When folks list the things they like about the “Terminator” movies, one of the first items that ought to be mentioned is Linda Hamilton’s performances.
Here, we’re discussing “The Terminator,” significantly released in 1984, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (often referred to as “T2”), and the new film, “Terminator: Dark Fate.” In between the second and third of these were the movies “Rise of the Machines” (2001), “Salvation” (2009 — with Christian Bale), and “Genisys” (2014). They don’t fit in the revised scheme.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the three “canonical” movies. James “Titanic” Cameron directed the first two movies and is listed as one of the writers for “Dark Fate.” These men provided the films with something, certainly.
Who else could say “I’ll be back” in a way that would make it a notable movie catchphrase 34 years later?
But there’s something to be said for Hamilton, too. Hers is a physical part. She was a tough woman long before “Wonder Woman” made “tough woman movies” a bankable film genre. And like Sigourney Weaver, the standard for tough, physical heroines over the last 40 years, Hamilton still manages to be human.
Maybe not likable. But with some integrity. Craggy, now, and self-assured, and worthy. She doesn’t beg viewers for adoration. She defies time-traveling nightmares. In “Dark Fate,” Schwarzenegger gets to say “I won’t be back.” But its Hamilton’s Sarah Connor (a name only she can pronounce that way she does) who announces, “I’ll be back.”
She talking to a replacement hope-of-the-human-future named Dani (Natalia Reyes) and the girl’s just-introduced protector from the future, a cyborg named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Does this sound like the story for “T2”?
The two movies will seem even more alike when we consider the robot from the future who is trying to kill Dani. The advanced model REV-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna) reforms himself in much the same way that the effective Robert Patrick’s T-1000 did in the second movie in the series. Too bad there’s no “Bad to the Bone” sequence in the new film.
What “Dark Fate” has to offer viewers isn’t comedy or a new story. Instead, it gives us old characters we like and action, action, action. The action scenes in the new film are as imaginative as anything we’ve seen before in sci fi/action movies.
Consider, for example, the sequence that begins with Sarah, Grace, Dani and “Carl” obtaining an “electro magnetic pulse generator” at a U.S. Army base (much of the film’s first half was set in Mexico). Can it be said that this action scene doesn’t really end?
A MacDonald Douglas tanker plane crashes in mid air into a MD Galaxy. The generator is shot full of holes. Our heroes ride their huge crashing plane onto a tall dam, and escape it after doing some teetering. The fighting goes on inside the dam, down near a huge turbine (which will figure).
And so on. The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near. Self-sacrifice follows self-sacrifice. Then hasta la vista.
Now not everything in the story makes perfect sense. Grace is holding back two things for no apparent reason, and one of them could resolve the central problem earlier in the film than it does.
But surely viewers don’t much care. This is an action picture that takes us to settings we have not gotten tired of seeing, and gives us reversals we know are coming but enjoy seeing on the big screen.
We like the characters. And we like the action. But in the “Terminator” movies, we don’t feel we are responsible for emotionally pulling Sarah Connor out of danger and to the successful conclusion of her self-appointed mission.
Linda Hamilton’s characters don’t need us to pull for them. They are too tough and committed to need our puny help. Good for them.