Terminator: Dark Fate review: Plays to the franchise’s strengths - humour, great action scenes, and Arnie
Thirty five years ago, when the original Terminator was unleashed, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a little known Austrian actor and former Mr. Universe who was trying to become an action star. He wanted to play the hero, Kyle Reese, but James Cameron didn’t initially want him to play anyone, and only met with him to be polite.
When he did, however, Cameron had a brainwave, and realised that Arnie would be perfect as the hulking and remorseless T-800, a robot assassin sent back in time by the machines to kill Sarah Connor before she gives birth to a future resistance leader.
Schwarzenegger’s stilted delivery and strong accent only made the cyborg angle more convincing, but the Styrian Oak knew how to make fun of himself.
Terminator was brilliantly conceived and executed, became a huge hit and made Arnold a star. Cameron topped its success with a superb 1991 sequel that pushed high concept sci-fi and CGI effects to new and giddy heights. The franchise’s subsequent outings have been less convincing.
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Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation (which didn’t even have Arnie in it!) were grim, charmless affairs: enduring the latter felt a bit like watching World War One being reenacted by robots. And while the 2015 film Terminator Genisys restored both Schwarzenegger and the franchise’s sense of humour to their rightful places, its convoluted, time-tinkering plot would have given Einstein a headache.
Never mind about all that, says Cameron, who’s co-produced and co-written this one: Terminator: Dark Fate will ignore those three inferior sequels and act as a direct if tardy follow-up to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Wasn’t the T-800 melted down at the end of that one, I hear you ask? Well yes, but the whole idea of Terminators is that there’s lot of them, identikit killing machines tumbling off some futuristic assembly line. So in this film Arnie plays a different, older and strangely wise T-800, but more on him in a moment.
In Mexico, a clever young woman called Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is working at a car factory when her father turns up telling her she’s forgotten her lunch. It isn’t her dad at all of course, it’s an advanced, shape-shifting cyborg killer sent back from the 2040s to kill her before she can become an inspiring revolutionary leader. Happily, the future has also dispatched an antidote in the shape of Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a surgically enhanced human who delays the Terminator long enough for she and Dani to escape.
When they’re cornered again, who jumps out of a car armed to the teeth and crazier than ever only Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), heroine of the original two films. She blasts all hell out of the remorseless cyborg, but nothing short of a nuke it seems is going to stop this blessed thing. Then Grace reveals a body tattoo bearing the coordinates of someone who might be able to help them. Might it be Arnie?
It might, but this particular T-800 has spent so long in the company of humans that he wears slippers, sells curtains for a living and is in short as cuddly and wholesome as a puppy dog. A band of brothers is formed, as is the desperate plan of luring the pursuing Terminator into a trap.
Did we need a Terminator 6? We didn’t even need a Terminator 5, but at least this one has gone back to basics to some extent, and played to the franchise’s strengths - humour, great action scenes, and Arnie. It’s also copied the shit out of the earlier films, and T2 in particular, right down to an epic smash-up on the freeway and several of those oddly fascinating interludes when the melted Terminator forms an ever larger silvery puddle as it painstakingly reassembles itself.
Gabriel Luna plays the relentless cyborg, but it’s a thankless job as this particular machine has one expression and no gift for comedy. Schwartzy’s T-800 does, and might as well be wearing a plastic Groucho moustache and glasses set so effortlessly does he settle back into what is effectively a running stand-up routine replete with interior decorating jokes. And a lot of fun it is to.
Things are not dull before Schwartzenegger turns up, however, thanks to a very engaging all-action opening sequence and the presence of Linda Hamilton, who overacts now and then but retains her character’s raw charisma. Mackenzie Davis is good as Dani’s flesh and metal bodyguard, and for once the flash forwards into humanity’s grim future make a reasonable amount of sense.
It’s Sarah Connor, rather than Arnie’s suave and urban Terminator, who gets to utter the well-worn “I’ll be back” line in this film, but will any of them? I assure you, folks, that this will not be the last Terminator movie.
Also releeasing this week:
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The tech industry’s dominance of northern California’s economy has led to an aggressive gentrification of old San Francisco. Joe Talbot’s delightful drama wistfully bemoans this urban blanding out, and is loosely based on the real-life experiences of its star, Jimmy Fails.
Jimmy has never gotten over losing the grand, Victorian-looking house his grandfather built, and whenever the owners are out he paints window frames, tends the garden.
When they’re evicted, he and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) stage a covert occupation that leads to some surprising revelations.
This is a wonderful film, odd, eccentric, inventive, thoughtful, life-affirming.
By the Grace of God
Ours is not the only country blighted by clerical abuse, and Francois Ozon’s drama is based on a real scandal that took place in Lyons.
When family man and practising Catholic Alexandre Guerin (Melvil Poupard) discovers that a priest who abused him as a child is still in contact with children, he decides to take his case to the dioceses.
And while they politely stonewall, more and more cases come to light. Ozon’s thoughtful film focuses on the damage done to victims, and the various ways they’ve found to cope.
People are complex, and Alexandre still clings touchingly to his faith.
(No Cert, IFI, 137mins)
Black and Blue
At the start of Black and Blue, a fairly basic thriller with aspirations towards social relevance, Naomi Harris’s Alicia West is jogging when she’s stopped and harassed by New Orleans cops. She’s a cop too, but being both black and blue is no easy feat as she’s about to find out.
Alicia’s mistrusted by her colleagues, called Uncle Tom by her former neighbours, and when she witnesses a narcotics cop kill three unarmed black men, she’s forced to go on the run.
Black and Blue is solidly made but gets good and silly near the end: Ms. Harris though, is excellent.