TERMINATOR: DARK FATE review by Mark Walters – DEADPOOL’s director brings Sarah Connor back

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE review by Mark Walters – DEADPOOL’s director brings Sarah Connor back

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These days, a TERMINATOR sequel has its work cut out for it, as the lackluster sequels have left fans rather complacent. TERMINATOR: DARK FATE could either be the nail in the coffin, or a much-needed shot in the arm for the fandom. James Cameron is producing, Tim Miller (DEADPOOL) is directing, and both Linda Hamilton AND Arnold Schwarzenegger are back. The newest faces include Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, as I do love the first two films… heck, I even liked the third film more than most, but the other sequels just seemed like mishandled dreck. Considering all the players involved here, I was cautiously optimistic going into the screening, and to the surprise of many the end result is actually quite good. It’s also worthy of note, this sequel is a direct sequel to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, basically ignoring all the other entries that followed.

The new film opens with the appearance of what seems like a new Terminator from the future, a tall and slender woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) who materializes under a bridge in Mexico. We’re then introduced to a young woman named Dani (Reyes) and her brother Diego (Boneta) who are heading to their jobs at a local factory. As they leave, a different Terminator (we later learn is called a “Rev-9”) materializes in their apartment complex, a sort of next evolution of the shape shifting style Terminator we saw in T2, only much more advanced and deadly (played by Gabriel Luna). Both of these figures from the future follow Dani and Diego to their factory, Grace just barely stops Rev-9 from killing the siblings, and the three of them escape with the murderous machine in hot pursuit. The daring escape is pretty intense, but made more exciting when they’re intercepted by a heavily armed Sarah Connor (Hamilton). She helps them slip away, eventually explains who she is, and Grace explains her mission – we also discover Grace is actually a cybernetically-enhanced human soldier, not a Terminator. We learn that Sarah’s original attempt to stop a bleak future was a failure by being somewhat course corrected, and now a new similar bleak future has been created. Essentially, bringing down Skynet didn’t stop the machines from becoming self-aware in new and different ways. Through a clever line of dialogue, we’re told that this pattern could keep repeating, no matter how many times they win… which of course opens up possibilities for several more Terminator stories. As Rev-9 keeps catching up to them, the trio eventually find their way to a mysterious location that has been texting Sarah secret info about Terminators for years. What they find there is a T-800 model (Arnold, of course) that Conner knows all too well, and isn’t very happy to see, now significantly aged and living a quiet seemingly normal life undercover as a drapery salesman named “Carl” – let’s just say he’s now a very unlikely, albeit necessary ally.

While DARK FATE isn’t anything terribly new story-wise, what is there is very well executed and entertaining. Many critics have made comparisons with this film to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, in that if feels more like a loose remake of something we all loved rather than a daring new tale. They follow the template laid out by TERMINATOR 2 somewhat closely (and safely), with a few surprises along the way. But it works, and at times it works really well. Both Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are used quite effectively, and come across pretty bad-ass when it’s all said and done. But make no mistake, this is Linda’s movie for sure, and she’s right at home in the role. Hamilton is showing her age naturally, and it’s refreshing to see her familiar face and that character played confidently, almost as if she never left the persona. Arnold actually doesn’t show up until the third act of the movie, and honestly doesn’t have very much dialogue, but they do some interesting things with his character that are rather smart and at times really funny. I also love the reversed dynamic from T2, in that before Sarah was reluctant to trust the T-800 to protect her son John, and here she literally HATES the T-800 despite having to use his assistance to protect Dani. It helps make the movie a lesson in forgiveness and moving on in a very subtle way.

Mackenzie Davis is really solid and impressive as Grace, a perfect cinematic tough girl that will likely win over even the most cynical fanboys in the audience. She’s terrific as the brave soldier who refuses to give up, and plays her part masterfully. Davis has been popping up in several movies recently, but this film will undoubtedly make her a star. Not once did she look unconvincing in the sometimes brutal fight sequences. Natalia Reyes is quite good as Dani, the unprepared new savior of our still bleak future. Her character has a great metamorphosis as the story plays out, and I was very impressed with how she handled things here. And Gabriel Luna is an absolute beast as Rev-9, cold and sinister when necessary, easily the deadliest evil Terminator we’ve seen to date, genuinely scary at times. I can only imagine how difficult it was to film his intense scenes, but he looks perfectly imposing in every frame. Diego Boneta’s role is sadly brief here, so those looking forward to seeing him in the story may leave feeling a big cheated, but when he is on screen he’s definitely very likable.

Director Tim Miller already proved he could handle action competently in DEADPOOL, and what he brings to DARK FATE above all else is killer action sequences, probably the very best of any TERMINATOR movie to date. Whether it’s a fight scene, a chase sequence, or mid-air gunfight, the excitement on screen is really effective, creative and impressive. Miller also isn’t afraid to have his heroes get the crap kicked out of them in sometimes very painful ways. He handles the characters well, and all have great chemistry. There’s a few shortcomings that keep this from being an A+ entry, it doesn’t quite have the charm and polish that T2 does, but what is on display is handled so well that it finally feels like we have a worthy sequel to the popular franchise… a sequel that will help you forgive the misfires that came before it. At two hours and 8 minutes, it does feel a little overindulgent toward the end, but never overly long. Perhaps my only complaint was not seeing more of the new future. There was an opportunity to spend some significant time in a futuristic setting, and tell more of that side of the story (which has some scary visuals), but instead we get the typical brief flashes of what’s to come, told by way of flashbacks (or uh, flashforwards?). I’ll end with this, if you’re a TERMINATOR fan, you’re very likely going to be happy… I know I was. TERMINATOR 2 is still the best of the franchise, but DARK FATE makes for one very satisfying follow-up.

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE opens November 1, 2019

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.