It has been only four years since the Terminator series tried a new direction with the under-appreciated but terribly named Terminator: Genisys. 2019 brings Terminator: Dark Fate, a film that fashions itself as the new third Terminator film. In a series that is so heavily predicated on time travel and timelines, production can create any continuity that they want and get away with it. The main point of difference for Terminator: Dark Fate is that Linda Hamilton (Curvature) and producer James Cameron (Alita: Battle Angel) are back in harness for the first time since 1991, but it is never more ambitious than that.
When a Rev-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna, TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is sent from the future to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), she is protected first by future augmented human Grace (Mackenzie Davis, Tully) and then by the original Terminator target, Sarah Connor (Hamilton). Together the three women stand to defend a future that is yet to be determined, potentially with the help of yet another T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Killing Gunther), the original Terminator model.
The boldest move that Terminator: Dark Fate boasts is setting its earliest scenes in Mexico and making them almost exclusively subtitled. It is not dense or difficult to follow, but it will take an effort that many people will not expect. Beyond that, nothing challenges about the film: time travel is streamlined, there is only one paradox that is intriguingly shrugged off, and the Rev-9 just keeps on coming.
While the ensemble are fine, the character work in Terminator: Dark Fate is lacking. The script, by David S. Goyer (TV’s Krypton), Justin Rhodes (Grassroots) and Billy Ray (Gemini Man), from a story by Rhodes, Goyer, Cameron, Charles H. Eglee (TV’s Hemlock Grove) and Josh Friedman (TV’s Emerald City) is more perfunctory than comprehensive, and lacks an emotional core. There is little reason to bring Hamilton back if she doesn’t have more to do than swear and blow things up; the dynamic between Connor and the T-800 is mildly amusing but shallow, and the archival footage from Judgment Day is too stark a contrast for her purpose there. Davis is a vacuum, and Grace and Dani are placeholder characters in search of a film that they fit in beyond the vague notion of girl power.
The action, however, is well choreographed. Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) is no longer operating on a guerrilla budget, and he spends it well. The capabilities of the Rev-9 are confusing and vague, but they read well on camera, and Hamilton legitimately knows how to shoot someone in an action film. Terminator: Dark Fate is littered with action set pieces and every one of them lands. For some, that will be enough, but that’s the thing about being a legacy sequel: when the first two films embody the platonic ideal of the genre, anything that follows has a lot to live up to.
Terminator: Dark Fate is an attempt to bring the Terminator franchise back from the multiple graves that it has dug for itself in the 21st century, and it has mixed success. While it is nice to see Linda Hamilton in her biggest role in years, it’s not quite enough. It works as an action film, but there’s nothing compelling about the sum total of Terminator: Dark Fate beyond its potential for sequels.
Terminator: Dark Fate opened in Australian cinemas on October 31, 2019.
Directed by: Tim Miller
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta