Terminator: Dark Fate
Updated: Feb 9
In 1984, James Cameron released The Terminator, a clever sci-fi/action/thriller about a woman hunted by a robot from the future while being protected by a soldier from the same future. It helped turn Arnold Schwarzenegger into a star and inspired a sequel, 1991’s phenomenal T2: Judgment Day. That was followed by three more entries (2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2009’s Terminator Salvation and 2015’s Terminator Genisys), none of which were nearly as well-received. The franchise was floundering, so the decision was made to discard all three of them and make a second direct follow-up to T2. The idea was to ignore the stuff fans disliked and start over in a direction more faithful to the beloved first two movies.
Terminator: Dark Fate (118 minutes, without the end credits) kind of, sort of, deals with the aftermath of T2, while also creating a new plot exactly like the old ones. It uses references to, and even quotes from, the first two in the series. This is a new story steeped so much in nostalgia that it does not feel very new. The action is fine and some of the mythology is promising. I enjoyed what they did with the leads, but this did not really reinvigorate my interest in the franchise.
Much like before, a robot assassin from the future is sent to our time to kill a woman whose death will prevent a future human rebellion. She is guarded by a soldier from the future. The twist is the target is not Sarah Connor. Due to the events of T2, the future has been changed and it is a different robotic threat attempting to kill a different woman whose survival humanity depends on. Instead, Sarah Connor is now a terminator hunter, seeking revenge for her tragic past. The result is the usual explosions and complicated time-travel explanations, along with a few amusing quips.
What Dark Fate does is simplify the larger story, making it circular. The future is not set in stone until it is the present. Skynet never existed yet, because of man’s constant experimenting with computers, machines still rise up to murder us. The idea of killer robots being the consequence to a bigger problem was explored previously, but not here. Amazingly, Dani, the woman whose life is interrupted by all of this, does not ask many questions. I suppose that is good since the movie does not have time for them anyway. It sets up its plot, assumes we already know what is going on, then plunges headlong into its action. Despite being in the title, fate is never discussed. It would seem to be a no-brainer; however, Dark Fate just wants to blow stuff up as it reminds us of things we already liked.
It is okay at that. The special effects are good, with some adequate, if familiar, action sequences. The most advanced version of the terminator, the Rev-9, is kind of cool. It can absorb metal, shapeshift, turn into a liquid and separate its metal skeleton from its body in an effort to continue its single-minded pursuit of its intended victim. It seems nearly impossible to destroy, making a lot of the action pointless. It is interesting as a concept, though not as a character. Luckily, it is going against a trio of engaging heroines.
Linda Hamilton is back for the first time in 28 years as Sarah and it is fun to watch her angrily kick metallic butt again. Natalia Reyes is Dani, who begins as a terrified damsel in distress before taking her destiny into her own hands. Mackenzie Davis joins the series as Grace, the soldier sent to defend Dani. She is an augmented human, essentially a human terminator; smart and likable, plus super-powerful and laser focused on her mission. Her character is a compelling evolution of the initial concept. Schwarzenegger also returns and, while it is nice to see him in the role again, he is the least exciting returning element.
Terminator: Dark Fate is precisely what it appears to be. A rebooted sequel only existing in an attempt to salvage a dying franchise is obviously going to play it safe. It might work at satisfying frustrated fans. It is a well-made, spectacle-driven, extravaganza. As someone who skipped the last two, there was not enough here to make me eager to see more. It is entertaining in parts, yet feels as much like a best of as it does a new chapter. There is a lot of potential in this universe but, if all they are going to do is repeat themselves, I would rather they stop with something decent.
3 out of 5
Natalia Reyes as Dani Ramos
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor
Mackenzie Davis as Grace
Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800
Gabriel Luna as Rev-9
Directed by Tim Miller
Screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray