Living in the current nostalgia playground, where technology lets us all share in the Halcyon days of old, it can be too easy to argue that things were better back in the day. This is especially true in the movie world, as countless classic franchises are being rebooted, reimagined and retooled for a new generation. In this same vein, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) reaches us from a worrying future, asking us to forget all the sequels since Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) - a very easy and cathartic task indeed, and although Dark Fate is enjoyable enough, it doesn’t compare to James Cameron’s mega sequel. So 28 years later, and what makes T2 so good and why does Dark Fate not compare, let’s take a look shall we? SPOILERS AHEAD!
What drives Terminator 2 is the relationship between Sarah Connor and her son John (Played by Edward Furlong, only to be glimpsed in fleeting roles since). Sarah has already grown from a scared young waitress in the original 1984 Terminator, into a tough, independent woman who has trained herself with military tactics, to help protect her son. When we meet John, he is an unruly teenager, listening to Guns n’ Roses and resenting his Mum for getting locked up in a mental institute. After rescuing her from the facility, they slowly start to bond and John interestingly shows some great qualities for a 10-year-old future leader. He is level headed, calm in extreme situations, but ultimately human, a trait he must remember if humanity is to triumph over Skynet. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the T-800 perfectly, as a father figure, trying to learn all he can about how humans interact, but ultimately admitting that he will always be a machine with the line - ‘I know now why you cry, but it is something I can never do.’ This is the crux of the movie; that we must retain our compassion, which is something the machines will never understand. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.
Dark Fate introduces us to Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a Mexican teenager, who works in a car factory with her brother. An augmented Woman from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), is then sent to protect her from the most advanced Terminator we have come across, in this increasingly disappointing franchise, but more on him later. Dani doesn’t really display much of a character when we meet her. She is a fairly strong female, who encourages her brother to work rather than pursue his music career, that’s about it. Grace can be categorised as being tough, telling Dani, she is the saviour of humanity, who brings people together into a military unit. As an audience, it is hard to believe, as Dani never really displays any of those qualities. She eventually shoots a gun and declares that they should stand and fight, after just running and being protected the entire film. Grace also explains that they are well acquainted in the future, again as an audience we just have to take her word for it, they don’t seem to have anything in common, no bond, or chemistry to speak of, they are just thrown together for the sake of the plot. We get the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, for the first time since T2 and she does a good job, but she is a bit of a third wheel here, the film cruelly kills John at the start, with the help of some scary De-aging technology, meaning that although we see her mourning, she has no investment now, her story ended in 1991 and she has just been brought along for the ride. We inevitably get the return of Arnold as an ageing T-800 who has a family and a job but quickly ditches them to help our heroes. As always, he puts in a great performance and like a nice pair of slippers, makes you feel comfortable, however it just reminds you how integral and awesome he was in T2, patrolling the streets on the coolest motorbike you could imagine, but in Dark Fate he is wheeled out, to give us one liners and remind us we are watching a Terminator movie. It ultimately leaves you longing for the past.
The CGI used in T2 was truly groundbreaking and it still stands up to this day, although there are some impressive effects in Dark Fate, the main difference being the amount of detail you can now show, compared to the uniform look of the T-1000, nevertheless, the action is overdone and actually becomes boring. The T-1000 is such a great movie villain, Robert Patrick plays him to perfection, as an almost alien entity curious at the human world. He doesn’t blink, walks and runs uniquely and unconventionally and likes to torture people for fun saying; ‘I know this hurts’ while shooting a metal finger into Sarah’s shoulder. We also quickly establish his power level; when he first encounters the T-800, by dominating him, easily throwing him through a shopping mall window, we see how strong he is. The Rev-9 from Dark Fate acts like a human, a bad one admittedly, but if you judged him on his interactions alone, he could just be a cold assassin. Although he does look great, his abilities aren’t quite clear. He is liquid metal, but he also has a metal shell, which can separate to make two of him, can he survive apart from the outer shell as liquid metal, unclear, and why is the robotic shell practically invincible, easily shaking off a close-range blast from a bazooka, courtesy of Sarah Connor, also unclear. Although the Rev-9 is ridiculously tough, he is actually beaten up straight away by Grace and barely manages to lay a hand on her during the entire film, Dark Fate desperately trying to establish a strong female character in the wrong way. Sarah Connor, was always tough, but she was no match for a Terminator one on one - although we are told she has been hunting them for the last 20 years, nice idea on paper, but not sure how she would be able to do this well into her 60s.
As aforementioned Dark Fate has many action scenes, technically three end fights with the Rev-9, one on an aeroplane, one underwater and one inside a dam, however, they are ruled by CGI and don’t invest you in the outcome, so as a viewer you grow tired of it. This is especially true of the underwater scene, which the Rev-9 wrestles with Dani, Grace and Arnold, but you can barely make out what is going on, due to the fast pace and the fact that your eyes are obscured by digital water effects. You are just begging for them to get onto dry land. The battle on the plane isn’t much better, with CGI figures flying into each other at high speed, all becoming a little blurry and underwhelming.
Terminator 2 climaxes with one major set-piece, set in a metal smelting plant. After showing that the T-1000 can be beaten for the first time, Arnie cooly shattering it into pieces with the help of liquid nitrogen and the words ‘Hasta la vista baby’, only for him to reform and take on Arnie one on one. We get a down and dirty fight, the T-1000 using his powers to evade, attack and smash up the T-800’s vulnerable body. As these two Terminators collide, it is a much slower affair and every action can be seen clearly, giving the fight more significance and meaning. The effects complement the action, whereas Dark Fate relies on them to drive the action sequences.
Terminator: Dark Fate tries to mix things up by having Dani as the saviour of the future, whereas Sarah Connor’s role was always giving birth to a man who would save us all. It is trying to be progressive by having a woman at the centre of things, explaining that modern women don’t need men to save them. Very admiral but it misses the whole point, Sarah was always a strong and admiral woman, who knew that there is nothing wrong with giving birth, it is one of the most wonderful things that a person can experience, a true marvel of nature, that only a woman can perform. Creating life is a uniquely human action and another trait we have over Skynet, however, Dark Fate’s central theme - very telling in our selfie-obsessed world - is, you can be anything you want to be, you are the most important thing. A selfish and uninspiring idea that wipes out the groundwork of the previous films.
Terminator 2 always reinforced that, there are more important things happening in the world than your daily existence, Sarah Connor quickly realised that she would have to sacrifice her own life, to make sure Judgement Day never happened and to keep John safe. T2 is also about keeping our humanity, John brings Sarah back from the brink, as she is prepared to kill Miles Dyson (responsible for developing the technology that creates Skynet) in cold blood and witnessed by his wife and son, almost losing her own humanity, and then in her final voice-over, utters the words ’if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.’
This is why T2 has remained so popular after all these years, it is an innovative blockbuster, with brilliantly laid out themes, something Dark Fate fails to realise, piling on more action scenes and losing its own humanity along the way. Back in 1991, we had won the war against the machines, unfortunately, in 2019, we seem to be losing the battle once again.