In 1984, Arnold Schwartzenegger became the governor of action flicks when he said “I’ll be back” in The Terminator. 35 years later,he keeps his promise by coming back for the sixth installment, . The film has more one-liners, more gladiatorial action sequences and more social commentary than all the past installments combined. Too bad it doesn’t have more original ideas.
Terminator’s vision of the future, and the fear of machines replacing our jobs, is starting to look more and more like fate. Humans are no longer needed in factories — robots do the trick. Paramount Pictures has ironically reflected this idea by producing conveyor belt sequels that are more concerned with box office results and how quick the product is made than their director’s personal input. Terminator: Genisys, for example, made $440 million in 2015 despite being entirely forgettable.
The new one boots up to the image of skulls being washed away in the sand. A mysterious voiceover tells us that, “There once was a future where humankind was haunted… a future without hope. That never happened because I stopped it.” Technically, that future did happen in Terminator Salvation. Thankfully, director Tim Miller (Deadpool) has erased the events from the past three installments by picking up where Terminator 2: Judgement Day left off.
Naked robots are falling from the sky. A translucent orb of electricity first shoots out the augmented Grace (Mackenzie Davis) on one side of Mexico City, then a Terminator Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna) on the other. Grace is the script’s power source since she brings all the characters together. Rev 9 is the IOS 13 of evil androids, the latest cyborg update notable for the way his guts can split into an oily substance, only to come back together within a matter of seconds.
In other words, he’s a virtually unstoppable creature made from truly special effects. (Miller did the stunning CGI.) The human he’s after is Dani (Natalia Reyes), and it’s up to Grace to stop him. What makes Dani a target needn’t be spoiled here. Just know that her secret is important enough to bring Sarah Connor into the action.
Bringing Linda Hamilton back as Connor — other actresses have filled the role since Judgement Day — is the best decision the franchise has made in decades. And the sight of her alongside Schwarzenegger will have fans cheering throughout.
It must be said, though — Schwarzenegger never took acting seriously. In fact, he partook in a deadly serious competition with Sylvester Stallone in the ‘80s to see who could kill more people in each movie, which he admits took priority over the roles he chose. With the right director, however, Schwarzenegger, who has the dramatic complexity of a G.I. Joe action figure, can be riveting, even moving.
In Fate he has the right director. Miller’s self-reflexive humor works perfectly with Arnold, just as it did with Deadpool. While the world has been going to shit, the T-800 has been cleaning up shit, since changing diapers and selling drapes is his new found calling. Until Dani comes along begging for protection, it’s hilarious watching this beloved action hero doing household chores for his new family. “I’m reliable… I’m a good listener… I’m very funny” he explains in monotone.
Although Arnold is the face of the series, the three women are the faces of this film. Shot in slow motion, which gives the action a coherence rarely seen in blockbusters these days, Grace, Sarah and Dani take turns beating up on the Rev 9. In the pulse-pounding finale, a plane is hurtling down to earth, while the four trade blows in the flaming cargo hanger. Cinematographer Ken Seng wisely uses a gyroscope in order to give the chaos a seamless feel.
The script, however, isn’t as well oiled as the action. There’s nothing worse than a story that doesn’t take risks. When the lights dim, audiences expect to see something new. But when the studio plays it safe by forcing the director to recycle bits and pieces from past successes, the result is robotic. Gone are the days when studios would finance someone like James Cameron, leaving him to add his own creative flourishes. Thirty-five years later, human machines are still a thing of the future, but humans making machine-like movies is unmistakably a thing of the present.