FILM REVIEW – TERMINATOR: DARK FATE. With Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna. Written by David S. Goyer & Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray. Directed by Tim Miller. Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity. 128 minutes.
The ads for TERMINATOR: DARK FATE call it the “day after Judgment Day.” That’s a way of signaling to viewers that this movie is ignoring all but the original “Terminator” (1984) and it’s first sequel, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991). So, don’t worry if you haven’t kept up. Everything you need to know is provided here.
The original premise was that a supercomputer system called Skynet had achieved consciousness and declared war on humanity. A killer cyborg, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, was sent back into the past to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose yet-to-be-born son would lead the revolt against Skynet. Sarah saved the world, with the help of the cyborg, who became a good guy in the second movie.
In the present film, it turns out that while Skynet was defeated, another malignant AI (artificial intelligence) has arisen, and so the problem arises all over again, this time with new generation of Terminator known as Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), who has come back to present day Mexico City targeting Dani (Natalia Reyes). Also sent back is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an “augmented” human able to fight the Terminators. What follows is essentially an epic chase that will leave many bodies along the way but will end up in Texas where the original Terminator (Schwarzenegger) now leads a quiet life as Carl, who runs a home décor business.
Many people are credited with the story and/or script, including original director James Cameron, with the result being a lot of action set pieces, nods to the earlier films (including the signature line “I’ll be back” which gets two unexpected iterations here), and what we can presume are valedictory appearances by Hamilton, 63, and Schwarzenegger, 72, in roles that first brought them enduring fame 35 years ago. As the new Terminator, Luna and a raft of special effects prove to be relentless, while Reyes and Davis offer what are, essentially, variations of different aspects of the characters from the original films.
Beyond the effects and some truly thrilling action scenes, the movie also takes some not-so-subtle digs at the political debate over border security and, perhaps surprisingly, offers a strong story of female empowerment. Hamilton, Reyes, and Davis dominate the first half of the film with a much younger Schwarzenegger (through SFX) appearing briefly, and the older “Carl” not showing up until the second half.
The more devoted fans can debate if the new timeline for the series makes sense. Those simply wanting to root for the good guys will find that easy enough. “Terminator: Dark Fate” delivers on its promise of mixing action, special effects, and character moments, and treating the series elders with respect and affection. If the series ends here, it goes out on a high note.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.