YIN/YANG REVIEWS: Terminator: Dark Fate / Dolemite Is My Name
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Derek May
YIN: Terminator: Dark Fate
Look, I get it. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was quite frankly a masterpiece. It had it all; it was lighting in a bottle and became the gold standard for action movies ever since. And for the past three decades, the franchise has continued to pump out sequels promising to live up to that legacy—and to most audience’s eyes, have failed miserably. So you’re gun shy. You’ve been burned before. You’re tired. Arnold’s old. Why can’t we just leave it be?
But hear me out.
While Terminator: Dark Fate may not be as good as T2 (it’s honestly completely unrealistic to think it could be), the rumblings you’ve heard are true: it IS the best of the four subsequent sequels—by a wide margin—and delivers a strong story that spins the series in a new direction while staying true to and expanding on what was established in both Terminators 1 & 2.
First and foremost, let’s get something clear. Yes, Dark Fate does recycle previous story elements from the first two movies. Some see that as derivative and a negative. Normally I might agree, but not in this case (and not just because of my admitted bias as an Arnold and franchise fan). That recycling has been a hallmark of the series since T2 derived its core story from its predecessor, simply swapping Sarah as the target for John. In addition, unlike, for instance, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there is a legitimate reason to retrace our steps here. We’re dealing with the elements of time travel, fate, alternate timelines, etc. One of the major themes of DF is that changing circumstances does not necessarily change human nature, and without that, can you really hope to truly change the future? Or are you merely delaying the inevitable?
These philosophical questions are part of what makes this particular franchise so endearing. It’s a large part of why people were excited to have James Cameron return here as not only producer in name (as on Genisys), but as an active participant in the crafting and editing of the story. Cameron brings back his personal interpretation of the fictional future and the development of the characters who must deal with it. That is why Dark Fate is a worthy sequel, because we’re seeing the best of the old and the new and answering questions while raising all-new ones.
As you surely know, years ago, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son, John (Edward Furlong), stopped the artificial intelligence network Skynet from being created and destroying the world. But the new future that took its place led to much the same outcome, and now the machines of that timeline have sent back its own unstoppable killing machine, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), to hunt down seemingly inconsequential factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). As tends to happen, the “resistance” has sent back a protector, an enhanced human fighter named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Along the way, they get some assistance from grizzled veteran Sarah Connor and an equally aged T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Granted, that all sounds old hat, but stories are made in how they are told, and unlike the last time round, the marketing hasn’t blown its wad in the trailers, so there’s still plenty of plot and character to be revealed.
The narrative has some significant twists, with arguably its biggest coming in the first 5 minutes. I won’t spoil it, but it will be the moment that likely divides fans and either sets you on pace to enjoy the rest of the film or not. If you stick with it, you’ll see that the bold choice has major repercussions—some obvious, some quite subtle—in particular for two of the main characters. I think given the story being told here, it’s a risk that pays off; and in my humble opinion, it does not truly affect or diminish the previous films as some have argued (in a multiverse of possible futures, their actions still succeeded).
While the basic journey has our group of heroes racing to keep one step ahead of the Rev-9, the simplicity of that plot leaves plenty of room for both character development and action. One of the biggest draws is the return of Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and she’s not here for show. This is the same battle-hardened, tough-as-nails, takes-no-shit Sarah we’ve grown to love, but the scars that made her that way run deep. She’s still very vulnerable at her core, and somewhat rudderless after the future she was built for never came. When the opportunity to protect the woman who must endure the same trials and loss Sarah once did, she finds something of a renewal. Hamilton slips back into the role with ease, finding that beautiful balance between Sarah’s humanity and her cold, mission-driven detachment. Sarah treads that line between human and machine, making her interactions with both fellow humans and Terminators unique and often wrought with delicious friction. Though I can’t reveal why, her relationship with Arnold’s T-800 is something completely new and provides an impressive depth of drama between them.
Arnold’s return is nothing new, having stuck with the franchise through each film (even if in likeness). We’ve previously established that a Terminator’s skin ages like any organic structure; hence, we can accept Arnie’s age without too big a leap in logic. But having played a variety of Terminators over the years, keeping it fresh has been an ever-increasing challenge. But “Carl” may be the most intriguing take yet; there’s a humanity to him we’ve not seen before, allowing him to make his own choices away from his programming. Some of these elements likely derive from aspects of the former television series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles (if you haven’t seen it, do it—it’s brilliant!), which makes sense given that series creator and showrunner Josh Friedman helped craft the story. Suffice to say, Carl is an ingenious take on the role and a significant highlight of the film; and his fate, I’m not ashamed to say, brought on as many tears as the T-800’s did back in 1991.
As Grace, Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) certainly earns Hamilton’s mantle as a believable badass. Aside from putting in the obvious gym time, Davis has her own brand of no-nonsense intensity, balanced by a deeply rooted emotional sincerity. Like Sarah, she’s a character caught somewhere between human and machine, but unlike Connor’s maternal drive, Grace is fueled by a soldier’s loyalty and sense of purpose (along with some other hidden motivations). The combination of familiar and unique aspects makes Grace a worthy addition to the pantheon and one of the most original and interesting franchise characters in a long while. I was especially impressed how such a formidable warrior was given vulnerabilities that made her struggle to protect Dani all the more heroic.
Columbian actress Natalia Reyes storms onto the American scene by finding her own niche within the trio of formidable females. Though Dani is seemingly destined to share Sarah’s fate, not everything is set in stone. Reyes establishes Dani’s strength of will early on, and despite her tragedies, she mines that will to persevere and drive toward hope. She’s an inspiring character, and Reyes has both the endearing sweetness and underlying resolve to raise Dani above a simple damsel in need of saving. In fact, in many ways, she ends up saving her protectors, a beautiful and powerful sentiment.
Lastly, Gabriel Luna (best known as the Ghost Rider from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) brings a new dimension to his killer robot. While certainly staying true the stoic relentlessness of his machine brethren, this new Terminator has several novel abilities that make him the most formidable yet. We’ve seen, particularly from Robert Patrick’s T-1000, that Terminators can mimic human affability with disturbing precision. The Rev-9 takes that to another level, with Luna getting the chance to be a bit playful in certain scenes. But when needed, Luna nails that physical menace, doubled by the fact this version can separate his oily liquid-metal skin and his underlying endoskeleton. That gimmick serves a direct purpose, allowing for multiple threats requiring the combination of heroes to overcome.