Latest ‘Terminator’ journey doesn’t need to be taken
Following many a cue from last year's “Halloween” follow-up, "Terminator: Dark Fate" decided to cast aside the last several attempts to reboot the franchise (essentially condemning them as inferior cash grabs) and pick up its story after the timeline last left in “T2: Judgment Day."
This cinematic appendectomy was also used in the X-Men franchise, which famously removed some of the unwanted narratives by just creating its own little time machine that all but erased them.
After a few attempts to reboot the sagging franchise (with 2003’s “Rise of the Machines,” 2009’s “Terminator: Salvation” and 2015’s “Terminator: Genisys”), “Dark Fate” hops into its own time machine and sort of sweeps them all under the rug to clean up the joint for the return of James Cameron, serving here as producer and “story by” credit.
While the sixth cinematic installment (not including the underappreciated “Sarah Connor Chronicles” show, which ran for two seasons on Fox) is certainly a marked improvement over the last few outings, it feels as though Cameron and director Tim Miller (“Deadpool”) are trying to cash in on nostalgia that would be better served by merely rewatching the sci-fi masterpiece Cameron already created.
“Dark Fate” marks the return of Linda Hamilton, who set the standard for action heroines of the ‘90s, as well as dragging out Schwarzenegger for yet another go. Taking place about three decades after “T2,” a young Dani Ramos (played by Natalia Reyes) finds herself in the crosshairs of a murderous new brand of cyborg, the Rev-9 (played by Gabriel Luna). This latest upgrade has the ability to splinter into two and seems essentially impervious to weapons.
But the future also sends another new model to save Dani. The name of her new saviour? Grace. That’s about as subtle as you can expect here. Grace (played by Mackenzie Davis) also encounters a reclusive Sarah, who has been living off the grid since failing to protect her son from being terminated.
Their plan to protect Dani also involves the original Terminator himself, who, like his one-time co-star Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in the “Halloween” reboot/sequel, has been living a solitary life stockpiling weapons and booby-trapping his surroundings.
The explanation for his aged-but-still-fit presence in the film is awkwardly shoehorned in and serves less as plot-driven purpose than it does as fan-fueled sentimentality. And while Miller certainly knows how to stage action, many sequences feel more like recycled scraps from “T2” designed to trigger our collective memory while glossing over how empty-calorie all the proceedings actually are.
There are no technological leaps like the groundbreaking liquid metal-morphing presented in “T2,” and honestly, there are many action sequences that take a technological jump back in presentation (characters leap with blurry, jerky moves that are far too rubbery to resemble live action).
It’s great to see the franchise keep its female-centric theme by giving us three strong leads (including one over 60!). But Reyes is not a strong enough actor to feel as though she can fill the steel-toed boots once worn by Hamilton, leaving little yearning for future installments. The same can be said for Gabriel Luna as the newly designed Terminator, the Rev-9, who is nowhere as menacing, or interesting, as Robert Patrick’s T-1000.
The true standout is Davis, who is ferociously committed to her physically demanding role, but she is often sidelined to give viewers a chance to whisper, “Oh, I remember that from ...” or, “Oh, that was a reference to ...” whatever.
Yes, “Dark Fate” is perhaps the third-best in the series, but that’s faint praise given the quality of the three films preceding it. It strikes the right balance and gets the films back on path, but it just does not feel like a journey that needs to be taken in the first place.