‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ is More Past Than Future
The Terminator franchise earned its place in cinema history by terrifying us with a relentless cyborg killer and the prospect of a future where humanity must stave off extermination by self-aware AI commanding metal, humanoid skeletons. After watching Terminator: Dark Fate, I find myself mostly terrified by a future where our sequels are nothing but paint-by-numbers nostalgia grabs.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Tim Miller
Written by: David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna
Running time: 128 min
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) pulled off one of the best twists in action film history, getting us to root for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 cybernetic organism. Since then, fans of the Terminator franchise have suffered through three mediocre sequels in the last 16 years. Mercifully, Dark Fate asks the audience to ignore those films and accept it as a direct sequel to T2. The full involvement of James Cameron, Linda Hamilton, and Schwarzenegger made this one a promising return to a beloved intellectual property. But this design actually undermines the potential for the film to feel fresh and exciting.
Dark Fate follows the Force Awakens blueprint. It hits all the story beats you expect of a Terminator film—an enhanced organism traveling back in time to protect an indispensable individual, a seemingly indestructible assassin, and a bleak future needing undoing.
The repetitive premise is in itself yet another familiar trope of Terminator movies. The events of T2 may have avoided the post-apocalyptic future Sarah Connor (Hamilton) fought so hard to avert, but a similar future is conveniently inevitable. By its very existence, any Terminator sequel must render the previous film Sisyphean.
Much like the rash of pseudo-sequels arguably spawned by Star Wars: Episode VII, Dark Fate reintroduces familiar characters about halfway through so you don’t have to feel so scared about a new generation of lead protagonists. In this case, it’s Conner and a different instance of the T-800 (Schwarzenegger).
Set in the year 2020 in Mexico City, the new precious cargo is young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who finds herself under the protection of enhanced human super soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Like every Terminator film that’s followed The Terminator (1984), Grace arrives from the future just in time to thwart as assassination attempt by an advanced menace called a Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna). He’s like T2’s villain the T-1000, with liquid metal morphing technology and a penchant for assuming the form of uniformed men. This terminator’s neat trick is splitting his liquid form from his metal endoskeleton when he needs to free himself from danger or pilot a vehicle while fighting, creating an impromptu tag team.
Connor appearing out of nowhere as a grizzled and proficient badass to aid Grace and Dani in their fight against the Rev 9 is a welcome sight, as is the return of the T-800. Both Hamilton and Schwarzenegger fall back into their iconic roles with ease. The callbacks and self-referential interpolations, however, leave a lot to be desired even if this type of sequel doesn’t trigger your cynicism. I hope you still like riffs on “I’ll be back.”
Dark Fate tries so hard to be a Terminator movie that it feels soulless and only serves to remind you that you are watching something noticeably inferior to T2. Fight the future. I’ll send you back to 1991 so you can see T2 for the first time again and not live in a future where this passes for entertainment.