Two movies made this year. Both still in the cinemas (just about). What’s going on? TMINE’s been proactive.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Sarah Connor and a cybernetic human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.
Funny, isn’t it, how no one quite seems to know what to do with the Terminator franchise any more. The Terminator, in which a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill the mother (Linda Hamilton) of a future resistance leader before he’s even born, was a classic of 80s cinema. Even today I can remember how excited I was by just the trailer, back when I wasn’t even yet a teenager. Naturally, it was one of the first – and only – movies I got on VHS when I was old enough to watch it.
Then came Terminator 2. That gave us a liquid metal Terminator, rather than the human-machine hybrid of the first movie, which was the first movie to give us ‘morphing’ CGI technology and blew our minds accordingly. However, it was still more or less the same story. Schwarzenegger may have been the hero this time, playing a reprogrammed bad guy sent to stop an even tougher adversary, but it was still the same plot.
That seemed to be the end of things – the future that created the machines had now been prevented. But since then, we’ve had numerous sequels that unfixed that ending, all with limited results, all with little imagination.
Terminator 3 gives us a female Terminator wanting to kill future resistance deputy leaders. Otherwise, that had the same plot as the previous two movies. The less said about the McG-directed, Schwarzenegger-less Terminator Salvation the better, but that’s entirely set in the future.
Then there was Terminator: Genisys, which operated at the level of fan fiction, rewrote the timeline completely, recast everyone bar Schwarzenegger and made the entire franchise a PG-13 friendly affair.
And it was still The Terminator. To the extent of replicating entire scenes from the original movie almost frame for frame, yet still making them worse.
Now we have Terminator: Dark Fate, which takes The Terminator and Terminator 2, hybridises them and relocates them to Mexico. Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis hybridises the Kyle Reese/Good Arnie role to become both human and machine – a super-soldier from the future with machine parts who is sent back from the future to protect a resistance leader.
However, the future’s changed. She’s never heard of SkyNet, but she has been fighting the very similar ‘Legion’, which has blown up the world and has a much-tougher breed of Terminators to kill off the surviving humans. It’s sent back a Rev 9 Terminator. Just like Davis, it’s a hybrid: it’s both a skeletal Terminator like Arnie and a liquid metal Terminator like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2.
Taking on the role of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 is… Linda Hamilton, who returns to the franchise for the first time since that movie 30-odd years ago. And Arnie? Well, he’s hanging drapes…
Derivative it might be, from its reprise of the first two movies’ plot to the usual handy ending of our heroes and heroines finding themselves in a handy industrial engineering complex when finally cornered by their adversary, but there is a certain panache to proceedings that makes Terminator: Dark Fate the best of the franchise since 2.
New Terminator Gabriel Luna is as creepy and as good an infiltrator as Robert Patrick, and Davis is a suitably sympathetic heroine. Her augmentations are also an interesting addition to the storyline. Hamilton is entertaining at least, while Schwarzenegger shows that 40+ years of appearing in movies is good enough practice to turn you into an actual actor.
Unfortunately, the CGI is generally lifeless and weightless, with 400lb Terminators not sinking so much as a millimetre into the sand on a beach and leaping around from wall to wall as though they’re Spider-Man. However, it’s still more persuasive and involving than Terminator: Genisys‘s CGI scenes and its use in de-ageing Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and even Edward Furlong are actually very impressive.
Before the action scenes get increasingly daft towards the end, with the director almost daring the audience into disbelieving that anyone or anything could have survived that at each turn, the stripped down, pared back Mexican setting at the beginning is surprisingly effective. It also gives the writers a chance to hint that ICE are as bad as SkyNet/Legion.
If Terminators 3-5 haven’t put you off the franchise completely, Terminator: Dark Fate is at least a decent third addition to the set. It doesn’t do anything too new, yet there’s enough innovation that it doesn’t quite feel like a re-tread.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Peter Parker’s relaxing European vacation takes an unexpected turn when Nick Fury shows up in his hotel room to recruit him for a mission. The world is in danger as four massive elemental creatures – each representing Earth, air, water and fire – emerge from a hole torn in the universe.
Parker soon finds himself donning the Spider-Man suit to help Fury and fellow superhero Mysterio stop the evil entities from wreaking havoc across the continent.
The end of Endgame
Spider-Man: Far From Home is the first Marvel movie since Avengers: Endgame effectively closed the lid on pretty much the first 10 years of Marvel plotting. Sure, we’ve still got Thor 4, Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, Dr Strange 2 and Black Widow to come, but the greater cross-connective narrative stopped with Endgame. It was time for a new story.
But Spider-Man doesn’t really start a new story so much as add an epilogue to Endgame and a throw a hint in the general direction of multiverses as a possible new destination. Indeed, there are probably more important MCU developments in the mid- and post-credits sequences than the rest of the movie.
Here, the big debate is whether Spider-Man can step into the shoes of the now-deceased Iron Man and become the hero the world needs or should that fall to another character: Mysterio.
If that name rings a bell, you’ve not necessarily a huge Marvel geek, so the movie is somewhat juggling with fire, as Mysterio is a villain in the comics. However, the explanation that he’s from an alternative universe does at least allow the movie an ambivalence – this could be a heroic version.
That plays out for about an hour, while Peter and his pals get up to High School hijinks while on a European vacation, and Happy (Jon Favreau) romances Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
The fishbowl is off
That first hour is pretty conventional and doesn’t have quite the pep of Spider-Man: Homecoming, which sent up the MCU regularly. Here, everyone’s too sad about Tony or being superheroic to really be funny.
However, once the movie reveals whether Mysterio is good or bad, it almost sighs with relief and opens up the throttle. Suddenly, we’re getting a lot more twists, a lot more turns, and a lot more fun. Even the Euro travelogue becomes a bit more biting and funny. There are some great callbacks to previous MCU movies and the story draws nicely on some of the comics’ more surreal touches.
As befits an epilogue/requiem, there is also one lovely tribute scene that hails back to the first Iron Man movie and might bring a tear to your eye.
The main cast are also throttling along nicely, too. Tom Holland remains the best onscreen Spider-man we’ve ever had, while Jake Gyllenhaal does a good a job as the maybe superheroic, maybe supervillainous Mysterio as you’d expect of Jake Gyllenhaal. Samuel L Jackson and Colbie Smulders seem a little off for most of the movie – but all is explained at the very end and you realise what they’ve been up to the whole time.
Yet despite these good points, you’ll probably leave Spider-Man: Far From Home feeling like you’ve had an enjoyable time, but it was nothing too special. This is more of an Ant-Man than a game-changer like Captain America: Winter Soldier. But as with all things MCU, there’s never a truly dull moment and if you miss it, you’ll be missing out.