Listen... and understand. Hollywood is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop making Terminator movies—ever—until we are all dead. So take us home, clunky roads! Arnold and friends are back with a brand-new misadventure, Terminator: Dark Fate.
Those of us still standing after the series’ last few blunders should have learned that optimism is for suckers, but James Cameron’s return to the franchise once again sparked hope for a great movie. To be fair,Dark Fate is the best Terminator outing since Judgment Day—but that’s not much of a compliment considering the abject awfulness of Genisys and the like. The newest killbot, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), looks cool, and there’s some clever choreography peppered throughout the nonstop action barrage. Yet Dark Fate more or less rehashes the same old story without bringing anything too memorable to the table.
Things start the same way they do in every Terminator: Damn dirty machines send a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back through time to kill Sarah (Linda Hamilton) and/or John Connor (Edward Furlong), thereby stopping the future’s human resistance before it even begins. Only this time—immediate spoiler—the Terminator succeeds. John gets killed off and Dark Fate wipes out decades of canon right out the gate. It’s a bold move, one that might have even worked were there anything meaningful replacing John’s storyline.
Instead, the Rev-9 travels back through time to kill a new person of future importance, a Mexican factory worker named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), while the good guys of 2042 send their own warrior, an augmented human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), to protect her. You can guess how the rest plays out. There are a few curveballs—delivered mostly by Arnie, whose reveal is ruined by the marketing materials—but for the most part, Dark Fate relies on constant fight scenes to speed over borderline nonsensical characterization, half-hearted political statements, and the definition of a formulaic plot.
What’s frustrating, as always with these movies, is the wasted opportunity. We ’90s kids, we happy few, know how incredible a Terminator movie can be. We know that action flicks don’t have to be mindless. You absolutely can have your cake and eat it too. So to see this franchise go the way of Pirates of the Caribbean or any number of done-to-death “sagas” probably stings more than it should. Granted, if you’re just jonesing for the ol’ “high-octane thrill ride,” Dark Fate may scratch that itch. However, making a not-abysmal movie should never count as a success, especially when we know there’s potential for a classic.
Nothing will ever tarnish the magic of those first two Terminator movies, but after four lackluster-to-horrible efforts since, it’s probably time to say, “Hasta la vista” to this baby for good. I would have loved to see Hamilton and Schwarzenegger ride off into the sunset with style but... c’est la vie. We’ll always have future Paris.
Terminator: Dark Fate
Director: Tim Miller
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis
Theater: Area theaters, now playing