Synopsis: Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Diego Boneta, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes
Director: Tim Miller
Running Length: 128 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: In 1984’s The Terminator, a man sent from the future to protect a woman targeted by an unstoppable killing machine has memorized the the phrase “No fate but what we make” and that’s quite apropos to the subsequent films in the franchise. The 1991 sequel set a gold standard for how to jump back in years down the line and continue on not only with brilliant advances in technology but by adding deeper mythology to the narrative. After that blockbuster, without creator James Cameron to provide guidance the producers of the next three films let the quality and storytelling slide and it seemed the fate of the series was sealed by the lackluster reception for 2015’s misguided Terminator Genisys.
Unwilling to let the machines win, Cameron (The Abyss) was lured back with the promise of more creative control, eventually signing back on as a producer and providing a story idea he’s been toying with as well. Though it was briefly discussed to have star Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand) sit this one out, wiser heads prevailed, and the bulky former Governor of California joined Cameron for what would become Terminator: Dark Fate. Then there was the big get…Linda Hamilton. Absent from the series since Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991, Hamilton had been married to Cameron and their 1999 divorce (with Hamilton walking away $50 million richer) was said to have contributed to her moving into more television/video work and less feature films. Somehow, someway…they got her and that became the lynchpin for kickstarting this production into high gear.
Taking a page from 2018’s Halloween, Terminator: Dark Fate ignores the events from every sequel after T2 and the studio logo plays over a familiar scene with Hamilton’s character from that film. To its great credit, T:DF opens with an unexpected twist of events that will have an impact on everything we’ve come to know about Sarah Connor (Hamilton, King Kong Lives) and her son John Connor (Edward Furlong, A Home of Our Own) who would grow up to lead the resistance against weaponized machines hell bent on exterminating the human race. Twenty-two years later, in Mexico City we witness the familiar electrical surges that signal the arrival of two time travelers from the future. One is Grace (Mackenzie Davis, Blade Runner 2049), an enhanced military soldier, sent to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) from the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna, Bernie) a new breed of liquid metal Terminator that can separate from his endoskeleton if he needs an extra hand.
Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) wastes no time in getting straight to the action with our bearings barely established before the first major action sequence is initiated. That leaves little time for any kind of character introductions or development, a key piece that was such a benefit in previous films. Before we even know who we’re supposed to be caring about, we’re already watching them being kept out of harms way by a skilled soldier gamely standing her ground against a seemingly indestructible robot. Thankfully, right about the time the movie threatens to move at such breakneck speed everything begins to become a blur, Miller hits the skids and gives Hamilton a hell of a great entrance that had our audience (and likely yours) cheering. I was worried that Hamilton’s return would be a lot of build up but no pay off and it’s definitely not that, she’s top-billed in the credits for a reason.
That’s not to say it’s smooth sailing for T:DF. While it’s arguably the best sequel since T2, it struggles with some hackneyed dialogue and uneven performances that don’t provide a consistently level ride. When Hamilton as Sarah meets up with yet another version of Schwarzenegger’s make and model Terminator, their rapport is such that you get a feel of how easy-going the film should feel. While Davis has been dynamic in other films there’s something curiously lacking in her delivery as a leading action star and it doesn’t get better as the film chugs along. Same goes for Luna who is a complete blank slate as the mission focused death-bot…I understand he’s not programmed for much emotion but even Robert Patrick’s unforgettable villain in T2 presented a few levels to his reaction shots. Saddled with the worst dialogue and overacting the most is Reyes, never quite finding any equilibrium. She plays such an integral part to the plot (notice how I’m not bothering to provide details, just to say the gender-swapping doesn’t stop at a female protector being sent from the future) that it’s disappointing Reyes isn’t a stronger presence.
For fans of the franchise, I think they’ll be happy (if not satisfied) that the production has learned from the last few films and got back at least in some small part to what made the first two movies such landmarks. That pulsing score and central theme is ever-present and having Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as we’d imagine her to be all these years later front-and-center was a wise way to evoke good-willed nostalgia, even if what we’re watching still can’t quite measure up. No fate but what we make…and I think Cameron and company have taken that to heart while putting Terminator: Dark Fate together. It’s not the fully assembled machine we’ve been waiting for but this model will do…for now.