I’m one of the rare few who actually likes every Terminator movie. In fact, the first film is probably my least favorite. It’s not bad, but just too dated and slow. I’m also in the majority in thinking that Terminator 2 is the best in the series. It’s a perfect film and one of my all-time favorites. Luckily, Terminator: Dark Fate (aka Terminator 6) plays mostly off the first two or three Terminator movies, so if you don’t like the last 2, or simply haven’t seen them, you don’t need to worry about catching up.
Dark Fate opens in 1998 as we see a very well-done CGI version of Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) and her son, John, as they relax at a beach resort, no longer having to fear for their lives. They have erased Skynet from existence, and no more terminator machines from the future are going to come back in time to kill them. Or so they think. Right on cue, in walks an even-more-CGI version of Arnold Schwarzenegger as his T-800 model shoots and kills John.
We then jump ahead to present day Mexico City, where Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is somehow being hunted by an unstoppable terminator-like machine, called Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). Apparently history has repeated itself, as now there’s a new AI company called Legion, designed for cyberwarfare, and just like Skynet, the robots have turned against the humans, and somehow Dani is involved with putting an end to them in the future, much like Sarah and John in the previous stories.
A half-human/half-machine cyborg, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), has been sent back in time to protect Dani, but is having a hard time getting away from the Rev-9. Then Sarah Conner enters the picture, now much older, and tells them that over the years, she’s been sent mysterious coordinates of terminator spawn points via text from an unknown source. She offers to help Dani and Grace, and the three of them go on a mission to find who’s sending the text messages and figure out how to get rid of the Rev-9 once and for all.
Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) takes after the wicked sharp pacing of Terminator 2, and nearly gets there. Although, admittedly, that feat has become far more common in the last 30 years. But this film keeps the intensity at an all-time high without feeling the need to sacrifice its story. Despite recycling the same basic formula of its predecessors, this movie still gives us a premise filled with fun plot points. However, it’s not without a few issues.
Somehow the film’s biggest plot holes don’t really stem from any time travel paradoxes. (Spoilers ahead–kinda). There are a couple put in place out of convenience one way or another. LIke, how Sarah could have just as easily killed Grace at her spawn point, not knowing she’s one of the good ones. It makes you wonder how many good robots she’s accidentally killed in the past.
Also, in the first Terminator film, it makes sense that Skynet wanted to kill Sarah in order to prevent John, the savior, from being born. But why does Legion wait until Dani is an adult to go after her? Why not give themselves a bigger cushion and first try to kill her before she’s born as well? For movie marketing/political reasons, I get why they chose to make her an adult, but from our antagonist’s point of view, it just doesn’t make much sense.
These are just a couple of examples that keep Dark Fate from reaching the same heights as T2. I can deal with the usual paradox-based holes found in almost every time travel movie. Time travel is an abstract concept, after all. But to have big holes that can be easily filled if thought through a little better is a different story.
Fortunately, the film takes us on an adventure with characters we’ve grown to love over the years. Schwarzenegger and Hamilton are back, which is always a good thing. Reyes’ does an okay job in the lead role, but her soap opera delivery can be a bit distracting at times.
Dark Fate also lacks that same emotional punch as the earlier installments. Dani loses her family early on, but you really never feel like she’s yearning to fill any voids–unlike John in previous movies, who never knew his father and looks to Arnold’s character as that father figure. Perhaps its the lack of on-screen talent, or just that the story this time around feels less organic and more contrived.
But when it comes to entertaining, Terminator: Dark Fate accomplishes what every other movie does in this series. From start to finish, I was fully intrigued by what I was watching. No matter what anyone else thinks, I don’t have to count this one out when saying how much I love this franchise.