It’s a hell of a thing when a franchise gets away from you.
Following the success of James Cameron’s Terminator series (read: 1+2), studios ran wild with the idea, completely convoluting the timeline and the quality of the brand with endless sequels and spinoffs. We’re at the point now where directors and Cameron are debating over lore and timeline authenticity, which is starting to reach J. K. Rowling levels of absurdity. Whatever the case might be, we now have Terminator: Dark Fate, produced by James Cameron once again and helmed by beloved Deadpool director Tim Miller. What could go wrong?
Although Dark Fate has a hell of a slow start, we eventually ramp up to the point where we meet Mackenzie Davis’ Grace, a super-soldier from the future, who rips onto the screen with a primal, badass entrance. Linda Hamilton quickly follows as an equally badass learned veteran of the modern-day Terminator wars; all assembled in an attempt to protect Daniella Ramos, a figure that grows up to have some role in the future chaos, just like John Connor before her. You get your car chase. You get your machine versus machine battle. Then…things get a little more muddled.
Dark Fate attempts to add more lore into the mix and introduces another timeline where humanity fails to put a lid on killer AI yet again. It also tries to bridge the actual Judgment Day event with future scenes, like several (failed) films before it. While it’s far from confusing, it’s indicative of where the franchise has gone and how fans are in full “won’t get fooled again mode.” Dark Fate constantly loses its way and finds itself again, but doesn’t come to terms with the fact that the mystique of the first two films was part of the appeal.
There’s popcorn action for sure, and the cast does a great job with the material they were given. The problem is that Terminator 2 naturally moved the series out of the horror genre and firmly into action, and Dark Fate expands upon that notion with a fault. This is not an urgent, R-rated film, despite the rating. At one point there’s a lengthy sequence about getting smuggled across the border to get to a mysterious benefactor.
Dark Fate also wields nostalgia like a weapon, with Tim Miller-signature tonal shifts that really don’t match up. It was effective seeing the sheer terror on Sarah Connor’s face when she saw the T-800 in Terminator 2 again, despite its shift in allegiance. Here, the new “Rev-9” baddie quietly quips on-screen (Deadpool this is not) and only gets one sequence that shows how much damage he can really do. It’s a stark departure from the brutality of the T-800 and the T-1000 before it.
The bottom line: this series needs to end. Two was enough, and any (current) attempt to expand past those premises is futile. Dark Fate is a decent enough exercise in escapism, but like many action flicks before it, it’s not going to be remembered as fondly as the first two Terminator entries.