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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Terminator-Dark Fate, Review: Terminal stillness

Terminator-Dark Fate, Review: Terminal stillness

With a title like Dark Fate, they have already let the cat out of the bag. It is bound to end in one or more of its heroes/heroines dying, meeting their dark fate. That being a given, Terminator: Dark Fate provides some impressive action and unending shape-shifts/split bodies to keep you entertained, saving the best for the last. It is a long last, and it lasts really long.

Three years after defeating the T-1000 and averting the rise of the malevolent, human-created artificial intelligence (AI) Skynet, Sarah Connor and her teenage son John are relaxing on a beach at Guatemala. A T-800 Terminator, sent from the future, before Skynet's erasure, arrives on the scene, and shoots John, killing him. That was in 1998.

In 2020, a cybernetically-enhanced young woman named Grace, and an advanced Terminator model, the Rev-9, are separately transported from the future, to Mexico City. The Rev-9 kills an old man, assumes his shape, and enters the factory where Daniella ‘Dani’ Ramos and her brother Diego, the old man’s children, work. It attempts to kill Dani, but is thwarted by Grace, who escapes with Dani and Diego in a car. The Rev-9 pursues them in a truck, and reveals its ability to split into two separate entities: a powerful endoskeleton, and a shapeshifting liquid metal exterior. The Rev-9 kills Diego and corners Grace and Dani. Sarah arrives and temporarily disables both parts of the Rev-9 with explosives.

Grace reveals that she has been sent from the year 2042 to protect Dani. Sarah believes that, like her, Dani is destined to give birth to the future Resistance leader, another John. Sarah says that she knew where to find them because, in the years since John's death, she has regularly received SMS messages, detailing the arrivals of Terminators, which she then destroys; each message ends with the words "For John". Grace notes that neither Skynet nor John exist in her future. However, humanity is threatened by another AI, called Legion, an even bigger threat, designed for cyber-warfare. In this altered future, Legion seizes control of servers worldwide, and humanity tries to neutralise it with nuclear devices, which only result in an all-out nuclear holocaust, in which billions die. Legion then builds a global network of machines, to exterminate the human survivors. Rev-9 is one such machine. To destroy Rev-9, the three women trace the source of the messages to a man named Carl, who, in fact, is the Terminator, T-800, that had killed John.

Getting their basics right, a large team of writers zeroes in on just one adversary and four vigilantes, who team-up to face him. The pen-pushers are David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray, James Cameron, Charles Eglee and Josh Friedman. Terminator, of course, is based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd. It’s the sixth instalment, since 1984! Three women dominate the script for the best part, till the original Terminator, T-800, appears, and joins forces, to square-up to Rev-9. That keeps things simple. Though a lot of asking and answering is done in the dialogue, the time-line can get confusing, especially at the climax. Maybe hard-core terminatorans might be able to get a better idea of the time-line. T800 is brought in very late, but the wait only keeps us excited. A lot of the high-voltage action is concentrated towards the second half, when the action moves from cars to planes and helicopters. Very few will have any quarrel with the way the film ends, and you guessed right again. If billions died, who were left? How did they survive? Questions not answered in the movie.

Tim Miller was a visual effects man and creative producer till he got his directorial break in Deadpool. He takes a leap from there and comes up with a well-crafted vehicle, which incorporates some deadly effects, on surface, under water and in the air. One only wishes the colour had not turned to grey as the action got complicated. That might help the effects, but it is a visual strain, trying to make out who is doing what to whom.

Linda Hamilton (Dante’s Peak, Bermuda Tentacles, Terminator Salvation-voice only, uncredited) gets top billing as Sarah Connor, the ‘hunt and destroy’ Terminator eliminator. Maybe I am nit-picking, but this Lee Strasberg student fails to convince, performing a bit like a school ma’am. If Hamilton is 63, Arnold Schwarzenegger is 72! Don’t expect him to do more of this stuff, though you can never say never again. He is so much more mature, wears clothes that cover his limbs fully, speaks in soft, measured tones and even gets a laugh when he says that his wife (yes, wife—he is married and his wife was a single parent when they met) married him because she thought he had a sense of humour, among other qualities. And yes, he is shown as a much younger version when he kills John.

Canadian Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) is Grace, a great name for someone who is all three: protector, target and martyr. However, her look is androgynous, not feminine. Stealing acting honours is the third female in the trio, Natalia Reyes, the Colombian actor who has done only two films so far. Aged 32, she has a face that can pass for 48 or 16, without much of an effort, a quality that has stood her in good stead in the film.

A machine on a mission, Rev-9 is played by Gabriel Luna, with single-minded focus and gritty, blank, but adaptable looks. Diego Boneta plays Diego Ramos, Dani's older brother, Alicia Borrachero is Carl's wife, Enrique Arce is cast as Mr. Ramos, the father of Dani and Diego, and we have Steven Cree as Rigby. All perform to expectations.

Though most of the visuals are computer generated, ’s cinematography is still commendable. Lengthwise, 134 minutes do fly by comfortably, except in some of the first half scenes, where the actions are repetitive. With a solitary adversary, on a specific mission to stop one person, you cannot expect too much variety in warfare. But they do use an array of weapons, some conventional, some improvised.

At the end, there is stillness, before the post ending scene. It’s a solemn stillness, with victor and vanquished, having had their run-in, lying motionless. Terminal stillness?

Rating: *** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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