Tim Miller (director)
2h 08mins (length)
24 October 2019 (released)
04 November 2019
Few franchises can be said to have changed movies more than The Terminator.
The original 1984 film turned B-movie science-fiction into blockbuster material, Arnold Schwarzenegger into a pop culture icon, and James Cameron into a box office behemoth. Its 1991 sequel pioneered computer effects that are now used in every blockbuster.
However, since then it has become a victim of its own success. Without Cameron, the three subsequent sequels have felt like tired money-making exercises capitalising on past successes, while its creator and the movie industry moved on to greener pastures.
Cameron has now returned to produce a sixth film, Terminator: Dark Fate, helmed by Deadpool director Tim Miller, that recaptures some of the old magic. Original star Linda Hamilton is also back as Sarah Connor in a film that niftily uses its time-travelling conceit to give a clapped-out franchise a do-over.
That conceit is that the future predicted in the original two films never happened. But that far from averting a painful machine-led apocalypse, it just created another similar one. Skynet - the original digital big bad has been replaced by Legion - an intelligent weapons system that has all but wiped out humanity.
In the present, we meet Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young woman working in a car plant in Mexico City, who, like Sarah Connor once was, is being hunted by a Terminator sent from the future. Like in the first movie, a protector named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back to thwart the seemingly indomitable machine. Grace is human but augmented to possess strength that means she can, for short periods, match the newest version of the Terminator, this time in the guise of a remorseless Gabriel Luna, whose performance owes a lot to Robert Patrick's T-1000 from the second film. Joining them in battle is Sarah - who hunts for new killing machines sent back to Earth to give herself purpose.
The film's setting in Mexico and America's borderlands isn't just a timely nod to the U.S.'s turmoil over immigration from its southern neighbour, but offers Miller the opportunity to recreate the stripped-back nature of the first film and the striking aesthetics of the second - with Luna's new Terminator carrying out its mission against a backdrop of cluttered Mexican freeways, an immigration camp, and desert military bases.
It also follows, more or less, the structure of Cameron's originals - with Grace playing the role of protector to Dani. Sarah and Schwarzenegger's Terminator - when he returns from his blissful retirement - at times feel tagged on to establish a concrete connection with its source material - but do provide a subplot that provides some laughs and emotional moments.
There's also something of a corrective to the first two movies - which ostensibly had a female lead but often used her as an instrument for its male characters - be it Kyle Reese in the first film or Arnie's Terminator turned good in the second. It is not incidental that Grace is female - Kylie, rather than Kyle, if you will - and Reyes and Davis make a compelling duo, complemented by the more weathered and cantankerous Hamilton.
That said, there's nothing in the film that will astound like The Terminator franchise once did. It's still a reboot, still ticking boxes, and is occasionally perfunctory and predictable. But Miller has also made a film that goes back to the basics that made the first two films so appealing - a simple story and the raw emotions necessary to counterbalance the complex ideas about time travel, artificial intelligence, and human ingenuity, and the impressive, but not overwhelming special effects.