator franchise, and acts as a direct sequel to the 1991 film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Overflowing with relentless action and balanced wonderfully with laugh-out-loud comedy, Dark Fate is a cinematic robotic onslaught with a gorgeous, human heart at its core.

Director: Tim Miller Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, as the idiom goes. Or, in the case of Terminator: Dark Fate, don’t judge a film by its brutally bland and mind-numbingly cliché trailer. I wanted to love Dark Fate when it was announced – the first Terminator film produced by James Cameron since 1991’s Judgment Day – and still clung onto a fragment of hope knowing it was helmed by Deadpool director, Tim Miller, even after the first trailer dropped with every indication the film would be a towering dumpster-inferno of awfulness.

While I was almost certain my 90s nostalgia would carry me through the film’s ambitious two-hour-plus runtime, I wasn’t prepared to love almost every moment of this revitalisation of the Terminator franchise as much as I did last night. Opening with a sequel-linking repeat of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) delivering her outstanding institutionalised plea about the end of the world, the film dives headfirst into gut-wrenching murder with unflinching brutality.

Before the audience can catch their breath, we’re introduced to our new guardian-from-the-future in the form of Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human sent back in time to protect the sassy and self-sufficient Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from a new kind of cybernetic monstrosity, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). Following a brief spell of murderous identity theft and a juggernaut of robotic road rage, the wired and weary Connor intervenes to cement her place as one of the most badass action heroines of all time.

The action in Dark Fate is exceptionally Terminator – brutal, violent, inhuman menace with a single purpose: to terrify and execute without hesitation. Gabriel Luna perfectly balances the superficial charm of Judgment Day’s T-1000 with the cold, mechanical dread displayed by the original, 1984-model T-800. However, even this near-perfect performance can’t compete with the sheer brilliance of Mackenzie Davis as Grace, a character occupying almost every frame of the film while suffering from only a handful of groan-worthy action-dialogue moments.

Davis is ferocious in her portrayal of the enhanced-human protector, shattering robotic skulls with a sledgehammer one moment and brutally tearing jaws open with a length of chain in the next. Hamilton is easy to write off as a worn-down caricature of action cinema, until a scene toward the end in the film discussing photographs shows the depth of her character to a heart-breaking extent; her performance is suddenly revealed as a layered and brilliantly nuanced display of a human carved into a block of fragile spite and terminal pain.

Crucially, the combined chemistry of these two alongside the ‘I’m-nobody-just-an-ordinary-nobody’ performance of Reyes drives the film home in the final act when it so easily could have nose-dived into repetitiveness – both Hamilton and Davis deliver the perfect combination of dry comedy and blunt-force action to make this film highly enjoyable right to the final frame.

Dark Fate is beautifully shot, drenched in a desert-yellow, dust-grey and army-green palette, and contains only a handful of script fumbles and overshots in plot confidence alongside endless dialogue callbacks to the previous films. On top of all that, it gives Arnold Schwarzenegger some of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious dialogue he’s ever been gifted. I won’t spoil the surprise of some of the lines – which land 9 out of 10 times – but it’s both a fitting send-off and full-circle character closer for the actor who brought the original Terminator to life, so to speak.

Go and see Dark Fate, go with your friends, fill up on popcorn and strap yourself in for two hours and fifteen minutes of mainlined cyborg action adrenaline – beneath its shiny and cold exterior is a film filled with warmth, humanity, and serves as a fitting tribute and modern continuation to a franchise that came so close to being terminated itself.

~Oxford Lamoureaux