When it comes to the “Terminator” franchise, it’s clear that it’s been struggling quite a bit over the last several years to deliver films worthy of standing next to James Cameron’s original classics. Those thrilling films and their riveting storylines have mostly been replaced with pale imitations that have turned out to be monotonous and forgettable, especially when it comes to the last two entries: “Terminator: Salvation” and “Terminator: Genisys.” However, the studio continues to mine the material in hopes of churning out another hit for the series, even going so far as to get Cameron back on board to produce and develop the story. Will it be enough to finally get the franchise back on track, or will “Terminator: Dark Fate” merely end up being an unfortunately apt title?
Taking place several years after “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the film opens as an artificially-enhanced human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and an upgraded Terminator known as a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) are transported to present day Mexico City. The latter attempts to kill a factory worker named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), but the former intervenes and helps her escape. They try their best to get away from the advanced Terminator, but get cornered on the highway, where Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) helps them get away. Sarah, believing that Dani is in the same position she was at her age, reveals that she received mysterious messages about the arrival of Grace and the Terminator. With Grace’s assistance, they manage to track the source of the messages to a T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who agrees to help them in their mission. It’s up to them to destroy the Rev-9 and avert a similar future that Sarah prevented all those years ago.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” certainly has a lot of promise in its set-up, premise, and characters. Indeed, much of the film’s hype came not only from the return of Cameron on the creative side, but also from the return of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of the camera. In addition, you have the director of “Deadpool” (Tim Miller) and one of the writers behind Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” films (David S. Goyer). If a new “Terminator” film was ever going to work, short of just having Cameron write and direct it himself, this definitely seemed like the best chance it had in years.
Almost immediately, the film starts with a thrilling bang as our heroes fight the intimidating Rev-9, subsequently trying to get away from it as fast as they can. The film actually has a good number of exciting action sequences that help keep it moving along rather swiftly, including this opening fight/chase, a battle aboard a cargo airplane, and, of course, the climactic final confrontation. Miller and co. do manage to balance the action pretty well with slower, character-based moments, so as not to completely inundate you with mindless explosions, so in terms of keeping you entertained without getting monotonous, it has to be said that this does come closest to the original films than the two previous entries.
However, where it ends up coming a bit too close to the previous entries is in the story department, in that it’s almost the exact same story we’ve seen before, with just a few minor things changed. While the film is entertaining in parts thanks to some well-done action sequences and interesting character moments, the very similar story makes it rather hard to get engaged with it on a narrative level, so while it’s not nearly as forgettable as “Salvation” or “Genisys,” it’s still not something you’ll remember in great detail a week later. The interesting thing is that it took five people to come up with this story, and three to write the screenplay. That would be understandable if it were something more original, but for a story this familiar, it just ends up being a little perplexing.
That being said, it’s still easily the best entry in the franchise in a long time. It seems rather unfair to try to stack any action film against “Judgment Day” (considered by many to be the single greatest action film ever made), or even the outstanding original, but it is probably most comparable to the decent third film in the series, “Terminator: Rise of the Machines,” ranking in a little below it. It’s great to see Hamilton and Schwarzenegger back on screen together, and, as mentioned, there is some fun to be had with it as we watch these characters desperately try to survive against the relentless new Terminator. It just makes you wish that they had tried a little harder in the story department to come up with something a little more fresh, as opposed to retreading the same material again. “Terminator: Dark Fate” ends up being so close to what we should have for a sequel, but in the end it just falls a little too short. 2.5/4 stars.