Reel Shorts | Terminator: Dark Fate

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

Schwarzenegger and Hamilton return in the true sequel to the mega-blockbuster Terminator 2, Terminator: Dark Fate.

In Mexico City, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) has just found out that her brother’s job at the auto plant has been replaced by a robot.  While she is arguing the problem with her supervisor, the plant is attacked by an unstoppable terminator, the Rev-9.  The attacked is thwarted by a mysterious enhanced person named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and eventually Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton).  During their escape from the assassin, Sarah and Grace inform Dani that she is so important in a future world where machines have declared war against humans that a terminator has been sent back through time to kill her.

James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) returns as the main writer to the Terminator franchise he created with this new Terminator story.  Cameron is assisted by Charles H. Eglee (TV’s Dexter, The Shield), Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds), David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) and Justin Rhodes (Grassroots).  Terminator: Dark Fate may be directed by Tim Miller of Deadpool fame but this film has the look and feel of Cameron all over it, which is great for the franchise.

Back in 1995, James Cameron was slated to direct the third installment in the Terminator series but his studio lost the rights to the film.  Instead Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris and directed by Jonathan Mostow.  It detailed the story of a grown John Connor and his future wife and Skynet’s inevitability.  Terminator 3 movie spawned another sequel Terminator: Salvation, again with John Connor in the future.  Both movies did well but strayed from the intention of the creator in its plotline and scope.

Dark Fate rewrites and reboots the Terminator franchise, essentially discarding Rise of the Machines and Salvation completely.  Where Rise and Salvation seemingly ignored the outcome of Terminator 2, Dark Fate returns to the story, picking it up after the end of T2 and cementing the one true timeline of the franchise.  The one big problem with the story of T3 was if SkyNet was destroyed in T2, how was a new terminator sent back in time again to help John Connor again?  In Fate, the question is answered sufficiently and expertly in a manner that is completely understandable and plausible for moving the plot of this movie forward.

Cameron has reputation for two things: developing strong female protagonists (see Aliens, Alita: Battle Angel) and making sequels that exceed their predecessors (Rambo: First Blood Part II, Aliens, T2).  With Terminator: Dark Fate, Cameron’s reputation remains unblemished.  The incredible visual effects and insanely creative story of Terminator 2 are easily one-upped by the Dark Fate.  Although Davis’ Grace is an incredibly, strong-bodied and iron-willed and unflinching cyborg from the future, she pales in comparison to Hamilton’s Sarah, a gritty, grizzled veteran of terminator warfare.  Hamilton’s swagger is palpable and from moment one everyone knows that this is one person to not mess with.  Not to be outdone, Colombian actress Natalia Reyes is equally powerful playing the initially naïve Dani Ramos.

In Terminator 2, audiences were stunned by the performance of Robert Patrick as stoic, shapeshifting and deadly T1000.  Audiences will be equally terrified by Gabriel Lunas as the new Rev-9 Terminator that can do everything that the T1000 could plus some brand-new tricks.  In truth, Dark Fate has much the same plot, look and feel of T2 until Arnold Schwarzenegger appears onscreen as Carl the Drapery guy, a reformed T800 Terminator.  Arnold’s presence is pure genius, the perfect testosterone-absent foil for Hamilton and Davis. 

Does Cameron overtake his work in T2?  No.  Much like Star Wars, Dark Fate feels more like a retread of Terminator 2.  Is that a bad thing?  No.  Terminator: Dark Fate is a great action film despite its notes of familiarity. It is a combination of the original Terminator movie mixed with the second but leaves out the ending of the second movie which could be the premise for a fourth film.

Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity, Terminator: Dark Fate is certainly not Oscar material but it is a rollicking return to a franchise that seemed to have lost its way.  Welcome Cameron back for the film and say goodbye to the franchise for most likely this is the end.  Cameron is going forward to work on the next five in the set of Avatar movies and may be done with this franchise.  If so, this is a fitting and entertaining ending. If not, we know where we are going next.

Grade:  B-