In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Also sent back in time is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a hybrid cyborg human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. But the two women soon find some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected allies — seasoned warrior Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and the T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
It would not be a stretch to say that James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator is one of the most influential science fiction action films ever put on screen. It changed so much in the field and inspired a generation of filmmakers and also spawned a number of sequels in the now iconic Terminator film franchise.
In my opinion, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day is quite simply one of the greatest action movies ever made. That film took what made the first installment so great and improved upon it in all the right ways. It made the initial villain the strangely fitting hero, fleshed out series protagonist Sarah Connor, and managed to sprinkle in some emotional moments here and there as well, mainly with the dynamic of John Connor (Edward Furlong) and Schwarzenegger’s T-800.
Ever since those two initial films, we have gotten a couple of follow-up films, but none of them have ever been able to capture the spirit and incredible fun that those original movies brought. Salvation had some potential but ultimately fell flat and Genisys was a jarring and supremely messy picture that did not have a lot to offer unfortunately.
Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate aims to fix this by ignoring every single film in the franchise besides the first two. This is something that David Gordon Green did with his 2018 film Halloween, as he only made the original 1978 John Carpenter directed film canon to that film’s story.
Miller, who previously directed the excellent and gut-bustingly hilarious Deadpool, offers some great direction here. This is the most competently helmed Terminator picture since Judgment Day, by far. Dark Fate does seem like it has a vision and it feels like Miller knows what he is doing, and he is absolutely not the problem here. The problem here is the story and the script.
Dark Fate feels so similar to The Terminator and its sequel that at times it gets extremely stale rather fast. In the first film, Sarah Connor was an innocent girl being hunted by a deadly machine known as the T-800. This time around, Dani Ramos is an innocent girl being hunted by a deadly machine known as the Rev-9. In fact, the movie itself seems to acknowledge this when Grace asks Sarah why she wants to help protect Dani, she responds “Because I was her.” It seems like the movie was trying to be self-aware but instead, it just felt like it admitted that its the same plot we have seen numerous times in the past, and better.
When it comes to the action set pieces in Dark Fate, they are extremely impressively put together, and all of the action in this film is by far the strongest aspect. There are plenty of close-combat fights as well as the Terminator vs. Terminator fights that we have grown attached to over the years. Machine-killing chaos has never been so fun, and the action present is the best in the franchise since Judgment Day. In all honesty, that is one of the biggest praises I can give this film – it is, for the most part, really well-paced. We almost always have something fun unfolding on-screen, which ensures that the viewer is kept entertained most of the time. There are some moments in the second act that do drag, but it usually tries to keep moving.
All of the performances are also quite strong here as well, particularly Linda Hamilton in the shoes of her iconic character Sarah Connor, as well as Mackenzie Davis as new character Grace. There really is no weak actor in this movie, although there are most certainly some that stand out more than others. More than likely, a lot of Terminator fans are greatly excited to see Schwarzengger back on the big screen as the T-800, and he is quite fun to watch in this film. The only unfortunate thing is that he barely has any screen time, and it seems like the movie did not have that good of an excuse to bring him back, except for fan service.
Terminator: Dark Fate offers thrilling action and terrific performances. What prevents it from being good, sadly, is its recycled plot and messy script.
Overall Grade: C
MPAA Rating: R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta
Directed by: Tim Miller
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures (North America), Tencent Pictures (China), 20th Century Fox (International)
Running Time: 128 minutes