This good but not great sequel acts as a direct follow-up to 1991's "T2: Judgment Day," brushing off the other three Terminator films that came in-between...and it's a welcome blend of new and old faces designed not so much as to set this franchise up for the future, but to have it come to terms with its past.
Even though "Terminator: Dark Fate" is the SIXTH film in the successful Terminator franchise that has to date grossed roughly 2 BILLION dollars worldwide since 1984, it hasn’t had the involvement of the original director, James Cameron, since its second installment. That film, "T2: Judgment Day," was also the most successful in the franchise , both critically and at the box office, having itself made over a half-billion dollars worldwide. Cameron's presence in this new installment is evident, and it's a much-needed jolt that brings a few last breaths of air back into the lungs of the Terminator universe.
While Cameron is back producing and credited (one of eight) as a writer,"Dark Fate" is actually directed by Tim Miller ("Deadpool"), dismissing the other Terminator films that have come since as having happened in "alternative timelines." This sort of confusion is bound to happen when the central premise of these films involves time travel, so you can nit-pick the continuity, but for what its worth, "Dark Fate" actually makes a bit of sense.
Linda Hamilton reprises her role as Sarah Connor, mother to John Connor, the man who will one day lead a human rebellion against the intelligent machines that have taken over the world. This film picks up in the wake of "T2: Judgment Day," and it has a lot to say about the inevitability and pitfalls of the human condition. Not to give everything away, Sarah Connor is pulled back into action when a corporation in the future (not SkyNet) sends back a new, deadly, updated Terminator (Gabriel Luna) to kill a young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who will one day become an important figure in the human resistance. Sent back as protection is a human-machine hybrid, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who must risk everything in order to keep Dani safe.
If this premise sounds familiar, that's because it is. In the same way that "The Force Awakens" repackaged the old as new for the Star Wars franchise, "Dark Fate" does the same. In many ways - like "The Force Awakens" - this is a remix disguised as a reboot. That means that you betcha they're going to find a role for Arnold Schwarzenneger's beloved T-800 cyborg, and go "back to the well" as often as needed to remind people of their love for these characters and the franchise as a whole.
Despite some really messy action sequences that increasingly become implausibly cartoonish, "Dark Fate" manages to make The Terminator franchise feels FUN again. Its R-rating is the first in the franchise since "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," which allows it to get back to its roots of scary, violent mayhem. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not, and sticks close to the DNA that made these films popular in the first place.
I was surprised by how effective Linda Hamilton was, and how effortlessly Arnold reminds us that even at age 72, he’s a huge movie star. There's moments of humor and levity, and it smartly doesn't try to over-explain its sci-fi-heavy plot points that, when mulled over, could probably be picked apart quite easily. The story this time around is simplistic enough though and even feels well-thought out, and you can really accept this movie as a natural extension, and perhaps a final bookend, to the first two films.
There's a clear push to update The Terminator for modern day audiences, where women and diversity are featured front-and-center. But unlike "The Force Awakens," you get the sense that this movie is really trying to offer up a satisfying conclusion to earlier chapters, not to world-build for a future franchise. This approach felt somewhat refreshing given today's cinematic universe landscape.
Better, more memorable action might have made this movie a real winner. But still, I liked "Terminator Dark Fate" a lot more than I thought I would going in, and I think it will be a real crowd-pleaser. Schwarzenegger told us he'd be back, it's just surprising that it took this long to really arrive.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 2 hours 8 minutes.
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Diego Boneta,
Directed by Tim Miller ("Deadpool").
"Terminator: Dark Fate" opens theatrically on Friday, November 1st, 2019.
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