“Terminator: Dark Fate” is the sixth film in the 35-year-old sci-fi franchise, but we’re told to forget all about “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Terminator Salvation” and “Terminator Genisys.”
Sidebar: I’d already forgotten about “Terminator Genisys,” even though it came out just four years ago.
So… “Dark Fate” occurs in the aftermath of the events of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), in which Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor saved her son John from death by robo-killer and thus saved 3 billion people from future extinction.
But here’s the thing. This three-quel, if you will, is so derivative of “Judgment Day,” they should have asked us to forget about that movie as well if they wanted us to believe it has anything fresh or original to add to the franchise.
In “Terminator 2,” Robert Patrick’s T-1000 model was an advanced, chrome-colored, shape-shifting, liquid metal killing machine who could literally be blown apart and would still reassemble itself and keep on coming. Remember how he could run like the wind, and transform his hands into blades? Cool!
In “Dark Fate,” Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 is an advanced, shape-shifting, liquid metal, black-colored killing machine who can literally be blown apart but still reassemble itself and keep on coming. He can run like the wind and transform his hands into blades!
Even though “Dark Fate” tosses aside the third, fourth and fifth entries in the series like a Terminator disposing of a hapless cop, it also undercuts the impact of the first film and the follow-up (which is one of the two or three greatest sequels of all time).
First, they get rid of the John Connor character in almost casual fashion. More egregiously, although Sarah Connor did indeed alter the future by destroying Cyberdyne Systems before it could even manufacture terminators, we’re now told it was all for naught— because a company called Legion created its own brand of terminators, who, of course, turned against humankind and ignited a global war that has resulted in the deaths of billions of people.
Basically, we’re right back where we started in terms of plot.
The time and setting are new: Mexico City, 2020. A naked being falls from the sky, tosses around a few humans, finds clothes that fit, and here we go again.
Ah, but this time traveler is an “augmented” human with super strength and super speed named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and she is here to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes), a teenage factory worker who will become humankind’s last best hope in the future war — if she can make it that far.
Gabriel Luna plays the seemingly unstoppable Rev-9 model terminator who arrives shortly after Grace and immediately starts killing anyone that gets in “his” way as he tracks down Dani.
This leads to an excruciatingly long car chase sequence that, like the Rev-9, just keeps going and going and going. The scene is big-budget proof you can fill the screen with action and come close to bursting the speakers with the sounds of explosions and gunfire and crashes, and still risk putting the audience to sleep.
It’s great to see Linda Hamilton return to the role of Sarah Connor, who has spent the last two decades killing the occasional terminator that falls to Earth and drinking herself to sleep every night. “I’m wanted in a couple of states,” Sarah tells Dani and Grace. “Well, 50 states.”
Sarah joins forces with Dani and Grace, as they embark on a mission to cross the Mexican border into the U.S. (cue some socially and politically relevant touches) and stay one step ahead of the Rev-9 while tracking down the mysterious texter who has been helping Sarah for years now.
Hmmm, wonder who that could be?
Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the original Terminator, who continues to somehow evolve and become ever more human and at this point is borderline cuddly. (Your crusty old uncles and grandpas probably never changed as much as this guy.)
It’s impossible not to laugh at some of the Terminator’s one-liners, but now it’s as if he’s in on the joke. It was a lot funnier back in the day when the machine didn’t know why “F--- you, ass----” and “Hasta la vista, baby” and “I’ll be back” would elicit chuckles.
Like Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton has been off the grid for quite a while, but she slips right back into the role she made iconic, and she’s terrific as the world-weary but still fiercely determined badass — but she’s saddled with some corny dialogue, and is going through a storyline that’s like “Judgment Day” meets “Groundhog Day.”
Mackenzie Davis has been on cusp of stardom for the last couple of years, and she’s impressively effective here. (It helps that while Grace is essentially the Six Billion Dollar Woman, she’s a human at heart, capable of real emotion and also of delivering genuine dialogue.)
Natalia Reyes has an instantly winning screen presence as Dani, who, like Sarah Connor, didn’t ask for any of this and has no idea why anyone would consider her special — even as she’s proving, again and again, how special she truly is.
All well and good. There are more than enough ingredients here to cook up one rousing and thought-provoking sci-fi thriller.
Except this time around, they’re just serving up overcooked leftovers.