You might say the Terminator series is the definition of a tired franchise. I know it still has its fans and I’ve certainly squeezed out my share of enjoyment from the series. But there’s no denying that the name Terminator doesn’t stir up nearly the same excitement as it has in the past. I know I wasn’t exactly rushing to see yet another installment.
Here’s another reason I wasn’t chomping at the bit for a new Terminator – the last movie, 2015’s “Terminator: Genisys”. It wasn’t good and (for me) it easily sits as the weakest of the franchise. In an attempt to get things back on track as well as usher in the return of producer James Cameron, the new film “Terminator: Dark Fate” tosses out everything since the much beloved “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. In other words, T3, Salvation, Genisys – none of it happened according to this new movie. It’s a lazy tactic I’ve never really liked and it was stuck in my head throughout the new film. Thankfully the movie is surprisingly good on its own merits which helps overlook at least some of the convolution.
“Dark Fate” begins with a flashback meant to serve one lone purpose – to sever ties with everything after T2. Set three years after “Judgement Day”, younger Sarah Connor and her son John (both CGI rendered) have thwarted the machine-led apocalypse and now live on the beach in Guatemala. They are suddenly attacked by a T-800 Terminator who kills John before disappearing. Just like that “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and everything that followed was gone.
Jump ahead twenty-two years later. A clothing impaired augmented human appears in present day Mexico City. She goes by Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and has been sent from the future to protect an auto factory worker named Dani (Natalia Reyes). From what/who you ask? A new advanced shape-shifting Terminator called Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). Ruthless and relentless, the Rev-9 has been sent to kill Dani by any means necessary. Grace intercepts and the chase begins.
Tim Miller of “Deadpool” fame directs from a screenplay written by the team of David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray. It’s filled with all of the big action flourishes you would expect glued together by scenes intended to humanize the whole crazy concept. There’s also a healthy dose of nostalgia mainly in the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a domesticated T-800. Hamilton’s Sarah is in hardened ‘been-there-done-that’ mode, snarling verbal jabs and packing an assortment of high-powered weaponry. Arnie brings levity and (of course) a handful of crowd-pleasing action moments that are sure to tickle fans.
The new female driven story does a surprisingly good job mixing the old with the new. Miller goes big with several action scenes, none better than a chase sequence in the first 30 minutes. After that the action gets more digitally enhanced and less engaging. It’s not bad, just noticeably CGI heavy. And the story, while starting off strong, basically becomes you standard Terminator tale with slightly different dressing.
But “Dark Fate” still packs enough to make this enjoyable especially for franchise fans. The characters are the biggest treat, the fresh faces and the series vets. And despite the ever lingering scent of familiarity, Tim Miller and company breathe a little life into a franchise that was on its last leg. Does this film warrant yet another sequel? I don’t really know. But one thing is for sure, Terminator movies are as persistent as the futuristic killer machines themselves so I wouldn’t rule one out.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS