The Terminator series, like other franchises that have extended over many years, has had its ups and downs. The first two films — 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day — are the high points, with both being written and directed by James Cameron. Cameron was not involved in three other lackluster sequels, but he’s back in the fold as producer for Terminator: Dark Fate.
If you were invested in the direction of the story in the three most recent sequels, you’re out of luck, as those have been thrown out in favor of different direction that essentially makes this another direct sequel to T2. In a tossed-off beginning to the film, a different fate awaits John Connor, with the focus shifting to Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a Mexican auto worker. Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human from the future, shows up to rescue her from a new, more advanced Terminator, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna).
Soon joining the fray is none other than Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who has a unique ability to know exactly when and where a new Terminator will appear. The three of them go on the run together, finding whatever method they can to elude the Rev-9 while trying to figure out a way to eliminate him once and for all.
Written by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray from a story thought up by Cameron and four others, the film does a lot of retconning in order to make the new story plausible. Some of the changes are interesting, but others may have fans up in arms. As usual, especially when it comes to the rules of time travel, it’s best not to think too hard about the plot specifics lest you get a headache.
Under the direction of Tim Miller (Deadpool), the film has a propulsive energy that helps to mostly overcome any narrative missteps. From the moment Grace comes into Dani’s life, the film is almost non-stop, making it work as both a standalone action movie and as a successor to T2. While you can argue whether the group would be able to continue getting away from a relentless and seemingly unstoppable killing machine, the methods in which they do so are consistently thrilling.
This new Terminator has been given the ability to liquefy and reform, and to separate from his metal skeleton to accomplish two tasks at once. Unfortunately, the CGI used to show the effect doesn’t quite do the job. The liquid metal shown in T2 was revolutionary at the time, and it seems as if the filmmakers still haven’t figured out how to match it. Also, in giving him nearly unlimited powers, it raises questions about his abilities that the film struggles to answer.
As the newcomers to the franchise, Davis and Reyes do solid work, with Davis showing a great ability to command attention. Luna gets to do some interesting character work, but the intimidation factor comes more from the CGI than himself. Hamilton gets back into her role with ease, proving to be a great leader for a film that has a focus on female empowerment. And Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up in a fun extended cameo that lets him play with both the image of his original character and himself.
As with the three previous Terminator movies, Dark Fate provides no compelling plot reason for it to exist. But if you can ignore the story mechanics and give in to the pure visceral nature of the film, it’s an entertaining ride with a few great nostalgia kicks.