It’s taken twenty-eight years and three botched sequels, but Terminator: Dark Fate finally delivers a worthy follow-up to the original two classics. The keyword in that last sentence is “worthy,” but not “as good” or “better.” James Cameron’s 1984 classic and especially its 1991 sequel are in a league of their own. In terms of groundbreaking technology and legendary storytelling, nothing is ever going to top their influence. There are many moments in Dark Fate, however, where we see the potential for a Terminator movie on par with the all-time greats. Yet, the film also isn’t without its fair share of missed opportunities.
Director Tim Miller wisely wipes away Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys, instead picking up a couple decades after T2. The year is 2020 and Judgement Day never came, but that doesn’t mean a storm isn’t still looming on the horizon. That storm finally arrives in the form of a new Terminator known as Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), which possesses the T-1000’s shapeshifting abilities with a few new upgrades. Meanwhile, a cyborg soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has also traveled back to our time. Where Rev-9 has been tasked with killing a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes), Grace is devoted to saving her. Although the Connors are no longer being targeted, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) inevitably shows up to kick mechanical ass and eat potato chips… and she’s all out of potato chips.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been the face of this franchise, except for that brief period when he was the Governator. He returns in Dark Fate as an aged T-800 model who goes by Carl, turning in his best Terminator performance since T2. The film belongs to our trio of awesome ladies, however, who are all compelling in different ways. Dani takes a while to adjust to her new surroundings, but it isn’t long until she’s ready to fight for the future of humanity. Grace is a classic action movie heroine, encompassing the resilience of Imperator Furiosa and the haircut of Tamora Jean Calhoun from Wreck-It Ralph. Then of course there’s Sarah, who’s been MIA from this series for far too long. Reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis in 2018’s Halloween, Hamilton doesn’t skip a beat in her career-defining role. Sarah is as cool, cynical, and cunning as ever, never seeming too old for this game.
Likewise, the action is the finest this series has seen in some time. Unlike Salvation and Genisys, Dark Fate doesn’t copout with PG-13 violence. Being from the same director who brought us Deadpool, it delivers the hard-hitting, gritty, R-rated mayhem the audience craves. More importantly, the action is consistently inventive and isn’t clouded in grimy cinematography. The film has a few pacing issues, particular a trip across the U.S./Mexican border that could’ve been trimmed down. For every moment that drags, though, Miller has a heart-pounding set piece waiting around the corner.
As much as Dark Fate gets right, the film was perhaps one rewrite away from being great. Dani and Grace share one of the story’s strongest dynamics, although one can’t help but wish the movie went a step further and made them love interests. Instead, the direction the screenplay takes seems fairly safe and predictable. As for who Dani is, the film builds up her destiny as if it’s a game-changing twist, but most people in the audience should be able to unravel the mystery before Act 3. Speaking of twists, there’s one bombshell that happens early on that – without spoiling anything – is reminiscent of the opening to Alien 3. On one hand, the film deserves props for having the cojones to execute such a risky move. On the other hand, it kind of takes away from the previous movie’s ending.
Arguably the biggest drawback is Rev-9, who lacks the hulking intimidation of Arnie’s T-800 or the understated menace of Robert Patrick’s T-1000. It doesn’t help that his mimetic polyalloy makes him look like Venom, leaving you to wonder when he’ll say, “Turd in the wind.” Even if it’s not perfect, Dark Fate does bring back the heart, fun, and intrigue we once associated with this franchise without relying too heavily on callbacks. This can be partially attributed to the return of James Cameron, who once again serves as a producer with a story credit. For the first time in a long time, I’m optimistic about the Terminator movies and genuinely interested to see where they’ll go from here. As for what awaits in Terminator 4/7, the future is whatever we make of it.