In the age of reboots and unnecessary sequels, the Terminator series continues to charge forward in true conveyor belt form. With Dark Fate, the franchise’s sixth film, Arnold Schwarzenegger fulfils his promise to come back yet again. But this time, the events follow the first two instalments from 1984 and 1991. Instead of continuing with John Connor’s chronicles, Dark Fate force starts the great battle between artificial intelligence (AI) and humans in true James Cameron form.
At its best, the 2019 effort drudges up a heavy and heady dose of nostalgia, harking back to the charm of the first two instalments. This is replete with a remastered Terminator main theme that still induces goosebumps for fans. As for its worst, Dark Fate follows a similar narrative in spite of a new direction. The story has been told before. In 2020, an advanced Terminator model Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) arrives from 2042 to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human with enhanced strength and intelligence is also sent back from the future to ensure Ramos’ safety. The young Mexican girl is the key to keeping the human race alive, just like Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) did with her son, John who helmed the resistance against the machines. Sounds familiar right?
It’s pretty evident from the start that Dark Fate has introduced a mostly female cast to keep up with the gender discourse in Hollywood. Token though the intention may be, the execution is top notch, without a single moment of pandering to the male gaze. It’s clearly possible then to make a film in 2019 that features strong women with plenty of cars, helicopters, action and guns without having to titillate viewers. Plus, the lead trio never quite need a male saviour even though Arnie’s T-800 Terminator does lend a helping hand along with plenty of dry humour. Unfortunately, it’s not the same when Dark Fate tries its hand at social commentary from callous Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processes to illegal border crossing and unemployment.
In spite of the film’s shortcomings, when augmented human, Grace flexes her muscles on screen, adrenaline courses at full speed through the audience’s nerves. But it’s Hamilton’s arrival — replete with heavy ammo, combat boots and aviator sunglasses — that hits the sweet spot. Without shying away from her senior citizen status in the film, director Tim Miller gives us a another fierce action heroine. The film’s constant jumping timeline references are confusing no doubt, but it pales in comparison as the story unfolds. Dark Fate’s action is probably the film’s first and foremost lure, completely thrilling in more than one hand-to-hand combat sequence. The special effects too are impressive. Though scarce, the film’s humour elicits effective chuckles, courtesy of cyborg Schwarzenegger’s deadpan ridiculous lines like, “I can change diapers, I’m a good listener and I’m funny.”
Of course, an attachment to the first two Terminator films will only amplify the Dark Fate watching experience. Especially when there are Easter eggs peppered throughout from old-school sunglasses to dialogues that reference famous Terminator lines. For those new to the franchise, this no-frills action-packed fiercely female adventure is still a fun rid