Written by Ben Murchison
Set 27 years after the events of T2, producer James Cameron and director Tim Miller bring us Terminator: Dark Fate, which serves as a direct sequel to the first two films. While those storylines were focused on ensuring that Sarah Connor’s son, John, would grow up to lead the resistance against the machines after Judgement Day, this new offering turns the page entirely. Since Skynet was successfully thwarted, the Connors are no longer central to the fight, but wouldn’t you know that some other clever folks came along and created a similar, perhaps more threatening network called Legion, which will bring about the same fate for humanity.
Cameron and Miller decided to go the Force Awakens route in an attempt to satisfy fans of the first two movies by relying on a retread of the same premise that there is someone important that the network wants dead and the humans want to protect. There is not a surplus of originality to the story being told, but they do reintroduce characters that we know and love so we don’t care as much about that. The most advanced Terminator that we have seen to date called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). This Terminator seems to be a blend of the classic T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the T-1000 from T2 and is sent to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Dani, who is quickly running for her life, is aided by Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced soldier whose mission is to keep her alive at all costs.
Bringing Linda Hamilton back into the fold as Sarah Connor adds a sense of credibility that was lacking in all of the subsequent sequels since T2. If you can swallow the very hard pill of everything she and others accomplished in the past being for seemingly nothing, then you can enjoy her here as a very badass, battle-hardened Terminator hunter. She unknowingly finds herself in the middle of this new conflict, but is invested in Dani’s survival because she’s been in her position before, and to quote her, “it sucks.”
Although this film asks you to ignore all of the ill-fated sequels that Cameron was not involved with, it does take a few ideas from them — like a hybrid human character like Salvation or what would happen if a T-800 was left over from a mission like in Genisys. It expands on that second idea to bring back Schwarzenegger and round out the integral cast, because of course, it really wouldn’t be a Terminator movie without him, and he delivers as only he can. It is odd that his character’s most important contribution is lighthearted comic relief at this point — especially when you consider how he began.
If there is one thing that Cameron has done fairly consistently, it’s create heroines that can flawlessly blend into the fray with any male counterparts, whether that be Sarah Connor, Ripley from Aliens, Neytiri from Avatar, Alita the titular Battle Angel, or Rose from Titanic, just kidding, she caused Jack’s death, but you get it. While it isn’t the main message delivered by the story, it’s pretty cool that Sarah Connor went from just the mother of someone important in the original, to bringing Skynet down, to now just destroying Terminators for fun—all because Skynet underestimated her and created an enemy worse than John might have become.
Dani spends most of her screen time bewildered and reacting, much like Sarah Connor in the first film. While some of her speeches seem a tad forced, Reyes does make a strong push to win the audience over in the final act. Linda Hamilton is why this movie matters, and is every bit as impressive today as she was playing the role decades ago, and Davis looks more than formidable matching up against the Rev-9 in the film’s many action sequences. The most interesting bits of Grace may actually be flashbacks, when she is giving some exposition, and it’s a shame that more of the movie isn’t about that.
Just how good Grace is at fighting the Rev-9 is actually a detriment, because everyone but the Border Patrol agents look competent fighting against him. The nifty way he is able to split into two forms is a fun idea and a good visual, but watching everyone take turns beating him relentlessly weakens Luna’s attempt at what should be a daunting villain. Obviously, this machine has a bend but don’t break philosophy, but it pales in comparison to prior Terminator portrayals.
Despite its over two-hour runtime, Dark Fate feels quickly-paced thanks to its action sequences, which are frequent and for the most part look as tremendous and well-choreographed as they can considering how much CGI is needed. The only sad exception is falling prey to a desire many other films have: including a fight sequence that takes place on board a crashing airplane. These probably should have died after Transporter 2 because they are messy and never work as well as intended. If you give them a pass for that, then they deliver on the big guns, explosions, poignant F-bombs other R-rated violence that you should expect from a decent Terminator movie on the way to a satisfying final confrontation.
T2 was a fantastic and expensive follow-up to James Cameron’s smart and original low budget creation and in a perfect world, it all would have ended there. But it didn’t, so here we are with Terminator: Dark Fate. It could be worse, and it has been previously. The film pays homage to its beginnings, and gives you back the real Sarah Connor, which is a step in the right direction even if it’s not offering anything new. If it does earn future sequels, fingers crossed for Michael Biehn returning as Kyle Reese. You can do anything you want James Cameron.