We didn’t need another “Terminator” movie. “Dark Fate” proves it.
The sixth film in the series essentially rehashes the plot from James Cameron’s 1984 classic.
Been there, terminated that.
Still, “Terminator: Dark Fate” gets just enough elements right, from a key character’s return to a refreshingly streamlined plot, to temporarily revive the saga.
That’s about the best one can say about a franchise that should have called it quits back in 1991.
“Dark Fate” opens in 1998, as a young-ish Sarah Connor watches her son, John, get killed by a T-800 model Terminator. AKA Ah-nold.
The sequence is amazing for purely technical reasons. The de-aged Sarah, John and Schwarzenegger robot look exactly as they did nearly 30 years ago.
We can’t marvel at the technology too long, though. The story quickly shifts to 20 years later in Mexico City. Young Dani (Natalia Reyes) is working on an assembly line along with her brother. Unbeknownst to her, a slick new Terminator, the Rev-9 edition, wants her dead. Gabriel Luna does the Terminator honors here, but his grim visage is no match for “T:2′” standout Robert Patrick).
Why does the Rev-9 want to erase Dani? Cue the Sarah Connor Story 2.0. Dani plays a pivotal role in humanity’s rage against the A.I. machine.
FAST FACT: “Terminator: Genisys” brought Schwarzenegger back to the franchise, but it still earned a tepid $89 million back in 2015.
That means Dani gets her own guardian angel from the future, according to the Terminator blueprint. Only this time he’s a she. Grace (Mackenzie Davis, “Tully”) isn’t quite human like Kyle Reese back in the franchise day. She’s “augmented” and tough enough to stare down any Terminator.
Just keep her hydrated!
Before long ol’ Sarah Connor herself enters the scene. She’s been notified about Dani’s plight from a mysterious source that could be their last, best hope. Maybe Sarah doesn’t need any backup. She spent the last two decades drinking and defeating other Terminators, and she’s confident she can “hasta la vista” Rev-9, too.
Because we’re in a post #MeToo world, and every female character must be an elite warrior who defies the laws of physics.
So how does Schwarzenegger fit into the story? And are we really fighting against a Skynet clone? Might as well throw in a Death Star while we’re recycling things, eh?
Director Tim Miller (“Deadpool”) keeps the story chugging so fast there’s little time to ask any more questions. It’s all about protecting Dani … and reminding us this is a very 2019 franchise entry.
The girl power elements are front and center, ignoring the fact that the original two films already delivered one of sci-fi’s most empowered heroines.
Kudos to Team Terminator for avoiding overt lectures in between the action. They flirt with 21st century finger wagging on another front, though.
The story finds our heroines fleeing Mexico City for a small Texas town. That means they have to smuggle themselves across the border, giving the film enough time to portray border patrol agents as the bogeymen.
Once again, Miller keeps tight control of the material, letting the adventure beats take charge.
So where’s Arnold? Wait, he’s coming, and he’s the most innovative part of this retread. His Terminator, older, wiser and darn near human, gets a killer back story and plenty of well-earned sparks with Sarah.
Schwarzenegger the actor has come a long way, baby.
Neither Dani nor Grace can match the charisma of the franchise’s key players.
Recent attempts to reboot the franchise, from “Terminator: Salvation” to “Terminator Genisys” failed or failed miserably, depending on who you ask.
Still, “Terminator: Dark Fate” is different. It’s lively, brimming with sharp action sequences. James Cameron is back, too, and his professional touch is obvious throughout the story.
His ham-fisted dialogue is, too, robbing the new characters from making a strong impression. Davis, enchanting in “Tully,” overcomes that hurdle, to a degree. She’s a nimble warrior, even if some action scene editing gets too aggressive.
Reyes, by comparison, lacks dimension. Blame a script with little interest in giving her anything approaching a complex character trait. She’s one speech away from Mary Sue territory.
The battle sequences mostly sparkle, even if they tend to go on too long. Miller’s visual gifts are beyond reproach by now. The more he depresses the accelerator, the less we wonder about the story’s gaping plot holes.
The bottom line? “Terminator: Dark Fate” laps the last three “T” features, the very definition of faint praise. There’s even less reason to continue the franchise at this point, but “Dark Fate” at least wraps the saga on a satisfying, if maddeningly familiar note.
HiT or Miss: “Terminator: Dark Fate” is the prototypical unnecessary sequel, but it’s slick enough to merit the ticket price.