Like most Terminator fans, we felt that the series peaked with T2: Judgment Day. Salvation had some fun bits and Genisys had an interesting concept, but neither of them packed the punch of T2 (we still don’t acknowledge that Rise of the Machines ever happened). James Cameron agreed, and his return to the franchise that he created generated lots of hope, as did the attachment of Deadpool director Tim Miller. Cameron is back. Is the Terminator franchise?
A few years after the events of T2, we learn that John Conner was ultimately hunted down and killed by a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), leaving Sarah (Linda Hamilton) without a purpose and the future completely unwritten. Now, two-plus decades later, a new battle for the future is set to play out in Mexico City with Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) targeted for termination by an advanced cybernetic killer, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna).
As before, the resistance is able to send a protector, this time in the form of Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented solider. Both Grace and the Rev-9 initially intercept Dani at her job with the former able to temporarily fend off the machine. A chase ensues with the Rev-9 killing Dani’s brother before a weathered Sarah Conner arrives to prevent Dani’s death and allow everyone to escape.
With the Rev-9 undeterred, the trio has only one lead that may provide answers and/or assistance: a set of coordinates in Texas. Following a difficult border crossing and more attempts on Dani’s left, they arrive to find the same Terminator that killed John now living as a man named Carl. Deciding they can’t run forever, the group resolves to get a weapon that can stop the Rev-9 and once again save the future.
While it has its issues (more on those below), Dark Fate is easily the third-best film in the series and feels much more connected to the first two than anything else since. As fans of those films, seeing Schwarzenegger and Hamilton together on screen again is undeniably fun. Arnold still has perfect comedic timing as the unfeeling machine, and Hamilton’s anger and cynicism, while a bit exhausting at times, certainly make perfect sense given the character arc. Just their mere presence scores serious nostalgia points.
Dark Fate definitely plays the hits as there’s a pretty consistent pace of blistering action, plot or character development, more blistering action and so on. Much of that action is intense and has good enough CGI that your brain doesn’t reject it out of hand. The hand-to-hand fight in the factory between Rev-9 and Grace might be the high point on that front. There’s also tons of cool weapons, big explosions and a suitably high body count courtesy of the Rev-9.
As far as the new characters go, it’s something of a mixed bag. Grace and Dani are both likable enough, but they’re not given enough opportunity to create much cache of their own nor establish the depth of their future relationship — something Cameron accomplished seamlessly between Kyle Reese (and later John Conner) and Sarah. Luna is alright as the Rev-9, though he falls well short of Arnold and even Robert Patrick.
In the same way killing off Michael Biehn in Alien 3 undermined the ordeal audiences went through with Hicks in Aliens, the decision to have John gunned down in the opening moments was a poor decision. Edward Furlong‘s troubles have been well documented, but his absence makes Sarah’s presence feel forced at best, and unnecessary at worst. John could’ve had a different arc and been placed as a sympathizing force alongside Dani, helping her through it, but unfortunately that’s not the direction they went.
As noted, many of the action scenes are excellent. Others, however, feel wholly detached from reality when they rely on CGI to do too much of the heavy lifting. In those moments the film becomes muddy and difficult to follow, and unlike in T2 where the beatings began to take a toll on the T-1000 it’s never clear what, if anything, the long-term effects are on the Rev-9. The fight on the cargo plane is probably the most blatant example as it doesn’t feel plausible, which kills the tension.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s around 10 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, most of which are basically alternative versions of how the Rev-9 located Dani and company as they try to make their way back across the US border. Another hour-plus of featurettes are also available. The two lengthy ones delve into making the film and things like the decision to retcon pretty much everything after T2, while the shorter ones focus on specific scenes and effects. It’s a solid collection of extras.
Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t as good as we hoped or as bad as we feared, settling in well behind the first two yet comfortably ahead of Genisys and Salvation. As an action blockbuster it’s a fun popcorn flick, but poor decisions and uneven CGI hold it back from feeling like a true refresh.