It’s no secret that The Terminator and The Shining are two of the most popular films of the 1980s. And sure enough, they both have sequels out now. I’m here today to tell you all about them.
First I saw Terminator: Dark Fate, the newest reboot in a series full of reboots. While the first two Terminator films are undisputed classics, often called two of the greatest films of all time, nobody seems to care for any of the others. First they made Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was basically just Terminator 2 again except cynical and stupid. Then they made Terminator Salvation, which was an attempt to do something new, but didn’t really work out. And most recently they made Terminator Genisys, which was essentially Terminator: Greatest Hits with a downright absurd plot. Really making any sequel to Terminator 2 was a bad idea, as that film wrapped the story up perfectly, yet they kept on trying. And here we are now with Dark Fate, a direct sequel to T2, and the long awaited return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Now if anyone was going to breathe some life back into this franchise, it was going to be its original star. Jamie Lee Curtis’ involvement did wonders for the Halloween franchise last year, and once they announced Hamilton’s comeback, I hoped this film would do her justice. And thankfully, to a point, it does. Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t great, but it is honestly pretty satisfying, and easily the most successful entry since the first two.
Right off the bat, you know the best thing in the movie is going to be Linda Hamilton, and yes, she rules. They basically let her go full Logan in this: she’s old, tired, and dangerous. She has been hunting down Terminators for way too long, and it shows. Right from the beginning, it’s clear she has nothing left to lose. It’s a great role for her, as it doubles down on what we loved about her in the first two. Also great is Arnold Schwarzenegger, once again back as the T-800. But instead of rehashing his T2 schtick yet again, they thankfully give him something new to do this time. He starts out as an evil model like in the original film, and he, as programmed, does something terrible. But over the years he settles down, develops a conscience, and even adopts a family. It’s a complex role, but it plays off very well. Also he’s not in it much compared to Genisys, as they’ve finally learned that sometimes less is more. And even the new heroes, Grace and Dani, make for interesting leads to go along with Sarah Connor. Much like the two best Terminators, the character work is rock solid. Also like the originals, this is at heart, a horror story. One common mistake throughout T3, Salvation and Genisys is that they’re all straight up action flicks, while the action/horror hybrid of the first two is why they were so striking. Even after all of these years, the body horror and apocalyptic stakes are still genuinely unnerving. Dark Fate finally goes back to that mix, with some really brutal visuals during the fighting scenes. It’s very refreshing compared to how gutless and PG-13 the action in Genisys was.
So why isn’t Dark Fate as good as the first two? Well right off the bat, it’s impossible to not feel a bit of franchise fatigue. This one hasn’t done very well at the box office, and it’s easy to see why. Terminator is a very limited concept, and while the execution in this is a lot better, it’s still ultimately more of the same formula. Despite a few exceptions, it’s easy to predict every story beat; since we saw essentially the same thing in T3 and Genisys, let alone the first two. Also this film has already earned a bit of controversy in the fanbase, due to a particularly risky decision it makes in the opening scene. While I was fine with it, I can sympathize with those who really weren’t. And even though most of the action is pretty solid, there is one pretty terrible sequence involving an airplane. It goes on far too long, and it’s hard to make heads or tails of what’s happening. But even so, if you’ve seen the worst Terminator movies, these complaints will seem like small potatoes. Terminator: Dark Fate will likely be the last one, but at least it’s wrapping up on a mostly satisfying note.
Next I saw Doctor Sleep, the new sequel to The Shining. And I’ll admit, going in I was pretty skeptical. Because this isn’t just an adaptation to Stephen King’s novel of the same name. It’s also a direct follow up to specifically Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. For one, making sequels to classic films is usually an awful idea. And two, Stephen King has always hated Kubrick’s Shining, due to the liberties it takes regarding Jack Torrance’s character. Going in I had no idea how the film would juggle this many balls at once. But in all honesty, I am shocked by how much I enjoyed this film. Because Doctor Sleep is not The Shining 2, nor should it be judged as such. Instead, it’s a really solid horror film in its own right, while also being a thoughtful and meditative conclusion to the original classic. The film isn’t nearly as scary or innovative as The Shining, but it does succeed in a more intimate and character driven sense. Really it’s everything It Chapter Two should have been.
The first thing to understand going in is that this is by and large a Stephen King movie. While the marketing is very Kubrick oriented, those elements don’t really come in until the third act, and even then they’re mainly obligatory and used tastefully. Instead of trying to imitate Kubrick (which is never a good idea, there’s only one Kubrick), the film instead is more faithful to King’s tone and sensibilities. And like much of King’s work, Doctor Sleep is a story of healing and redemption. Ewan McGregor plays an adult Danny Torrance, the psychic little boy from the original. As expected, he has some emotional baggage, both from the Overlook Hotel ghosts and his father’s alcoholism. But more importantly, he’s teaching a young girl how to use her shining, and is protecting her against a psychic cult. McGregor’s Danny feels appropriately aged, and unlike anyone in It Chapter Two, he never feels like a stereotype of the original character. It feels natural to see him take on this role as a healer and a mentor. Unlike Jack in Kubrick’s film, Danny goes through a lot of changes in this, and every step of the journey feels natural.
Also unlike the original film, which kept Danny’s titular shining vague and unexplained, Doctor Sleep goes full force into the concept. The connection between Danny and his protégé Abra is very interesting, and is a nice counterpoint to Danny and Dick Hallorann from the original. Also great is the villainous True Knot cult, lead by a terrific Rebecca Ferguson. She plays Rose the Hat in a way that’s equal parts menacing and enchanting. Even though she’s a monstrous child killer, she’s undeniably beautiful and stylish. Unlike a freak like Pennywise, it’s easy to see why anyone would fall for her tricks. The cult makes for a compelling antagonist, as it establishes a more universal purpose for the shining itself. But of course, most of the conflict is internal. And even though Kubrick decided Jack Torrance wasn’t worth redemption, anyone can agree Danny certainly is. By the end of the film, I felt emotionally satisfied in a way I didn’t know I wanted. Doctor Sleep is a movie that really surprised me, and I can recommend it to any horror fan. This is my first experience with a Mike Flannagan film, and I already want to go back and see his other projects. This is a guy who really knows his way around the genre.