Terminator: Dark Fate
Going back and undoing a canon is one of those things we find Hollywood doing more frequently when it wants to reboot a franchise whose mythology has grown so large and expansive—or troubled—that screenwriters or filmmakers feel they need to wipe the slate clean to have the creative freedom to move forward. The Star Wars universe saw a large number of extended-universe books removed from its canon after Disney bought the property from Lucasfilm, as did the latest X-Men Days of Future Past and Dark Phoenix, which saw characters previously killed off returned to life.
(I felt these were examples of “retconning”—or retroactive continuity—where plot holes are adjusted, corrected, or explained after the fact, such as Rogue One’s explanation that the Death Star’s fateful port hole was actually not just a design flaw on the Empire’s side, but rather a bit of purposeful subversive engineering. However, Cineluxe’s resident film reviewer and expert
on all things meta explained to me that removing things from a canon is not a retcon.)
Call it what you will, the latest Terminator film, Dark Fate, basically wipes the slate clean and says this movie is the only true sequel to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, removing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), Terminator Genisys (2015), and the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008–2009) from the canon.
Admittedly, none of the works following Judgment Day lived up to the initial greatness of the franchise, but I found them
all to have their moments, especially the extended director’s cut of Salvation, which featured solid performances by Christian Bale as John Connor, leader of the resistance, and Sam Worthington as part man/part cyborg Marcus Wright. Special effects continued to improve, and each story worked to flesh out the Terminator universe.
Terminator creator James Cameron lost the rights to his own story, and when he declined to do an original third film, Hollywood went on without him. However, creative control returned to Cameron in 2018, and he finally set about making the sequel on his terms.
According to Cameron, who has writing and producing credits and also had his hand in the film’s editing, “This new film has recaptured the tone of those first two films. It’s gritty, it’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s just a white-knuckle ride.”
Dark Fate is packed with action almost from the first frame, and has very little downtime, with just a few expository scenes explaining who our new heroes are, what Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton reprising her role) and a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger also reprising his role) have been up to these past years, and what the stakes are this time around.
The film opens three years following the events of Judgment Day, with digitally de-aged versions of three main characters setting the stage for the rest of the film. The de-aging (shown below) is so well done it made me wonder if this was footage restored from Terminator 2. Just two minutes in you get a very clear message that Cameron and team aren’t screwing around and will be taking this film in new directions when one character is brutally killed off.
From a storytelling standpoint, Dark Fate doesn’t really offer much we haven’t seen covered in previous Terminator films. We have a new and improved REV-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) sent back in time by Legion, the future AI ruling group built for cyber warfare, to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who will become the new future leader of the resistance. Of course, the resistance counters by sending back a protector, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is a cybernetically augmented and enhanced human able to fight toe-to-toe with Terminators, though only for short, intense bouts.
What it offers is just a bigger, more over-the-top, and evolved version of what we’ve seen before. The Terminators have advanced, and the REV-9 is a combination cybernetic endoskeleton with a shapeshifting liquid metal exterior that can split into two parts, doubling its fighting and killing power. With Grace, we have a far more capable human; stronger, faster, smarter, and more lethal. The fights, chases, and explosions are all bigger, faster, better choreographed, and more devastating.
My wife and I both enjoyed the movie. It kept you engaged and entertained with non-stop action that kept ratcheting up in intensity. It was great to see Hamilton back in action as Connor, and Arnold offering a different take as a Terminator that has lived among humans for 22 years with no mission to carry out and trying to fit in. Mackenzie also does a great job as Grace, her near-6-foot height making her a believably imposing fighter. I felt they could have done a bit better with the casting or acting by Luna, as he doesn’t quite capture the relentless steel-eyed-killer persona mastered by Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in T2.
Filmed in ArriRaw at 4.5K, Terminator: Dark Fate is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate. But it doesn’t have that razor-sharp detail of many modern 4K films, and I actually thought it had been sourced from a 2K DI.
I found image quality to be far more organic and film-like than typical digital capture, with long shots and interiors on the softer side than what we’re used to seeing. This isn’t meant as a knock, as images are clean and noise-free, and look great in closeup, revealing every mark, scar, and wound on Grace’s body and every detail of the REV-9’s endoskeleton construction; rather, stylistically, this movie looked more like film than video. Oddly, the very last scene appears to be very sharp, definitely
visually different from what came before it. Whether this was done by design (the future looks bright!) or just happenstance I can’t say.
It also takes a very mild hand at the HDR pass, having blacks that are generally dark-dark-grey as opposed to inky-black. Many of the scenes also have a very muted, earth-tone color palette, not lending themselves to colors capable of taking advantage of HDR’s wider gamut. Even early explosions don’t have much visual intensity, though scenes later in the film appear more vibrant.
Sonically, however, this Dolby Atmos soundtrack is reference throughout, with the sound-mix team never missing a chance to squeeze every note of atmospheric sound from a scene. From the opening moments, there are organic, textural sounds of waves breaking, water running through sand, and a crackling fire that distinctly place you in the moment. Nearly every subtle moment fills the room with sounds of wind blowing, leaves rustling and trees rubbing together, to the more dynamic action sounds of machines and things flying along the sides of the room and overhead, or water flooding all around you.
Bass is also flat-out aggressive and powerful, having a ton of weight, crunch, and impact. Shotgun blasts are appropriately huge and brutal, punching you in the
chest with bass energy, with cars slamming into each other and explosions having real weight. The Dark Fate mix is active and exciting, and the stuff home theaters are made for.
This is not a cerebral film, and one that doesn’t add anything truly fresh to the Terminator story. Rather it’s a popcorn-munching, special-effects extravaganza with familiar lines echoed from new characters that will keep you entertained for its full runtime. It also features a truly immersive and intense sound mix that is sure to make you and your guests ooh and ahh.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.