For fans of the Terminator franchise, it should be understood that Sarah Connor stands on the mountain tops of female action heroines. Like, Ellen Ripley, who Cameron militarized as a maternal figure in Aliens (1986), Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor helped redefine the notion of gender in popular genre filmmaking. From her transformation from victimized waitress to survivor in Terminator to the T-800’s hard-bodied partner in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the narrative of humanity against the machines has always been grounded in her story and shaped by her resilient pursuit to stop an apocalyptic future enabled by the thinking and doing of men obsessed with technology. It’s this pursuit that continues in the Tim Miller (Deadpool) helmed Terminator: Dark Fate, which finds Hamilton returning to her star making role for the first time in twenty-seven years. It’s the time that has passed that reminds us franchise devotees that Sarah and the human narrative has always been the story, not the machines.
With producer James Cameron returning to oversee production, the anticipation for Terminator: Dark Fate had been steadily rising since it was announced in 2017. Cameron’s Terminator films (Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day), are nuanced in their exploration of technological fear and anxiety that was missing in all of the franchise later. Cameron, shared with the Hollywood Reporter that “What was science fiction in the ’80s is now imminent. It’s coming over the horizon at us. And there’s been a resurgence of fear and concern about nuclear weapons and so on. So all of these apocalyptic elements are out there.”
“Although, Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film since [T2, it] plays like a really well produced and polished tribute band.”
Although, Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film since 1991’s cultural phenomenon T2, there is a sense of void as Cameron himself produced from afar while working on his sequels for Avatar in New Zealand. Yes, Tim Miller and his creative team have corrected the wrongs of the franchise but rather than creating something truly new with their revised timeline, Terminator: Dark Fate plays like a really well produced and polished tribute band.
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Like The Force Awakens (2015) and the recent Halloween (2018), Terminator Dark Fate walks the line of showcasing the series’ original players, while introducing new characters for a younger movie-going audience with the hope to create a new evolved storyline. This narrative focus is both the strength and weakness of the film in that the return of Sarah Connor and the exploration of her life since T2 is blurred by the journey of Dani (Natali Reyes), a young Mexican girl, who is the target of the Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna), a new Terminator from the future. With super soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis), as the new Kyle Reese, the three women take the reins of the franchise’s “chase film” convention in order to protect the future by saving Dani.
In regards to servicing the old, it’s in returning Sarah Connor to the forefront of the Terminator mythology that brings to life a form of franchise restorative justice. Sarah and more specifically, Linda Hamilton, has been missing from the series since T2 and is the main reason to purchase your Dark Fate ticket. This passing time has given Sarah a particular weight and complexity as she hunts Terminators and chooses to protect young Dani. In the role, Hamilton, is a joy to watch. Although Arnold Schwarzenegger became a household name after the original Terminator in 1984 and the most successful action star in the world, it was Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor that gave Cameron’s first two films their emotional centre. This emotional weight carries to a degree in Dark Fate but is lessened by Dani and Grace who audiences have no real time to invest in as Miller pumps out action sequences with intensity. In this regard, Cameron’s directorial touch is missing. His rich understanding of pacing and character, allowed his Terminator films to breathe with life and urgency. Sadly, this lacks from the Dark Fate narrative and is the film’s greatest weakness.
As Sarah continues to struggle with her “Mother Mary” destiny, she along with Dani and Grace find themselves teaming with a now humanized T-800. Portrayed by an aged Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s his “Carl,” that brings the film it’s most needed moments of levity and joy. Like in T2, when young John Connor would connect with his machine protector, the robotic Carl reminds audiences of Schwarzenegger’s charm on the big screen. Without giving away major plot points and spoilers, Carl and Sarah have a shared history that gives individual scenes rich poignancy and the film’s most emotional moments.
“Dark Fate understands the “now”, even if its exploration of the “then” is obscure.”
In the end the filmmakers do their best to bring a sense of timeliness to the storytelling. With much of the film taking place in Mexico and touching upon current issues pertaining to all things A.I, privacy in a digital world, militarized tech and US-Mexican relations, Dark Fate is pure in it’s genre roots. The film embraces science fiction’s real-world connectedness with the goal to explore technologically-infused contemporary threats. Dark Fate understands the “now”, even if its exploration of the “then” is obscure.
I was completely satisfied, if not overwhelmed, with Terminator: Dark Fate. The action sequences were polished (if not groundbreaking), the VFX work was clean (although overused) and the film succeeds in righting the wrongs of a post T2 franchise world, despite not being able to match its predecessors’ grandeur. However, in all fairness, it must have been a tall task for director Tim Miller to meet the revolutionary heights of Terminator and T2. With this, Terminator: Dark Fate pays solid tribute to the very best of the franchise with the promise of more Sarah Connor in the future.
What did you think of Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate? Which Terminator film is your favorite of the franchise? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!