“Terminator: Dark Fate” Not Destined to Failure

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“Terminator: Dark Fate” Not Destined to Failure

“Terminator: Dark Fate” stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, pictured above, along with Mackenzie Davis. (Courtesy of Twitter)

“Terminator: Dark Fate” stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, pictured above, along with Mackenzie Davis. (Courtesy of Twitter)

“Terminator: Dark Fate” stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, pictured above, along with Mackenzie Davis. (Courtesy of Twitter)

“Terminator: Dark Fate” stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, pictured above, along with Mackenzie Davis. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Greg Mysogland , Contributing Writer

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To echo what many other critics are saying, “Terminator: Dark Fate” is easily the best “Terminator” movie since the beloved “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” roared into theaters almost 30 years ago.

But to declare “Dark Fate” as nothing more than the best of the post “Judgment Day” efforts, the preceding three of which have ranged in quality from bland to abysmal, is to understate the films’ merit.

“Dark Fate” is better than just “not bad,” and while it probably won’t usher in a franchise renaissance the way “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did, it’s a legitimately enjoyable action adventure that benefits from a talented and committed cast, especially Linda Hamilton, who returns to her iconic role as Sarah Connor for the first time since “Judgment Day.”

“Dark Fate” is, in reality, the sixth film in the franchise, but it acts as if it’s the third, ignoring its three most recent predecessors entirely in order to act as a direct sequel to “Judgment Day.”

This is for the best, as it allows for one of the new film’s greatest strengths, namely that it is the first film since “Judgment Day” to try to push the franchise into new territory, even if it’s only incrementally successful.

The story of “Dark Fate” is far from innovative, replicating the structure of the first and second films entirely. However, it manages to feel less repetitive by allowing “Judgment Day” and the original film to have some weight and lasting consequences.

The fact that a new AI ruins the future by using Terminators is so silly that the film can’t help but hang a lampshade on it. But at least it doesn’t negate the victory Sarah and her son won in the second film, a failure of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

Skynet is at least well and truly gone, but that doesn’t mean the future is better off.  The new AI threat uses the same tactics as its predecessor, sending a Terminator, specifically an advanced Rev-9 model (Gabriel Luna) back in time to kill a leader in the human resistance, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), before she can become a problem.

Just as before, a lone warrior is sent to safeguard humanity’s hope: Grace (Mackenzie Davis) a soldier in the new future war with cyborg enhancements who will stop at nothing to keep Dani safe.

Soon after getting acquainted with one another, Dani and Grace are rescued by Sarah Connor, who, after a personal tragedy, has spent the years since “Judgment Day” hunting Terminators left over in our time. Despite a rivalry between Grace and Sarah, the women agree to help each other to keep Dani safe and kill the Rev-9. And yes, they cross paths with an Arnold Schwarzenegger model eventually.

Another one of the great successes of “Dark Fate” is how it replicates the nonstop intensity that makes the first two films so endlessly enjoyable. However, this is a bit of a double-edged sword as it leaves some characters’ stories feeling half-baked given that the film is always rocketing towards the next car chase or gun fight.

Davis gives an impressive, vibrant performance, but Grace doesn’t really have much of an arc or many character traits beyond her strength or commitment to protecting Dani. Dani essentially plays out the same arc Sarah had in the original film, going from just a regular, down-on-her-luck woman, to a survivor and soldier. But there are no new twists to this familiar tale. “Dark Fate” can’t help but be a little heavy handed with how often it reminds the viewer that Dani is a strong and capable woman, rather than simply allowing the viewer to recognize that for themselves as the first two films did with Sarah.

Hamilton and Schwarzenegger get meatier material to play with, and both are in top form.  Sarah is once again a live wire brought to life by Hamilton’s impressive physicality and Hamilton makes the character’s pain and anger palpable while also maintaining a dry sense of humor. The film is always at its best when she’s on screen. Schwarzenegger’s latest character is one of the more interesting ones in the franchise: a Terminator that, having succeeded in its mission, has found a new purpose and is actively seeking redemption. It’s a really interesting continuation of the idea introduced in “Judgment Day” that machines are capable of developing souls. Schwarzenegger gives one of his more nuanced performances in the role.

Unfortunately, “Dark Fate” probably isn’t fresh enough to reignite the franchise. It doesn’t give itself enough time to breathe and let its themes achieve complexity.

While much of the action goes back to the franchise’s gritty, brutal roots there are also one or two sequences of modern, more absurd spectacle that leave a lot to be desired. But, overall, the film is a welcome return to form for the ways it prioritizes story, suspense and character.