Terminator: Dark Fate reunites original franchise cast members Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a story once again conceived by James Cameron (Titanic) and directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool). Cameron gets help from screenwriters David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight), Justin Rhodes (Grassroots), and Billy Ray (Overlord), and this powerhouse team of genre writers does not disappoint.
Over twenty years have passed since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) saved the human race from extermination by self-aware computers. She must now return to protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from being targeted in a new attempt to alter the course of events, this time via a terrifying new terminator called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). Joining with them is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically-enhanced super soldier who has followed the Rev-9 through time to stop him. When hope is almost lost, they realize that they need more help in the form of a retired T-800 (Schwarzenegger).
The action is solid and very intense with many callouts to the original films, although some of them feel forced or clumsy. The new story is decent, but it does leave out some history that could have made it better. The pace of the new story flows well and Cameron’s ability to intertwine an emotional tale into an action-adventure film once again shines through. Unfortunately, Sarah Connor, a once strong and inspiring character, is reduced to a two-dimensional, crude and at times cartoonish portrayal. While still a butt-kicking force to be reckoned with, there isn’t much more to her. Dani, on the other hand, develops wonderfully as the script progresses, and what little development we get for Grace, in the familiar role of future soldier protecting a human target, it adds some needed background to the narrative.
Tim Miller obviously had great fun directing this and pulls solid performances from most of the players. The notable exception is Hamilton, who seems tired of the role, although this might be more a reflection of the writing than how she truly feels. Schwarzenegger’s role of the “old school” Terminator returns with the same toughness, humor, and familiarity fans of the franchise expect. Natalia Reyes gives a solid, convincing portrayal of a scared girl growing into a determined woman as circumstances force her to make hard choices. The standout performance is Gabriel Luna, giving perhaps the most chilling Terminator portrayal yet. His ability to change his speech and expressions as the character needs, alternating between unexpectedly friendly and chillingly sinister, is spectacular.
As is typical with films of this nature, special effects take on an important role, and in this case, the CGI is almost a character unto itself. The Rev-9’s disturbing new abilities are so cleanly and crisply animated that it simply flows into the action. Despite the number of over-the-top scenes and explosions, nothing is ever lost in motion blur; although a few times there is much going on, so audience members should pay close attention. You can feel James Cameron’s style and influence in the futuristic scenes and through the music score, as well as with some of the battle scenes set in present time.
Overall, Terminator: Dark Fate is a solid entry into the long-running franchise with just a few bumps along the way. With a good and open-ended enough direction, the franchise seems far from being terminated.