“Terminator: Dark Fate” is a redundant but surprisingly entertaining sequel whose strong elements compensate for its weak ones to some degree. While it stumbles at times as an action flick, the movie manages to recharge its story formula via some interesting changes, and the overall result is the best entry in its franchise since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991).
First, let me explain a bit about what is changed in the timeline of this sequel. We already saw several alternative timelines in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003), “Terminator Salvation” (2009), and “Terminator Genisys” (2015), but the movie completely ignores them (This is not much of loss, by the way), and it re-starts its story at the time point not long after the ending of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. As many of you remember, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) tries to find some peace for her life after saving the human civilization from the upcoming doom to be caused an evil artificial intelligence named Skynet, but, alas, it turns out that she will continue to battle against her enemy which sends more of assassin robots called Terminators, and there is a devastating moment when she suffers a big price for what she did for saving the humanity.
Anyway, the judgment day Sarah feared for a long time does not come in 1997, and the human civilization subsequently enters the 21st Century, but, unfortunately, the development of an evil artificial intelligence fatefully occurs several decades later. As explained in the middle of the film, the evil artificial intelligence in this timeline, named Legion, is also defeated by the human rebel in the end, but, of course, it sends its own advanced Terminator, called Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna, who is as stoic and formidable as Robert Patrick in “Terminator: Judgment Day”), back to Mexico City, 2020 for eliminating a certain person holding the key to the victory of the human rebel in the future.
That person in question is a young Mexican girl named Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who suddenly finds herself thrown into a very perilous situation as Rev-9 approaches closer to her with single-minded ruthlessness. Fortunately, a mechanically enhanced soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is already sent from the future for protecting Dani, and she and Dani soon come across Sarah, who, for a reason explained later in the story, is ready to come to rescue when Grace and Dani are being cornered by Rev-9 during a big vehicle action sequence which may take you back to one of the key action sequences in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.
Although there is not much trust between Sarah and Grace, they band together anyway for protecting Dani, and they and Dani soon leave for a certain spot located in Texas. As watching them taking their risky journey across the Mexico-US border along with thousands of people trying to cross the border, I could not help but think of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s unforgettable immigrant drama film “Sin Nombre” (2009), and I was not surprised to learn later that the footage from that movie is actually used here in this film.
After managing to cross the border, Dani and her protectors eventually arrive at their destination in Texas, and, as already shown in the trailer of the film, they meet one of those several other robots sent from the original future. Since becoming purposeless many years ago, this robot, played by, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has led a normal human life as ‘Cal’, and it has already been waiting for the appearance of Dani and her protectors at the front door of its house.
Sarah understandably does not trust Cal much due to her old anger and resentment, but she is also well aware of that she and her two companions need any possible extra help, and Cal turns out to be quite helpful in more than one way. Besides having a storage room full of many various firearms, Cal is determined to protect Dani along with Sarah and Grace as much as possible, and we soon see them and Grace hurl themselves into more dangers caused by Rev-9.
Steadily maintaining its narrative pacing, the movie continues to provide us big action sequences, and we seldom get bored as a result, but director Tim Miller, who previously directed “Deadpool” (2016), somehow fails to generate enough fun and excitement. Although these action sequences in the film are not as dreadful as whatever we saw from those awful Transformers movies by Michael Bay, I must point out that they depend on a bit too much of choppy editing and shaky camera work, and I found myself getting more exhausted instead of excited during the climactic part of the film.
Nevertheless, the movie still works fairly well thanks to the strong presence of its good main cast members. While Arnold Schwarzenegger is as dependable as he was in the previous films, Linda Hamilton is as tough and gritty as required, and it is fun and interesting to how these two performers handle their respective roles with some nice touches and nuances. In case of the other notable cast members in the film, Mackenzie Davis, who is quite different here from her perky comic performance in “Tully” (2017), and Natalia Reyes are well-cast, and they and Hamilton are convincing in the rocky relationship development among their characters along the story.
In conclusion, “Terminator: Dark Fate” looks relatively plain compared to “The Terminator” (1984) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, but it is more satisfying than its recent predecessors including “Terminator: Genisys”, which I finally happened to watch a few days ago but did not remember much nonetheless. Yes, it is not entirely successful, but, at least, the movie does not forget what made the first two Terminator films so successful and memorable, and I am sort of glad about that.