Just like Judgement Day itself, it seems that no matter what gets in its way nothing can stop new incarnations of the Terminator franchise from being unleashed onto the world. Unlike the previous three feature films however, original creator James Cameron chose to keep up with the Connors himself this time round, taking on the mantles of producer, writer, and creative consultant to keep a closer eye on things. Apparently he learnt his lesson after having previously showered Terminator Genisys with applause all the way until critics and audiences perhaps more wisely decided not to.
But while picking up the pieces from where he left off after 1991’s T2: Judgement Day may be one thing, right from the start Terminator: Dark Fate shows that piecing them back together in the same way isn’t quite what you’d expect. In a film where the old and the new collide it isn’t long before the new takes over, albeit in a very familiar way. The arrival of time travellers in a Terminator film is hardly something to be called “exposition” anymore, although at least this time round the build up to the all too recognisable concept is given a welcomed sense of added tension for those who didn’t grow up with previous instalments. Likewise the fall from Grace and acrobatic swiftness of the travellers themselves let you immediately know who’s who, and the film doesn’t let off from there.
Like being chased by a Terminator itself, naturally the first set piece isn’t far behind the arrivals and it’s immediately obvious that even though Dark Fate may have ignored more previous films than it follows in terms of narrative, it still has to take note of Genisys, Salvation, and even Rise of the Machines, in terms of escalation. Initially it seems as though they just went too much bang for their buck and didn’t even bother hiding the ‘just another cash in’ attempt, likewise there’s not much more you can do with John Connor after becoming a Terminator himself, and it does take a while for Dark Fate‘s bold new direction to pay off.
Given time though, once the adrenaline has worn off the film’s true colours do begin to shine through. Linda Hamilton returns as an older and wiser – albeit scarred – Sarah Connor just like an old friend, in much the same way that John Connor being portrayed once more by Edward Furlong immediately makes you wonder why you accepted any others.
It also takes a while for the full impact of this latest Terminator’s presence as a new threat for a new era to be fully realised, although this is something which Dark Fate shows no attempt at trying to hide as the film progresses. Perhaps the only time the film pulls less punches than its connection between a Terminator’s watchful eye and that of an airborne drone is its portrayal of US/Mexican relations.
But while this may be a Terminator headed in a new direction through a present that is all too familiar, it is also one which is heading for the same destination as its predecessors. “Cyberdyne” and “Skynet” may have been stopped, but the future which replaces them is identical in all but name and so Dark Fate wisely takes this as read and focuses on the characters it has forged instead. And while fresher faces may be given their fair share of chances to shine, like everything else its all about the past as much as the future.
It’s no spoiler to say that Arnie’s role becomes obvious as soon as it’s signposted long before he makes his appearance, although like so much else within the film’s 2hr 8min runtime, this is played for its emotional impact on its characters, knowing as it does that trying to surprise its audience is often the other side of pointless. Meanwhile Sarah can’t help but see herself in Dani (Natalia Reyes), this new future’s chosen target, a similarity which allows herself to be a greater mentor than human+ saviour Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and continues the role of protector that is the hand she was dealt after the events of Cameron’s 1984 original.
The adoption of Dani and Grace into the Connor family unit continues the Terminator tradition of saving the world as a by-product of saving the ones you love, and the fact that this time it is done so by a group in which white men are the minority and older women kick just as much ass as their younger counterparts also takes deliberate aim at the path that modern Hollywood and and the current political climate has been taking as much as the technological one.
As its title would suggest, the concept of fate – or at least the idea that there is none but that which we make for ourselves – is also one which runs throughout the film. Something which it handles with not much subtlety, but remarkably well for a narrative which relies on predeterminism for its very existence.
Even for a formulaic series Dark Fate stands out as much as a remake as a sequel, but like 2009’s Star Trek is at least able to use its time travel standings to simultaneously continue the very same story it’s retelling. As part three of this franchise’s latest (and hopefully final) attempt at a cohesive cinematic narrative beyond Judgement Day, Terminator: Dark Fate is one that brings together ideas from the past and projects them towards the future. And there’s no time like the present.