‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Review: A Worthy Sequel That’s Long on Action But Short on Story

Here’s our review of ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ starring Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger in theaters on Friday…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

It’s difficult to quantify the impact that 1984’s ‘The Terminator’ and the subsequent follow up ‘T2: Judgment Day’ had on science fiction films, particularly those with time travel involved.

James Cameron set a new standard with those two movies — first with the original ‘Terminator’ that was filmed on a smaller budget yet managed to produce a gripping cat-and-mouse thriller that helped introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the most menacing villains in film history. He then came back guns blazing with ‘T2’, which was not only a well orchestrated sequel but he executed the kinds of special effects in that movie that were awe-inspiring to say the least.

Unfortunately, ‘The Terminator’ franchise has fallen on harder times in recent years.

‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ was a terrible attempt to sequelize ‘T2’ without any of the main cast returning outside of Schwarzenegger. Then there was the ill-fated ‘Terminator: Salvation’ that sought to take the story into the future where the robot apocalypse was already underway but not even Christian Bale could rescue this film from the $5 budget pile at Wal-Mart.

The most recent attempt to reboot the franchise was ‘Terminator: Genisys’, which attempted to reset the entire ‘Terminator’ universe with a bunch of fresh new faces including ‘Game of Thrones’ star Emilia Clarke but that movie ended up being arguably the worst of the bunch.

The only watchable sequel came in a short lived television series — ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ — but unfortunately a high budget mixed with low ratings sank the show after only two seasons.

Now comes ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’, which looks to jump start the franchise yet again except this time all of the major parts were in place for a much better film. Not only did Linda Hamilton return for the first time since ‘T2’ but Cameron signed onto co-write and produce the film with ‘Deadpool’ director Tim Miller leading the movie.

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ serves as a direct sequel to ‘T2’, effectively forgetting about all of the other movies past that — and rightfully so — with hopes that this movie will be successful enough so Cameron can follow through with his ultimate plan to produce two more films in the trilogy. It’s impossible to say how successful this film will be until after opening weekend but just based on the cast and crew alone, ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ got a head start on all of the competition from the same category.

While the end result doesn’t quite hold up to ‘The Terminator’ or ‘T2’, the good news is ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ at least qualifies as a worthy sequel and one that should leave old fans and new satisfied to return to this franchise for another action-packed ride.

With that said, let’s get to our full review of ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ in theaters nationwide on Friday…

PLOT

Kyle Reese once said in the original ‘Terminator’ that there is no fate but what we make but it’s clear as soon as ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ gets underway that one thing that seems unavoidable is mankind’s inevitable path towards self-destruction.

Despite Sarah Connor’s best efforts, a great nuclear war still takes place years into the future just not the date in 1997 when she was told it would happen. Machines rose up against humanity and the war left mankind on the brink of extinction. That was until a warrior rose up and taught people how to fight — how to smash those metal motherf… — well you probably get the point because this should sound awfully familiar.

Yes, ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ features an eerily similar plot to the original film but if ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ taught us anything, it’s that nostalgia and a good story can still create a damn good movie.

This time around, a young girl from Mexico named Dani is the one being hunted by a new kind of Terminator called a Rev-9 — a black liquid metal version that can split into two separate entities — and a protector named Grace has been sent back from the future to protect the would be savior.

As much as Grace wants to protect the girl, she eventually needs backup and that’s where we meet Sarah again as she returns to the battle against the Terminators after her own life was thrown in upheaval when realizing that the war she was fighting was never really over. Sarah’s return adds another person trying to save Dani from termination as the Rev-9 goes to all new lengths in order to kill her.

ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT

First off, it’s fantastic to have Linda Hamilton back in this franchise.

She was the original and her transformation from a mousey waitress who was too timid to shout at a kid dumping ice cream into her uniform into a gun-wielding, muscle bound bad ass in the sequel just goes to show the kind of range Hamilton has in the same role. Obviously a few years have passed but that has only sharpened Hamilton to a razor’s edge as she returns to play Sarah Connor again.

Mackenzie Davis also deserves applause for her performance as Grace — the protector sent back through time to save Dani from termination. Davis has always been a great actress and she has shined on television and film but this really gives her a new accolade to add to her resume as she becomes a legitimate action star with this role.

Newcomer Natalia Reyes is a solid addition as the new ‘it girl’ that is trying to survive being slaughtered by the Terminator.  Of course, Schwarzenegger is back, too, and he’s still got the chops to pull off this role regardless of his age (he’s 72-years-old for those curious).

Gabriel Luna is the other new addition as he plays the Rev-9 and while he does an admirable job, it’s tough to pit him against Hamilton, Schwarzenegger and Davis, who are all powerhouses in their own rights. Luna isn’t bad by any means but he just doesn’t have that same kind of menacing swagger that made Schwarzenegger so scary in the original or the creepy, calm demeanor that defined Robert Patrick when he played the T-1000 in ‘T2’.

As for the script — it’s a decent story, although as mentioned in our plot details they don’t exactly attempt to reinvent the wheel with this movie. Maybe that’s a good thing because when you start tinkering with time travel too much, it’s very easy to completely lose your audience. That said, the plot and dialogue are just serviceable overall and it takes so long for certain elements to be revealed during the movie that you can easily lose track of why you’re supposed to care about these characters.

It’s also clear that while Miller and Cameron may have gone shot on story, they were definitely betting big on the action scenes. In fact, Miller reportedly left ‘Deadpool 2’ after he wanted to make a bigger budget action sequel than compared to the original but that’s not what Ryan Reynolds wanted and so they split.

Miller definitely gets his chance to flex his special effects budget with ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ and while that’s always a key reason why people will go see these movies, it felt like at times he was more concerned about nailing a great action sequence than actually packing enough story into the film to keep us interested beyond the huge explosions and edge-of-your-seat chase scenes.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?

As previously mentioned, the story in ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ isn’t bad but it’s not overly good either. It’s predictable — which in some ways is actually great because one of the biggest problems with many of the other sequels was the obvious overthought that went into those scripts. Still, ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ felt like an action movie that took too long to get to the actual story at the heart of this movie.

Some of the best moments in ‘The Terminator’ and ‘T2’ had nothing to do with the crazy action sequences and that’s just an element that never really delivers with this movie.

One more thing — perhaps the biggest mistake made by ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’, which was also an issue in past sequels, was the bizarre need to constantly up the ante with the abilities of the villains in this franchise. Certainly going from Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original to Robert Patrick’s liquid metal Terminator in the sequel was a nice upgrade but now it feels like they are trying too hard to make an unstoppable killing machine.

Sometimes less is more with films like these and once again it seems Miller was so determined to make a brand new Terminator as the bad guy that he failed to give his villain any real personality — and that might sound strange considering this is supposed to be an emotionless robot but the nuance added to that role by Schwarzenegger and Patrick in the first two films really made a huge difference in the overall film.

FINAL VERDICT

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ is the first worthy successor that can sit behind ‘The Terminator and ‘T2’ to carry the franchise into the future. A solid combination of new cast with old cast makes ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ the perfect blend of nostalgia with more than a few 2019 special effects dished out to keep it current.

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ definitely comes up short in the compelling story department but that doesn’t ruin the overall aesthetic of this movie by the time the credits roll.

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ gets 3 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale:

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