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Movie Review:"Dark Fate" Is The "Force Awakens" of the Terminator Series

Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Mackenzie Davis, 
Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta
Screenplay by David S. Goyer & Justin Rhodes & Billy Ray
Directed by Tim Miller

Reviewed by Patrick Gibbs

 Out of Four

It's been 20 years since the release of Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace, and a lot of disgruntled fans of the original trilogy are still trashing it, and many enthusiastically embraced The Force Awakens as a return to form (albeit one that played things very safely and covered very familiar territory). But whatever your opinion of the prequels, there's no denying (okay, no legitimate denying) the fact that the franchise belongs to creator George Lucas and it was his right to take it in the direction of his choice. But that's not the case with 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or its subsequent sequels/reboots, all of which were done without the involvement of writer-director James Cameron. The Hollywood icon lost the rights to the franchise was forced to stand on the sidelines and let it play out without him for over a decade until he finally regained the rights after the last film, Terminator: Genisys, brought the series to an all-time low both artistically and at the box office.

Mackenzie Davis as Grace.
(Images Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media)
The latest film ignores the last three, giving us what is essentially an alternate Terminator 3. The story is set in 2020, where a young woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) appears on the outskirts of Mexico City, arriving in the standard crackle of blue light, and completely naked as per SOP for time travel in this series. Grace is followed by a Terminator (Gabriel Luna), an advanced Rev-9 model.

The Rev-9's mission is to terminate a young factory worker named Daniella "Dani" Ramos (Natalia Reyes), and Grace is there to save her. Grace is an "Augment" - a cybernetically enhanced human - and it able to more than hold her own in a fight, but the Rev- 9 is a formidable adversary even by Terminator standards, able to separate his poly alloy exterior from his endoskeleton and essentially become two bad ass robots for the price of one. But just when things look darkest for our heroines, a heavily armed and stoic hero in sunglasses shows up to save the day: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor.
(Images Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media)
Anyone who has seen the trailers (and who hasn't) knows the basic setup, and also knows that eventually they add another member (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to the team. It's very fortunate given the over saturation of clips that are out there to advertise the film that this isn't a movie about big surprises: the few twists and turns in the plot can be seen coming from miles away, and the basic structure follows the T2 formula almost slavishly. Terminator: Dark Fate is about thrills, tight pacing and emotionally resonant characters, and it delivers all of these things in spectacular fashion.

There's no getting around the fact that at this point, we've seen this done many times. But while director Tim Miller (Deadpool) may not be James Cameron, he has a much stronger handle on the material than the directors of the non-canon sequels, he knows how to stage action, and he also has Cameron looking over his shoulder to point him in the right direction.

The performances are a big part of what makes the movie work, with Hamilton putting everything she's got into her return to the role that made her famous. Rise of the Machines and Salvation made the mistake of believing that the series was about John Connor, when in reality the protagonist has always been Sarah. While Genisys at least remembered this fact, that was literally the only thing it did right. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a surprising soulful and melancholy performance in what is easily the most interesting incarnation since we were first introduced to the idea of him as a hero in these films, and he lights up the screen every moment he is on it. When you compare what they've done here with the glib and self conscious in jokes of T3, I found myself hoping that the director of that film, Jonathan Mostow, was watching and feeling a bit embarrassed about it. But as good as the veterans are, much like the new Star Wars films, this really rests on the shoulder of the next generation. Mackenzie Davis, a personal favorite who shone brightly in The Martian, Blade Runner 2049 and Tully, is a unique screen presence, and she makes a great action star. The largely unknown Natalia Reyes is quite a discovery, and she just keeps getting better as the movie progresses. The fact that both characters feel a bit underdeveloped is a result of rushed storytelling and some corny dialogue, not anything that these fine actresses are doing. If there is a weak link in the main cast it is Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9, and it's not that he is bad, he just doesn't get to do more than run in Robert Patrick's footsteps.

After 28 years, this time he really is back.
(Images Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media)
The movie still must to battle the feeling that this all reached a natural an extremely satisfying conclusion 28 years ago, and there is at least one major choice that is likely to ruffle the feathers of some fans. Still, it's hard to think of a once great Hollywood property that veered as far off course as the Terminator series, and this is about as satisfying a course correction as we could ask for without travelling back in time for real, and after a month of mediocre blockbusters (no, I did not forget about Joker, but I would wager heavily that the public will do so much sooner than they think they will), this is a promising start to the holiday movie going season.

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