Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate (Photo: Paramount)
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Tim Miller
STARS Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger
There are several things to like about Terminator: Dark Fate, just not enough of them to render this anything other than a disappointing remake of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Yes, remake. Those who (erroneously) grumbled that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was basically a rehash of Star Wars: A New Hope will have to take a backseat to those who complain about the exact same beats being employed for this sixth film in this deathless series.
Of course, if you listen to franchise creator James Cameron (who produced this new one and shares writing duties with five other gents), this is actually the third “official” movie in the series, following 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s T2. As for the rest? They supposedly took place in some alternate universe or on some alternate timeline or some such nonsense. Me, I’m still waiting for the Casablanca sequel, in which it’s revealed that there’s an alternate universe in which Rick and Ilsa remain together, or The Sound of Music follow-up, in which it turns out there’s an alternate timeline where Maria joined the Nazis and forewent warbling the likes of “My Favorite Things” in favor of “Horst-Wiesel-Lied” and other Hitler faves. These would be no more ludicrous than many of the retcons and reboots presently flooding theaters.
The biggest mistake in Terminator: Dark Fate — at least for those who, you know, actually apply emotional investment into their moviegoing experiences — occurs right at the beginning, when it’s revealed that one of the many Terminators sent from the future manages to catch up with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and teenage John Connor (a CGI version of Edward Furlong). This Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) kills John but inexplicably leaves Sarah alive. Cameron’s desire to integrate itself back into this franchise is understandable (he had nothing to do with any of the related projects after T1 and T2), but killing off this major character is a slap in the face to everyone who invested in the original two films and even the other chapters (2003’s OK Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2009’s underrated Terminator Salvation, 2015’s awful Terminator Genisys, and the TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles). One of the defining themes of the series has always been keeping John Connor alive, and it’s inarguably a bummer seeing his character callously tossed aside here (see also Aliens’ Newt and Hicks, The Fly’s Veronica Quaife, and Kingsman: The Secret Service’s Roxy for comparable slights).
At any rate, this assassination occurs after the downfall of Skynet, so aside from Sarah’s personal loss, all is well, right? Wrong. Because mankind loves its machines and its warfare, another AI system (Legion) manages to take over the world and kill off most of the humans. It also sends a mercurial killer bot (Gabriel Luna) back in time to murder a young woman (Natalia Reyes as Dani) whose existence spells possible doom for the Legion of the future. Meanwhile, the humans send back one of their own (Mackenzie Davis as Grace) to protect her. There’s also a good Terminator (Arnie) and a hardened Sarah tossed into the mix. There are narrow escapes, supporting characters lending a helping hand, and a sacrifice or two. In short, the only thing missing is Guns N’ Roses’ “You Could Be Mine” on the soundtrack.
It’s great to see Hamilton back in action as Sarah Connor, and even the appearance of the big fella elicits a grin. It’s just a shame more isn’t done with their characters. Reyes and Mackenzie are fine in the larger roles, but their characters simply aren’t as interesting as their predecessors, with the pair coming off as bargain copies of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, respectively. Worst of all is Luna’s shape-shifting cyborg, a dull villain when compared to the vicious but oddly playful Terminator portrayed by Robert Patrick in T2.
There are a couple of rousing action set-pieces, and the glimpses of the future world remain suitably bleak. But unlike The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator: Dark Fate offers little that’s fresh, let alone revolutionary. In this instance, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt as much as it fosters complacency.