*******Terminator: Dark Fate Spoilers Below
Terminator: Dark Fate picks up shortly after 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day where Sarah Connor saved her son John and the future of Earth. Unfortunately, more than just one Terminator was sent back to kill John and one catches up with the duo in 1998, killing John.
In the present day, a terrifying new Terminator unit called a Rev-9 appears from the future looking for a girl named Dani Ramos. Luckily for her, a woman named Grace also appears in from the future to protect Dani. After the Rev-9 kills both Dani’s brother and father, she and Grace are cornered until Sarah shows up to save them. After slowing down the Rev-9 Sarah reveals she’s been hunting Terminators since John’s death thanks to a mysterious stranger, one Grace was also told to seek out. The three women discover that this stranger is actually the Terminator who killed John, now a father who’s developed somewhat of a conscious. Looking to atone for his past and secure and future for his family, this Terminator agrees to help protect Dani. So, the four must now find a way to fight off the Rev-9 unit and keep Dani alive long enough to fulfill her destiny.
If that synopsis doesn’t sound familiar then you must be new to the Terminator franchise. Dark Fate recycles the same basic story of the first two films in an attempt to reboot the franchise for a new generation. And, while it doesn’t fail in that regard, something feels off. The story and themes are usual Terminator fodder about the future of humanity and not giving up hope but, their more hollow than ever here. Part of that is due to the marketing showing off nearly every scene from the film so, there really aren’t many surprises. But, a big part of that is due to the film’s plot itself.
Dark Fate, in an attempt to hit reset, erases three past films and makes the ending of Judgement Day obsolete in one fell swoop. And, I think that’s the biggest issue with the film. I understand that to include Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, something had to happen to John. But, killing him off shortly after the events of Judgement Day feels like a slap in the face to fans. Knowing that a film as iconic and game-changing as that one can be undone so easily disconnects this one from any real stakes. It makes all the talk of a ‘future worth fighting for’ and remaining hopeful no matter the odds in Dark Fate feel empty if the eventual next film can open with Dani taking a shotgun blast to the chest.
But, enough about what didn’t work because there were a lot of elements that did work in this one. First up, Hamilton shines in her return to the franchise. She’s as much of a badass as she was in 1991 and her performance is the highlight of the film. Mackenzie Davis as Grace also kills it, even if some of her dialogue feels like it was intentionally written to sound bad. Schwarzenegger is Schwarzenegger, he’s perfected Terminator persona and surprisingly provides the film with a lot of levity once he finally appears. And, though he’s no Robert Patrick, Gabriel Luna turns in a strong performance as the nearly silent Rev-9 unit.
The action in Dark Fate is also some of the best in the series. Deadpool‘s Tim Miller brings a fresh voice and perspective to those sequences that were much needed. Though it is worth noting that there are a few great moments that were cut too short, holding them back from becoming incredible moments. However, considering there’s an abundance of great moments throughout, I think it’s safe to say Miller gets a pass there. There are a few beats here and there that feel like they should hit harder than they do but, again they’re passed by pretty quickly so it’s easy to forgive.
Ultimately, there’s nothing inherently bad about Terminator: Dark Fate. Fans of the franchise will likely be split by the film’s handling of the narrative post-Judgement Day. However, the film delivers a solid action film and the best entry in the franchise since 1991. Even if it misses the point of what made the first two installments so good.
Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now.