“Terminator: Dark Fate” is a mixed bag for ‘Terminator’ franchise fans. While it refashions the same storyline with neat tweaks and big blowout action scenes, it can’t stop itself from steering toward an overly familiar, overly long, over-the-top finale.
Director James Cameron returns to write “Dark Fate’s” story as a direct continuation of the first two (and best) ‘Terminator’ movies that he helmed- that’s good. Also good is Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Sarah Connor who, after being the target in “Terminator” and the heroine who saves mankind from being massacred by the machines they’ve created in “T2: Judgment Day,” returns after 30 years to help an all-new unsuspecting target from getting terminated by an all-new advanced Terminator. Hamilton’s return makes you realize you missed her from the ‘Terminator’s’ forgettable sequels all along.
As ‘fate’ would have it, the present-day plot moves the action down Mexico way. The unsuspecting target for termination this time is Dani (Natalia Reyes), a Mexico City gal about to go loco when the familiar ‘Terminator’ time-traveling lightning orbs plant themselves in her pueblo: one with a cyborg to destroy her, another with a soldier to defend her. The familiar set-up yields a neat tweak, thanks to advanced technology. The new Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is a Rev-9 model that can shapeshift to look like anyone while turning his hands into gigantic blades but can also morph off of his metallic skeleton so both shapeshifter and skeleton can fight separately- a nice 2-in-1 feature that doubles your death merchant.
Dani’s soldier ally is Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and she’s different too. Like Reese (Michael Biehn) in “Terminator,” the soldier sent to protect Sarah Connor, Grace is sent to protect Dani from Rev-9 but she’s advanced also. In a future where she’s wounded in battle against machines, Grace volunteers to be surgically enhanced. Now a super-soldier sent back in time (think Bionic Woman), Grace can move faster and withstand more pain than normal humans.
Familiarity dictates these two crazy combatants quickly meet and one of the film’s highlights is a highway showdown where Rev-9 chases Grace and Dani. Destroying slightly less cars than the Blues Brothers did in their movie, the chase ends on an overpass where Sarah Connor appears. Armed with high-grade assault weapons, including bazooka, Sarah aids Grace and Dani in repelling Rev-9 with her arsenal.
How’d Sarah find them? She receives texts from an unknown source, telling where the next Terminator’s popping up. Who sent the texts? Grace hacks Sarah’s phone, finding the source coordinates match Grace’s tattoo of same should she need help. Who’s helping Sarah and Grace?
It’s no small surprise Arnold factors in since the movie trailer touts him, nor is much of anything that follows in “Dark Fate” a surprise. Yet, the action scenes do carry you through until the final battle becomes such an overdrawn ‘thing that wouldn’t die’ situation that you wonder if your stamina to stay seated can outdo any onscreen characters’ stamina to survive.
While it’s bad to be repetitive, there’s slightly more good in “Dark Fate” than bad. Apart from director Tim Miller’s (“Deadpool”) action scenes that hit more than miss and Hamilton’s return to the role that made her famous, Mackenzie Davis is the real find. While I’ve seen her previously in “Tully” and “Blade Runner 2049,” Davis comfortably takes her first lead role here. Looking a lot like “The Princess Bride” actress Robin Wright, she possesses a lot of Wright’s qualities as well. Apart from natural beauty, Davis’ direct delivery combined with honest emotion immediately captures your attention.
Fate’s a funny thing and those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Since the ‘Terminator’ movies are all about doomsday, “Dark Fate’s” repetition’s just part of the equation. To quote Arnold: if you don’t like it, hasta la vista.