Reviewed by Steve McGowan
Every few years, the owners of the Terminator franchise decides to make another film about time-traveling robotic assassins. This is often done by rebooting, recasting, and often both, so after the near-perfect action film that was Terminator 2: Judgement Day, we’ve had to endure one terrible sequel after another without the original director, James Cameron. I’ve lost count at how many bad sequels there have been, but that hardly matters because we are told none of them ever happened, and this film, Terminator: Dark Fate, takes place as an immediate sequel to Terminator 1 and 2.
Tim Miller (of Deadpool fame) sits in the director’s chair this time, but James Cameron is back at as a producer and a writer. To lend credibility to the franchise again, Linda Hamilton is back as Sarah Connor. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also back as a terminator, but not _the_ terminator, because our aged heroes are just there to support a cast of younger new characters. So while there is no recasting in this movie, it is somewhat of yet another attempt of a soft reboot of the franchise. Does it succeed where the others failed? Kind of. It’s not a terrible sequel. It’s also not great either. If you want a middling retread of every Terminator film that preceded it, this film is for you.
Some spoilers follow, so stop reading if you don’t want to know any more.
Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is a young woman working in a factory in Mexico City, who lives an uneventful life with her aged father and brother. Little does she know she is someone important in the future, and she’s been targeted for termination by the evil future machines. The terminator sent back this time is “Rev-9” (Gabriel Luna), a robot with a liquid metal exterior that can split from its skeleton and turn into another entity on its own, effectively making it two terminators in one. To protect Dani, a resistance soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) also arrives from the future, and she’s cybernetically enhanced so she’s part robot.
It isn’t long before the Rev-9 finds Dani, and luckily Grace also finds her just in the nick of time, and from then on it’s the same cat and mouse game we’ve come to expect from a Terminator film, unfolding as a series of action set pieces where our heroes escape just by the skin of their teeth from the evil robot, over and over again. At one point they are joined up by an aged Sarah Connor, who has made a career out of tracking and killing terminators. Eventually, we meet Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator, who now resembles an old man, presumably because his organic parts aged like humans do. From there, our team of unlikely heroes must try and destroy the Rev-9 before it kills Dani. That’s literally all there is to the plot.
Now don’t get me wrong; it’s quite a joy to see Linda Hamilton shoot giant guns at robots again, and Arnold just being Arnold. However, this film is a painfully unoriginal rehash of the previous films, and the new, young characters feel like weak copies of the characters we’ve seen before. If they were going to remake Terminator, they should inject some fresh ideas in; the world has changed significantly since the first film came out in 1984. The threat of A.I. gone awry and the dangers of technology are ever more present now than they were 35 years ago when killer robots seemed like science fiction. The film does address this in a cursory way, but misses the opportunity to convey the depths of how deeply embedded technology is in our lives, and how disruptive and dangerous it can be if it ever decides to turn on us. The film also makes a reference to borders and immigration, but goes nowhere with it other than as a setting for an action scene. The film could have said more about current issues, but chose to just use them as garnish. If the movie says nothing new or profound, we are then just left with a series of action set pieces, albeit incredibly well done.
If Terminator: Dark Fate feels like a familiar film, it’s because you’ve seen it about five times before, and that’s not counting the Sarah Connor TV series, which was arguably more innovative than this flick. The action was well done, the explosions are plentiful, it’s nice to see Linda Hamilton again, and Arnold sprouts some chuckle-worthy moments with his deadpan delivery. However after this many unsuccessful reboots, it might be time to just let the franchise be unplugged for good.
I give this movie 2 robot assassins out of 5.