Modern update makes for happy franchise fans

Actress Linda Hamilton reprises her action role as Sarah Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate.
Actress Linda Hamilton reprises her action role as Sarah Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate.PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY



128 minutes/Now showing/ 3.5 stars

The story: In the present day, Dani (Natalia Reyes) is an ordinary woman living in Mexico when a Terminator, Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna), appears. Coming to her aid is the mysterious Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a woman with enhanced speed and power. Together with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the trio has to make it to safety before Rev 9 can finish what he travelled back in time to do.

This is the Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) of the Terminator franchise: a movie billed as a sequel, but which feels like a do-over of an old favourite with modern ornaments.

Like The Force Awakens, Dark Fate takes the kernel of the franchise's most popular story, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and repackages it with a new cast, while bringing back its Skywalker, Leia and Solo - the indelible duo comprising Hamilton's Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800.

Hamilton's face has not been seen in the series since Judgment Day, so her participation is special.

This is fan service done right, mostly. Director Tim Miller tends to go overboard with the catchphrases - the winking with a certain phrase containing the word "back" can be seen from Mars - but the nostalgia fairy dust has been sprinkled judiciously.

Thankfully, rather than letting Hamilton and Schwarzenegger do exact copies of their old roles, the screenplay has let them evolve. Hamilton is the more recognisable of the duo, but she now bears her grudges with a rage that borders on psychosis.

The T-800's transformation is more radical and controversial. Without spoiling the story, the greybeard Terminator becomes Sarah Connor's polar opposite, emotionally.

That change feels so unnecessary and out of sync with the spirit of the series that it nearly pulled this viewer out of the story.

As he did with Deadpool (2016), Miller puts an emphasis on fight scenes that are balletic yet believable.

Davis' cybernetically enhanced Grace is especially impressive - her hits feel hard yet fluid. Luna's Rev 9 Terminator has an impressive trick, seen in the trailer, that is deployed in ways that are plausible, but also clever.

Bringing the band back together for a greatest hits tour could have been a cynical grab at paying off the mortgage on the beach house for everyone involved in the project. But that does not mean fans will not have a good time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2019, with the headline 'Modern update makes for happy franchise fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe