It’s hard to get excited about any movie with a title utilizing the word “Terminator” without some degree of skepticism. Fans of James Cameron’s original 1984 movie and its direct sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day have just been burned too many times before.
Just like other recent sequels, everyone is back for Terminator: Dark Fate, but this time, that includes Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Cameron in a production capacity. Maybe that’s all that was needed for Terminator: Dark Fate to overcome the dark fates of previous attempts to bring back the franchise. Or maybe not?
After a flashback scene showing a possible alternate moment that would have made T2a far shorter movie, we meet Mackenzie Davis’ Grace, an enhanced human from the future who has been sent back in time to protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from the latest and most dangerous Rev 9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna). Along the way, they encounter Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, and the three go on the run trying to find those who can help them, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, now living a quiet domesticated life in the woods under the name “Carl.”
That last bit might seem like a joke, but it is actually part of one of the film’s only sections that allows even a tiny bit of humor to seep into what ends up being an equally dark and gritty alternative version of the Terminator-verse. That’s right. Even though Connor stopped Skynet from killing billions of humans, the fight is still happening, and this time, it’s Dani who might hold the key to humanity’s survival.
The Rev 9 is a very different Terminator from previous iterations, as it can literally split its fluid T1000-like form from an impervious robotic frame, making it twice as deadly and unstoppable. Once Grace and Dani are joined by Sarah Connor, the three women do their best to prevent the Terminator from its mission to kill Dani, although Grace’s enhanced functions require a tough upkeep.
The first major problem I have with Terminator: Dark Fate is that in trying not to irk the fans off again, director Tim Miller and Cameron (who is also one of the five men credited for the story) seem to rely heavily on essentially remaking T2with a few new characters in basically the same roles. For the most part, it means another big highway chase and a couple decent fight sequences but also explanation of how Grace and Dani relate to what we’ve seen before. If you’re one of the people who thought Star Wars: The Force Awakens was essentially a remake of the original Star Wars, then you may feel the same way about Dark Fate.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad if the characters were better realized or portrayed, but the three women the story follows spend the entire movie growling through their teeth and crotch-grabbing (only figuratively) as if they were men, particularly Hamilton. The reason for this might be the fact that the movie is written, produced and directed entirely by men, so it depicts their view of how tough women should be represented. Don’t get me wrong. I think Davis is fantastic as Grace, but she’s also the strongest actor in the movie as the entire cast struggle to make the most out of incredibly weak dialogue. (It took three of the six men credited for writing Dark Fate to come up with such weak writing.)
At least things pick up when Schwarzenegger shows up as “Carl” with quite a few amusing deadpan quips, but also immediately upping the ante in the race to protect Dani, since it also amps up the Terminator vs. Terminator action.
As a director, Miller is great at a couple key things, including spectacular action set pieces and a modernized use of CG effects that certainly should make Cameron proud. There is little question that Terminator: Dark Fate looks fantastic even if at times i.e. any time other than that highway scene in the daylight it looks dark and lacking much of a color palette.
What Miller doesn’t seem to be as good at it is understanding how to keep the movie’s momentum going after that first big highway chase early in the movie. We spend a lot of time following the women as they essentially spout exposition about their timelines and how this one differs from Connor’s previous experiences. These moments of the film are exceedingly dull and makes you wonder how much of it is even necessary. Dark Fate is also lacking too much suspense or any surprises, maybe since it’s being so reverential to earlier movies, we’re constantly left wondering when someone will outright say, “Asta la Vista, Dani!” (Thankfully, no one does.)
The characters do grow on you eventually, and it all leads up to an impressive finale that is certainly on par with anything previously in the franchise. Because of that, the movie’s last 30 to 40 minutes mostly make up for the duller moments earlier, but you still need to be patient through the movie’s slower section.
Terminator: Dark Fate might not quite live up to the first two movies, but it comes the closest to giving you some of the same energy and feel Cameron’s early films delivered. That’s probably going to be reason enough for most people to go see it, but maybe no one needs to try to make another Terminator movie so soon now that we have another halfway decent one?
Terminator: Dark Fate opens in North America on November 1.