Over the last 20 or so years, it’s been a rough gig being a Terminator fan, and I say that as someone who didn’t really mind Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines all that much (beyond that, though—ooh, boy). But for this latest installment, Dark Fate, with both Linda Hamilton and James Cameron (in a producing role) coming back into the fold, and with Deadpool director Tim Miller at the helm, the results are a mostly thrilling return to form for the franchise. There are a few minor missteps in this sequel, and it feels like it's missing a bit of the “magic” of the first two Terminator films (more on that later), but as a whole, Terminator: Dark Fate gets far more right than it does wrong, and serves as a great reminder as to why we all fell in love with Sarah Connor in the first place 35 years ago.
Dark Fate follows in the footsteps of Judgment Day, where Sarah and her son John have defeated Skynet and saved the world from total annihilation. Little do they realize that there are still threats to come in the future when the story picks up in 2020, as an augmented soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) falls from the sky one fateful night in Mexico City, as she’s been tasked with keeping a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) safe from a Rev-9 model Terminator (Gabriel Luna) who is hot on her trail. During an attack, Grace and Dani are saved by Sarah, and they realize that if they’re going to find a way to defeat the Rev-9, they’re going to need some help from a certain T-800, played by the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While Dark Fate serves as a course correction for the Terminator series (in a very 2018 Halloween-esque sort of way, where it completely ignores everything after T2), in many ways, this latest chapter also feels like it could possibly be the final Terminator movie as well, and you know, if that were the case, it’s a strong note to go out on. Miller clearly leans into his experiences directing the quick-paced action of Deadpool to create some pretty fun whizz-bang action sequences here, and I do think both Davis and Luna make for strong adversaries here as well.
But the real reason to see Dark Fate is, of course, Hamilton, who steps back into this world with her jaded resolve and quiet confidence without missing a beat after nearly three decades. It’s not all business with Sarah either, as we get little peeks at Hamilton’s character’s dry sense of humor that ripples right beneath her gritty veneer, and her performance in Dark Fate is certainly a bright spot in the sequel that fans definitely will not want to miss out on.
That being said, Dark Fate does have some logic issues, particularly involving a sequel we see at the start of the film that takes place in 1998 after Skynet’s obliteration in T2, that rings hollow and is totally nonsensical. And while I will admit I enjoyed seeing Schwarzenegger here (I’m a sucker for nostalgia, folks), the circumstances involving his existence are questionable at best, and there’s also some weird baggage that comes with the appearance of his character as well (saying too much would be a bit spoilery, so I don’t want to say too much more here), and shoe-horning in the line, “I won’t be back,” at a certain point almost was enough to make me giggle (in not a good way).
Also, while there’s a lot to admire about Dark Fate, I have to admit that I felt like this film was missing a real sense of suspense and emotional stakes that drove both The Terminator and Terminator 2. And maybe it’s because I’m an old biddy who had the privilege of growing up during the age when practical effects were at their peak, but the over-reliance on digital effects in Dark Fate somehow made the action feel flat at times, and certain set pieces just didn’t wow me in ways that those first two films did decades ago.
For those who would argue that Terminator 2 was the turning point where digital effects really began to push storytelling in new, ambitious directions where anything truly was possible (hello, Jurassic Park), there was still a great deal of practical effects being utilized in Judgment Day from Stan Winston and his crew, and the only reason the digital effects still work as well as they do in that film is because you could seamlessly mesh them with their mind-blowing practical creations. There is one pretty rad enhancement with the Rev-9 model Terminator, though, that I did feel was rather ingenious, and it made for a nifty (and surprising) evolution in these merciless killing machines.
Saying that Dark Fate is the best Terminator movie since T2 isn’t really saying all that much, because that bar had been set pretty low after the last two sequels. But when judged by its own merits, I still enjoyed myself while watching it, and if we never get another Terminator movie again in the future, Terminator: Dark Fate is a fantastically entertaining and satisfying note for the franchise to go out on.
Movie Score: 3.5/5