In an effort to wipe out Judgment Day completely, thus erasing the events of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and the extremely mediocre two sequels that came after it, “Terminator: Dark Fate” presents a different future for the inhabitants of Earth to avoid – one in which a cyberwarfare program called Legion has become self-aware, waged war on the world, and is close to wiping out all of humanity. Oh, you’ve heard this one before? Therein lies the primary problem with “Dark Fate.” Instead of using this fresh slate opportunity to tell a new and exciting story, the film’s six collaborating writers instead chose to tell the same one as we’ve been seeing in this series since it began, with some slight variations in which characters play what roles in the fight, of course. I’ll concede that there is commentary to be made here, and it’s even ever so briefly touched on by the film in a few scenes about fate vs. free will; but from an entertainment standpoint, seeing the same old cycle of flashy new Terminator model comes back to kill would-be-savior of the world and is resisted by strong-willed humans is more tired than wired.
This new sequel isn’t without its strengths, though. The choice to have Linda Hamilton reprise her role as the famous Sarah Connor turned out so much better than I’d expected. The super cool 63-year old fits perfectly back into character and gives a phenomenal performance full of pathos, badassery, and snarky comedy. She is a weathered soul who takes no shit from anyone and serves as a great contrast to the equally headstrong but inexperienced augmented human Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who was sent back to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) for reasons that are entirely predictable. Davis and Reyes certainly seem committed, but the writing does them no favors, leaving the vast majority of the zingers to Hamilton and an eventual appearance by the franchise-making star himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reprising his role as the famous T-800, Schwarzenegger briefly provides a chance for the film to touch on the idea of Terminators gaining a conscience. It’s not too deep, but Arnold makes you care. Like Hamilton, the character still fits like a glove and his chemistry with her is off the charts, delivering some of the film’s very best dialogue.
It would probably be forgivable that this entry’s story is nothing unique if the action kicked ass on par with the franchise’s best. But alas, though certainly fine to watch at the moment, there is nothing memorable here. The new Terminator’s design is creative, and it’s fun to see the exoskeleton separate itself from the body to become two independently acting wholes, but no logical explanation is given on how this is accomplished and considering the writing that may be for the better. Director Tim Miller also over-uses slow motion, bringing it into nearly every action sequence at some point, and outside of the new Rev 9 Terminator splitting in two the film’s CGI is only serviceable at best while noticeably laughable at its worst.
Fans hoping that James Cameron’s involvement as Producer would lead to “Terminator: Dark Fate” returning the franchise to the greatness of its first two entries are unfortunately bound to be disappointed. Perhaps if he’d directed, this same old song and dance might have been elevated, but Miller is no Cameron, and “Dark Fate” is no “Judgment Day”. It is, however, entertaining. Full of explosively average action, with a predictable spin on a familiar narrative and a genuinely great return to an iconic character by Linda Hamilton, “Terminator: Dark Fate” may not offer anything remotely as emotionally powerful and memorable as the finale of “Rise of the Machines”, but it is easily the second-best Terminator 3 movie in the franchise.
Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.