Why make another Terminator movie, and why now, in 2019? The blunt answer is that the first two Terminator movies are still stone cold classics in an action genre where fashions change rapidly. Dark Fate brings back the three key figures in the franchise in Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, none of whom are getting any younger, so if there was ever going to be a franchise capper, it’s now or never.
Dark Fate wisely ignores the mind-numbing scribble of character development in terms of resistance fighter John Connor that took place in the last three movies. In fact, the character is killed off in the opening scenes, shot by a terminator (Schwarzenegger) on a Guatemalan beach in 1998 while his mother (Hamilton) looks helplessly on. This could have felt like a let down, like killing Newt at the start of Alien 3; after all, we’ve been substantially invested in keeping Connor alive, so it’s something of a bummer to see him die. But his death opens up some prime real estate in terms of new and revived story developments, and Tim Miller makes the most of a chance to repurpose the vibe of the original films with new ethnically and gender-diverse characters.
In a fresh Mexico City opening, we meet Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who works in a mechanised car-plant, and finds herself caught in a scrap between two terminators sent from the future; soldier/assassin Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and Rev-9 (Gabriel Lunas). Rev-9’s pursuit of Dani spills out onto the highway for a big-scale chase with explosions, fireballs and all the action that you’d expect a Terminator movie to deliver; if you didn’t sign up for large-scale physical destruction, you can probably still catch Downtown Abbey in the screen next door. Sarah Connor is to the rescue, and Dani and Grace join her for a race to find the terminator who killed her sone before Rev-9 gets to them first.
Dark Fate has Cameron’s name attached as producer, and it doesn’t let the memory of the original films down by cannily referencing the original look (old-school armoured grunts in the flash back/forwards), and savvy feel (neat techno details like Sarah Connor hiding her phone in a foil potato-chip bag). It takes a good hour to get to Schwarzenegger’s terminator, but the pace doesn’t lag and Hamilton takes her place at the centre of the film with aplomb; she drives the emotional pull of the film, mourning her son and hunting down the future terminators with verve. “You don’t fight it, you run from it,’ Connor notes of the terminators, and the real key ingredient here is the sense of momentum that the last three Terminator movies lacked.
Any movie that starts with the lines ‘there once was a future…’ knows that there are inherent paradoxes in any time-travel story, but when the action hung on the premise is so large in scale, Terminator:Dark Fate will satisfy the fans in a way that the franchise hasn’t since 1990. Maybe the terminator will be back some day, but not with this cast, so to paraphrase C3P0, it’s time to take one last look at some old friends.