Though it’s the sixth Terminator film, Terminator: Dark Fate disregards the events of all but the first two Terminator films and takes place after Judgment Day. In this new future, Sarah Connor’s fate has forever been changed when she teams up with an augmented superhuman soldier sent from the future to protect Dani Ramos, a young woman whose survival is critical to ensuring the fate of humanity. Along their way to stopping the Rev-9 (a new, advanced, deadly Terminator from the future), another familiar face, well, comes back, just like he said he would.
Terminator: Dark Fate attempts to be a course correction by righting all these previous films’ wrongs, including bringing back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and James Cameron as producer, and even straight up retconning them and pretending they never existed, except for the only two good ones. But even in all its efforts to return the franchise to form, the spark that this series once had is still missing in Dark Fate. It’s a step up from the previous installment Genisys, but I’m not sure by how large of a margin. It sticks closer in tone to the first Terminator film than the second, but soon it just becomes a rehash of the 1984 classic. Linda Hamilton gives it her all, returning as one of the greatest on-screen badasses on film. She’s accompanied by another returning ass-kicker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has some fun moments and even some humor in his role as a new T-800 who conveniently also looks like Arnie. Mackenzie Davis was well-cast to play her role, but the writing for her, as well as for the character of Dani, aren’t as interesting or fresh as they should have been. The villain feels like a ripoff of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and the CGI for his character doesn’t feel convincing.
Perhaps the thing that’s truly missing from this installment is the groundedness the first two had; they were relatively low-budget so they felt like action chase films. But in the age of infinite CGI, nothing feels real, imminent, or threatening like it did back then. At times it feels like the movie’s attempting to be the Logan of the Terminator franchise with small-scale sequences set in Mexico like a scene involving the characters being apprehended by border patrol officers — but soon it ditches all that for a CGI-filled mess, and the finale is almost as cartoonishly bad as some sequences from Genisys. The action sequences all have nice concepts and were probably storyboarded out really well, some of the action, like an opening fist fight or a car chase, turns out to be poorly shot, although a scene involving two planes colliding and a dam was very entertaining. And the score is no longer haunting or memorable — perhaps they could have benefitted from more use of the original theme? Also, the new evil supercomputer that’s producing Terminators is exactly the same as Skynet and everything is the same in the concept, even though the future battle is well-done. There’s also a “plot twist” near the end of the movie that’s embarrassingly executed and so predictable I could see it coming before the movie even began. The theme of fate recurs throughout the film, yet it never feels like it belongs. All the dialogue about fate feels so forced, if only they had focused more on this franchise’s real theme: humanity. None of this is made better by the fact that there’s a choice made in the film that may anger fans of the first two films, and never really justifies itself — or a “we’ll make a sequel if this one makes enough money” ending that I wish had the finality the first two films had, back when we weren’t worried about the continuations and each film could stand as one. There’s some fun callbacks to the original, like the iconic line that has made the series so popular, or a scene taken directly out of the second film. However, Hamilton’s depth and Schwarzenegger’s charisma is all that make the movie, and even those aspects aren’t as strong as they used to be, to which the script is at fault, not the actors. So many times has the sequel that “brings back the true spirit and nature of the franchise that people cherish so dearly” decades later been done now — it felt exciting with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and daring and new with Blade Runner 2049, and was also done by Halloween, Mary Poppins Returns, Independence Day: Resurgence, and soonly enough by Top Gun: Maverick and Doctor Sleep. Unfortunately, though it tries its best to maintain its ties to the original, Dark Fate falls trap to some more modern action trademarks, ending up being too formulaic and not as emotionally raw as before. The big action and concepts often compromise the urgency, excitement, and resonance Terminator used to have, while this one is rather disposal and forgettable. Perhaps the dark fate the franchise may be going down is what the title warned us about.