Fun fact: Back in early 2015, in a universe that feels so forgotten in this apocalyptic day and age, I had the privilege of visiting San Francisco. And my family and I were staying at a Fairmont the night a scene from Terminator Genisys was being filmed in the hotel basement. I to this day don’t know which exact scene because I’ve never seen the film. The only Terminator film I’d seen before this one was the 1984 original, and I had a supremely fun time with it, awarding it an A. Despite that, I never went on to continuing onto Judgment Day and the other several sequels of this franchise. I don’t know why – maybe it just felt daunting to have to watch that many robot movies, and maybe after I liked the first three Transformers movies but hated the fourth one to the point where I never saw the fifth nor Bumblebee, maybe I just felt it was time for a break from big robot films. But I guess that tiredness has worn off.
Something I learned via this movie that everyone else must’ve already known is the Terminator movies depend on time travel. And I guess the more I think about it, the more I shouldn’t be surprised. The first Terminator was all about the killing machine being sent from the future to stop a leader from being born. Well, for reasons unknown to us but known to Grace, a cyborg that swears she is a human but just enhanced, an R-9 terminator is after Daniella “Dani” Ramos, a Latina girl probably a little older than me who works with her brother Diego at a factory slowly being taken over by, unironically, automation. One of the many parts of this R-9 that makes him an assassin you dare not come across is he has shape shifting powers, the creepiest thing being that to take a human being’s form, that human being must die for proper transitioning. Not to mention he’s just like the Venom supervillain, in that he has the ability to deconstruct into a splatter on the ground and resurface. We still don’t know why it’s targeting Daniella, but Grace rescues the two and it’s not a few minutes later when we stumble across a familiar face, and Grace ends up in more desperate, immediate need of medication than anyone else you’ll encounter. With the world of 2020 having constant surveillance systems the being from 2042 can easily tap, nowhere is safe. So how in the world can they be escape? Or should that even be the goal?
My favourite thing about the 1984 original was its terrifying and chilling climax, the Terminator having just killed her boyfriend and she, as a regular lady with the sole crime of being the mother of the future rebellion leader, has to escape through a tight squeeze with broken legs. Realizing where the special photo was taken chilled me as well, almost as much as Linda Hamilton’s “You’re terminated, b**ch!” line. In that moment, I simply understood why that film still has the impact it does on action movies, showing the main characters and their desires are more important than incredible special effects.
The action scenes are each about 10 minutes, the creators coming up with a variety of excuses to keep the blood pumping, from a snapping cable as a truck’s wheels are being spat on by the Hoover Dam waterfall, right after it survived being thrown out of the sky thousands of feet high up. The protagonists have that familiar charm, in different ways. The reunion of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor is an undeniable treat. She did her comeback even better than Jamie Lee Curtis did last year for the Halloween sequel/remake. Hamilton is simply spine-chilling, angry yet completely likable. Also, there’s a scene that takes place in a U.S. detention facility, as well as the cruel interception of border crossing. I appreciate it when blockbuster films are willing to help spread awareness to real-world issues, and give a voice on a loud-enough level to ask, “Are we really in favour of treating these people the way we are? One of them could be being chased by a psychomaniac.” I also can’t deny how refreshing it is for most of this movie to be taking place in Mexico, with a pretty positive view of it. When Grace is forced to steal from a pharmacy and she ends up so weak she’s unable to move, despite the fact she’s stealing, a pharmacist is willing to help her out. That was very sweet. A twist involving Dani was also empowering.
It doesn’t end up reaching the heights I know it could’ve, for a few reasons. The end sequence pales in comparison to the first Terminator, for a reason you’ll understand if you see it. I had a mixed reaction to an early character death, because while I feel it could’ve happened in the middle to make us more sad, having it take place early does allow for the movie’s protagonists to feel more independent, for a reason you’ll understand if you see the movie. The R-9 and the main body it takes ends up a bit of a weak villain compared to the protagonists, and there’s a reason why. The actor playing R-9 just isn’t quite ferocious-looking enough to make up for the fact he’s a machine acting on programmed orders to kill Dani, making him a bad guy not very fun to hate. His constant healing also begins to feel a little ridiculous. I almost got the impression the screenwriters were hoping for a rewrite to make R-9 less indestructible but couldn’t do it in time.
Even so, Dark Fate still includes nostalgic reunions, loads of unconventional action scenes, and three badass female protagonists, and the result is a popcorn-worthy ride that’s generous with the stab wounds. Most other reviewers who have been more on board with this franchise have written how this is the first quite decent Terminator since the legendary Judgment Day, and I can’t confirm or deny my opinion of that statement until I’ve seen the other Terminator movies, but I can tell Dark Fate has metallic legs to stand on, and not just for support.