Directed by: Tim Miller
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes
The Terminator franchise has fallen on hard times. The first two films, the second in particular, are science fiction classics. The third film wasn’t bad, just a bit of a me-too situation. The two films that followed the original trilogy were just pain terrible. No flowery words needed to describe those films, they just sucked. So, everyone thought there would be a break after the two film suckage, but nope Skydance, Paramount and crew just kept pushing forward on the next installment. They did however make some good choices with Terminator: Dark Fate including bringing James Cameron back in an advisory role and adding Tim Miller, director of Deadpool in the director’s chair.
This film and franchise is literally mirroring another high-profile franchise in nearly every way, Halloween. A talented fan of the franchise is brought on to direct, the original creator is brought in to advise the team, and the older grizzled female lead from the original film is brought back to reinvigorate the franchise with what made the original films so good. I mean, Linda Hamilton is very clearly playing the same character as Jamie Lee Curtis plays in Halloween. She’s a badass heroine, but somewhat insane and even an alcoholic. The thing is all of that love didn’t do much for the new Halloween film, but it did work better for the Terminator.
Dark fate does return to the roots of the franchise, a road picture with a climactic end battle. That’s the formula that worked in the first two films and it feels like an old comfortable pair of shoes to see the franchise back in that formula. Our hero this time is not John Connor though: this time it is Danny Ramos, a young woman whose future decisions will change the course of mankind. Our protector two, is something new and different, a female Terminator named Grace. She’s a badass fighter as all Terminators are, but she’s not the unstoppable killing machine that the classic T-800 was; she’s something new and much more complex. Then we have Sarah Connor, still the protector, even more badass than she was in her youth, but also even more tortured. We have had female terminators and heroes in the franchise before but this is the first installment fully led by female characters. This is also the most diverse installment of the franchise with Dani being Mexican, and the first part of the film being set in Mexico. The Terminator films, at least the first two, have always had a little bit of social commentary, but this film is able to bring more commentary to the game with the setting and new characters. There is a great comparison to the way immigrants are treated at the Mexico/U.S. border and the way humans are treated by the new Terminator, the Rev 9. The Rev 9 is played by Gabriel Luna and overall I just felt he was fine, nothing to write home about. No other actor has been able to bring something new and fresh to the traditional Terminator villain since Arnold slapped on the leather jacket and Jason Patrick melted into the floor. Speaking of the old-school T-800 he’s back and he hasn’t been this much fun since Terminator 2. This version of the T-800 has existed longer than he was ever meant to, so his programming has needed to adapt and find new objectives to continue existing. It’s a lot of fun.
So, with all of that set up, how is the film? Generally speaking, it’s pretty good. Dark Fate isn’t groundbreaking in the franchise in the way that T2 was but it’s a better more adeptly directed story than both Genesis and Salvation. It’s also a more unique story, while still holding to the tropes of the franchise, than Terminator 3 was. So it is easily the third best Terminator film. Grizzly Linda Hamilton is fun to watch, outside of one or two scenes that should have been shot just one more time, and Arnold is a real evolution of the classic Terminator. Reyes is fine as Dani. It’s not that she’s bad because she isn’t, she just doesn’t have the onscreen presence to exist beside the other three leads. This is Mackenzie Davis’ film. She manages to grab attention even onscreen with Schwarzenegger and Hamilton. Her character is complex and her execution of action is believable. The new villain Terminator has a cool ability but is only adequately played by Luna. This also brings into focus one of the odd problems with this film, the cgi. The fx are such a mixed bag that when something is particularly good or bad it’s jarring. There’s some de-aging at the beginning of the film that is jaw dropping, then there’s some Rev 9 sequences that look like cheap Photoshop work. Sadly, the vast majority of the fx are on the cheaper looking side. All of that said, had Terminator: Dark Fate been the fourth film in the franchise I believe it would have done incredible box office numbers. It’s solid sci-fi fun with a heart and something to say.
The argument for and against physical media is raging and this 4k release is a shot in the arm to physical media enthusiasts. The film was finished for theaters in full 4k so the Blu-ray is not upscale like so many other 4k releases, it’s a true native 4k disc. The detail is incredible. Every wrinkle in Linda Hamilton’s face cane easily be seen, individual hairs in Schwarzenegger’s beard can be counted in close-ups. The HDR color grading isn’t as dim as many other current releases. In fact, the overall look is pretty bright. The 1080p Blu-ray looks blown and oversaturated in many scenes where the 4k has beautiful color balance and even in scenes where it appears a bit washed out it’s accurate to the source material as it was shown in theaters. Black levels could be just a little darker and cgi doesn’t look as good as it should, but generally speaking this 4k is demo worthy, one of the best of the last few years. The digital stream in comparison is compressed and looks more like the 1080p version. Also, if you have the system to support it, this atmos sound mix is pretty killer. While I’d love for the overhead speakers to have been just a little more active the subwoofers got tons of attention. The low end in this film is fantastic. The overheads to get some great moments though, especially toward the end of the movie on the airplane.
Terminator: Dark Fate is a fun science fiction ride with thoughtful moments of commentary, some exciting action, and something to say. It’s better than I anticipated and it deserves your attention. The film does set a new direction for the franchise that some fans may not appreciate but I’m thrilled for a fresh approach to what comes next.