In 1984, James Cameron brought to life what is now one of science fiction’s most iconic characters: The Terminator. As The Terminator’s success grew so did the franchise, with a near perfect sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Many consider the first two films in the franchise as science fiction perfection, but they also may have overstayed their welcome with a slew of lackluster sequels. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines isn’t great, many are neutral towards it. However, Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys are basically the films that killed the franchise. This brings us to the attempted reboot/sequel Terminator: Dark Fate, and even though it’s the best film since Judgment Day, it might have been a little too late.
Following the events of Terminator: Judgment Day, the future of Skynet has fallen into oblivion. But even though the future was saved, the fate of the human race remained the same. An A.I. system called Legion rose in the place of Skynet, which sends a Terminator called a Rev-9 (played by Gabriel Luna) to kill Dani Ramos (played by Natalia Reyes). The Resistance from the future send back cybernetic human hybrid Grace (played by Mackenzie Davis) to protect Dani. With the Rev-9 hot on Grace and Dani’s tail, they receive help from Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) and a T-800 (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect the fate of humanity.
The story is nothing new here: a human resistance sends back a soldier to help protect their future leader from being killed by a futuristic A.I. system. It is about as cliché as Terminator movies can get. However, they make enough tweaks to how the story is presented and key characters to make it refreshing. For starters, having Sarah Connor not as the damsel in distress like the first film but keep her as badass as she was in T2. Hell, I’d argue she's even more badass both because of her age and demeanor throughout the film! They also gave an intriguing idea with Grace. Instead of just having a human soldier or a reprogrammed Terminator, they are sent by a hybrid that can take a Terminator in a fist fight. It worked even though the idea could have easily failed.
Other tropes that are synonymous with Terminator are the Human v. Terminator car chase, humans and older Terminator models vs. Upgraded Terminator, and another chase scene involving some sort of aerial vehicle. Terminator: Dark Fate is no exception, as they do have a thrilling car chase near the end of the first act that helps set the tense and dire tone of the film, not to mention a thrilling plane chase near the climax, which is arguably the best set piece of the movie. I will admit the climax of the film dragged on for longer than it should have with a couple fake-out deaths, but it nonetheless felt earned and followed in the footsteps of previous Terminator films.
The biggest change to the Terminator franchise in Dark Fate is that we are no longer worried about Skynet. That future is over, but instead there is a possibly darker future with Legion and their Rev-9 terminators. Using a different version of Skynet both allows for old fans to be curious at the story and bring in new fans to become interested. Plus, the Rev-9 is arguably as terrifying as the T-1000, having both an exoskeletal and liquid metal form, sometimes both at once. This definitely makes for a tense encounter if you are alone.
Even though the story revolves heavily around Terminator tropes, you cannot deny that the entire cast gave their all. Mackenzie Davis being the new Kyle Reese, in a sense, to protect the savior of humanity and Natalia Reyes as the new John Connor. Both are fantastic and give great amounts of badassery and depth to their characters, even if the traits they are given are nothing new. But the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor was arguably the best performance and biggest surprise. She is as quintessential as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and she brings heavy amounts of suffering to a role that could’ve easily just been there for a cameo’s sake. Even in her older age, she still knows how to kick some ass.
Terminator: Dark Fate was supposed to be the film that reinvigorated the franchise after the abomination that was Terminator: Genisys. But many fans were already disinterested in the franchise, making it one of the biggest box office bombs of 2019, so it is safe to say the franchise is officially dead. Even though the Terminator franchise should have stopped after Judgment Day, I was rather eager to see Dark Fate and see what they could bring to the table. While yes, they heavily rely on Terminator clichés and tropes, they found a way to make MOST work and not feel like a retread. The cast and action sequences are top notch, and a welcome return from the likes of Linda Hamilton is phenomenal. If the franchise went out after Dark Fate, it went out with a bang.