In thirty-five years The Terminator has spawned five sequels, a trilogy of novels, a TV series, a 3D theme park attraction, and so much more. How did this low budget tech-noir/cyber-horror film craft such a franchise? I think we can chalk it up to James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd’s inventive world along with the perfect casting of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the proceeding years Cameron crafted a perfect sequel. From there he moved on to other projects, but the Terminator series continued to be loved by fans and exploited by producers. So it was only a matter of time before more sequels would get cranked out only to “perform below expectations”. Both Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys were released as hopeful precursors to a brand new trilogy storyline. What Terminator: Dark Fate has going for it is the guiding hand of James Cameron to craft the story and give his input. Did this help make the film better than the previous three?
“When this is all over, I’m going to kill you.”
Pulling a Halloween (2018), Terminator: Dark Fate erases the disliked sequels from canon leaving only the first two films in play. Fast forward two decades and a new and improved model of Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is sent back to kill Dani (Natalia Reyes) only to be rescued by Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically enhanced human from the future. Gee, it’s not like we haven’t heard this story before, have we? And that’s the major problem. Much like Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Halloween this film feels like a cover band remixing the hits of more talented musicians. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the results as always are a mixed bag.
While the story does introduce a few new ideas nothing really gets fleshed out. With Skynet officially dead and buried, a new threat called Legion has taken its place. There goes the concept of, “No fate but what we make for ourselves” that was at the core of Cameron’s original films. And this is the problem, if Judgment Day is inevitable even if we keep delaying it where is the tension? We also have to wonder, why Legion would recycle another evil robot regime’s diabolical plan to destroy humanity when it has already failed twice? These are plot holes that could be filled, but the film wants you to take the story at face value and ignore these questions.
“You may have changed the future, but you didn’t change our fate.”
The real highlight of the film is the return of Linda Hamilton to her iconic role. While the series shuffled forward over decades it always felt like something was amiss. Seeing her once again picking up the automatic shotgun and grenade launcher was a welcome return to form. It was interesting seeing in the time since T2 how she has moved forward. If only there had been more screen time dedicated to this.
With the rest of the cast the film is a mixed bag. Grace and Dani are two characters that are given basically the barest of character development to try getting us invested in these newcomers. It’s a shame as I wanted to connect with their relationship the same way as I had with Kyle and Sarah or John and the T-800. And with Arnold we’re treated once again to another Terminator who is unfortunately a bland imitation of his previous work.
“I won’t be back.”
At the core of this series has always been a problem that plagued most of it’s sequels. Nobody seems to have had any clue what to do with John Connor. The first two films built him up as the savior of humanity (his initials are literally JC!) while he has never fulfilled this promise. And here he’s done probably the biggest disservice to his character in a series where he’s shown being a homeless nomad, an ineffectual military officer, and infected with nano-bots to become a terminator himself.
In the end Terminator: Dark Fate is the third film meant to be a springboard for a new trilogy that falters. I will recommend seeing just for Linda Hamilton, but everything else is rehashed tropes and plot points. If you’re looking for Terminator stories that add to the mythology I’d recommend watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles or reading S.M. Stirling’s book series.
Overall Score 2.5/5