Burn, Hollywood, Burn
A regular review by John Black
So let’s get the plot of the Terminator saga straight: Big bad Arnold Swarze-wish-I-could-spell-his-name was sent from a future of sentient machines to our past to kill the mother of a future leader of a human rebellion against the machines. He failed so this future didn’t happen, but then another more advanced ‘terminator’ was sent back to finish the job but so was Arnie again, well not the same Arnie, but the same model, only this time he was on the human side. He succeeded but then yet another terminator Arnie was sent back and he actually killed the guy, so the future changed and now in the latest movie a new terminator is sent back through time AGAIN…
‘I’ll be back’ alright. Back with a blackboard and a degree in theoretical Physics. The Terminator timeline has more loops than the Raurimu spiral and is harder to understand than a Japanese washing machine manual. Best to put all that aside and just enjoy the film for what it is – a tits and car chases kinda deal, with the ‘tits’ part a bit complicated, but more of that later.
There have been 5 previous Terminator flicks, but this retraces its steps to the last good one (T2) and takes up the story from there. The latest Halloween did the same thing, a sort of cinematic colonic irrigation– clearing out all crap sequels for a healthier restart.
Like earlier incarnations, the film begins with the arrival of the terminator buck naked – always a great way to start a movie. The new model, a ‘Rev-9’, retains the chief gimmick of T2 – the ability to assume a liquid form and re-solidify at will. It is also able to split in two, leaving its skeletal form behind and enabling some pretty useful multi-tasking. The Rev-9’s arrival is quickly followed by Grace, an ‘augment’ – a cybernetically enhanced human – in the lithesome form of Mackenzie Davis. She looks a lot like the actress Robin Wright if Robin Wright had been stretched out on a medieval rack and forgotten about for a fortnight – she’s lean and long and believable as some kind of machine-human hybrid. She’s been sent back to save the Rev-9’s target – Dani Ramos, an unassuming Mexican girl.
But it’s the stalwarts of the series rather than these new characters that deliver. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, a now grizzled veteran of terminator fighting and Arnold as her nemesis, a terminator who has decided to settle down in our time as ‘Karl the draper’. Hamilton is suitably hardened and haunted, her unglamorous sixty-something face etched with grief for her son and by her continual attempts to avert the apocalypse. Arnie plays Karl for laughs and shows that his limited range includes fine instincts for comedy. I guess a man that was once a walking anatomy chart with a thick foreign accent who managed to become one of the world’s biggest movie stars knows what funny is.
It is the three ladies we spend most screen time with. Yes, it does become a little girl-powery, especially with a revelation about the importance of Dani. And yes, the trope of the kick-ass lady dealing it out to men, is becoming a mite annoying lately. I guess we just have to accept that this is a power fantasy that cinema is now going to cater for – much like it has to adolescent male power fantasies with the superhero movie. But what stops it from becoming obnoxious is the key part that the old guy Arnie plays (O.K the old guy android Arnie plays.)
As you’d expect with anything James Cameron is involved with, the special effects are seamless and at times overwhelming. It’s all a slick package of popcorn entertainment with a slight social justice edge.
Terminator: Dark Fate was produced by Paramount Pictures, the same studio once headed by the infamous Robert Evans who died last week aged 89. During his reign, Paramount produced The Godfather, Chinatown and The Odd Couple. Now that same studio churns out hi-tech action spectacles like this and last month’s Gemini Man. Only a few decades ago, cutting edge blockbuster entertainment could mean a human story with emotional resonance. Now if there isn’t CGI in the first ten minutes and five things exploding at you, it’s only for your nana.
In Terminator Dark: Fate, the humans and their computer foes seem evenly matched. In the real world, it looks like the computers are winning.
But that’s just my opinion, and as Dirty Harry says ‘opinions are like assholes: everybody has one’.