The “Terminator” franchise has certainly had a rocky road. The first two movies are considered among the greatest science fiction action films of all time, but the series has failed to maintain its footing. Two more sequels, a television series and a reboot film later and many were beginning to wonder if this once great franchise had lost its luster. Enter the latest addition to the series “Terminator: Dark Fate”. Featuring the return of James Cameron as a producer and retconning the franchise to make everything post “T2” prior to this sequel alternate timeline continuations of series, “Dark Fate” is meant to be the “true” third movie in the chronology. This time around Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) helps a new target named Dani (Natalia Reyes) escape the grasp of an advanced Terminator called the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) after a new ally from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) arrives to help preserve the resistance that rises up to defeat Skynet’s successor. Does “Dark Fate” right the wrongs of past sequels and finally get this series back on track? Let’s find out. This is my review “Terminator: Dark Fate”.
While “Dark Fate” is far from the worst “Terminator” feature on the market, there’s still a lot to be desired. You can look at this sequel in two very different ways and whichever way you look at it might define how well you enjoy it. On one hand “Dark Fate” serves as a decent reboot of sorts for the franchise that presents us with a new, self-contained story with a few elements borrowed from past films. There are some cool new additions to the series and there are shades of some cool ideas to push the limits of the franchise even if that potential is never fully realized. But, if you’re going into “Dark Fate” hoping for that fitting continuation to the first two movies that we have long been promised “Dark Fate” is underwhelming, retconning many aspects of Sarah and John Connor’s legacies in a manner that makes the first two movies feel completely pointless in relation to this film’s story. It actually completely ignores John Connor as anything more than a small throwback to the first two movies. That said “Dark Fate” works much better as its own “Terminator” movie rather than the third entry in the original franchise.
It is pretty cool to see new faces and old faces unite to defeat a new enemy. Linda Hamilton plays a much more jaded Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as a T-800 with a tragic connection to Sarah. Mackenzie Davis as Grace, a super soldier from the future sent to protect a new savior, and Gabriel Luna as a new Terminator called the Rev-9 are the most enjoyable additions to the series. Sadly Dani, the new savior played by Natalia Reyes, is not near as memorable as Sarah and John Connor were. At times I even forgot this whole movie’s premise revolves around protecting her. She feels like a side character in her own narrative. It’s not that Reyes does a bad job, it’s just that the character is so undefined due to the filmmakers’ attempts to keep her role in the future revolution under wraps until a later reveal. By the time we realize what makes her so important we’ve already lost interest in her as a character because she’s offered nothing to help her stand out among the more defined and enjoyable characters. One big gripe I did have was with the forced swears that are incorporated into the dialogue in this movie. We get this a lot lately as movies try to squeeze everything out of their R ratings by throwing in as many unwarranted F-bomb as possible. Sometimes it’s forgivable, but in this case, especially with Sarah Connor, it’s extremely obvious that, like the English language in general today, these swears were used to color dialogue that had no real creativity or style to begin with making the pandering feel more obvious.
The biggest problem with this movie though is that it has trouble deciding what it wants to be. As I already said, this film can be seen as two different kinds of a sequel but the fact that it never really picks a lane makes the experience confusing. It’s hard to appreciate its connection to the past films or its attempts to cover new ground because it never really finds an identity for us to latch on to. “Dark Fate” also fails to fully embrace some really cool story elements and themes that would have given the movie more depth. There is a clear female empowerment message with an obvious twist that turns the tables of the male savior idea, but it’s so forced in to the narrative with little subtlety that it feels extremely forced. One big part of this movie’s story is that while Skynet was stopped in “T2” the apocalyptic future is still going to happen. This offers up many neat questions. Can the future really be changed? Is it worth the effort to try and change it? Are our fates sealed? All questions presented by past movies but explored much more fully in the superior first two films. Here there’s little substance to drive home any of these questions in a thought provoking or unique way. They’re all footnotes to an action packed and effects-heavy movie that can never decide what it wants to say or be. Even the T-800 and Sarah Connor’s connection offers up neat insight into the concept of purpose in life but again it’s a mere footnote, a minor character element thrown in more to justify their appearances in the movie.
But let’s assume you wanted a more action heavy “Terminator” movie. Well “Dark Fate” works much better in that sense than it does as a deep, thought provoking sequel. There’s plenty of fun battles and tense moments to keep you entertained and I’ll admit I was fully invested for most of the movie simply because the action was so much fun. It was cool to see a new Terminator on the scene and experience these completely insane action set pieces and showdowns that give most of the other sequels a run for their money. Even then though there’s so much CGI and so many quick cuts that it’s hard to fully appreciate all the little details thrown in or where everything and everyone is in relation to each other. The fact that it all comes down to a pretty generic finale incorporating clichés from the previous films doesn’t help and makes the whole experience feel that much more predictable and formulaic. “Dark Fate” offers a fun and exhilarating ride, but it doesn’t really do anything new or better than the past films which were more convincing and easier to follow even with CGI involved. Still “Dark Fate” is plenty of fun and if all you’re looking for is insane action and robot-against-robot mayhem you’ll get plenty of that here to tide you over.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” has a lot of problems. It’s actually pretty underwhelming how generic this film turned out to be given the hype around it being the project meant to finally put this franchise back on track. But, all things considered I did have fun watching it. On its own “Dark Fate” is not a horrible “Terminator” movie. But as a sequel to the first two movies and as a soft reboot of the franchise it’s nothing special. It’s still a lot of fun and reminds us why we enjoyed this franchise to begin with, but is it the best sequel since “T2”? I find that highly debatable. I will say it’s not the worst movie in the franchise. “Salvation” and “Genesys” are both much worse in my book. But when you’re among the better options in a series of underwhelming sequels is that worth bragging about? Some will love this film for it’s action and fun throwbacks to the series’ past and others will despise its blandness and lack of substance. For me I’m somewhere in the middle and consider “Dark Fate” a forgettable but fun waste of time.