So far we’re about ten alternate time lines deep in to the “Terminator” series, a movie franchise that continues to chug on thanks to the good word from James Cameron. Methinks without Cameron, “Terminator” would and should be put to sleep as a limp IP that loses more and more fans every single year. The convoluted timeline doesn’t even want to try to explain its own concept and logic (and lack thereof) anymore. It’s now basically rebooted itself (once again), and takes off limping to the finish line. From a confusing (bold?) retcon, to an over arching theme with heavy social commentary, “Terminator: Dark Fate” incidentally makes an argument against its existence.
In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos. Also sent back in time is the young blonde Grace, a hybrid cyborg and human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. Relentless, the Rev-9 is hell bent on murdering Dani for reasons unknown to her. The pair of women soon finds some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected heroes—the tough as nails warrior Sarah Connor and the now defunct cyborg the T-800 Terminator.
The thing about “Dark Fate” is that it’s about three parts a pretty solid “Terminator” movie and one part a really clumsy follow up. The producers simply have no confidence in the momentum of the Terminator series, so rather than start from square one, the writers literally force the T-800 and Sarah Conner in to the narrrative. And make no mistake, they feel injected in to a script that could be much more streamlined without all the establishing sub-plots of the Sarah and what happened to the T-800. This film is set another another timeline where “T2” was all around avoided. This left basically the introduction of a whole new series of events as well as a new villain known as Legion. The writers work overtime to justify the inclusion of Sarah Conner and the T-800, even squeezing clunky nods to “T2” and the 1984 original.
Beyond the goofy fan service and sub-par performance by Linda Hamilton, the writers build a fascinating reboot that also touches on the illegal immigration and detention camps. It feels absolutely calculated that the heroine is Latinx while the villain is also a Latinx male who blends in as a hunter by wearing the suit of a law enforcer with a slight Southern twang. Without all the silly nonsense involving Conner and the T-800, the writers may have actually been able to expand on the aforementioned themes, spreading a new foundation for a wider science fiction scope with heavy social and political overtones. For example, Legion isn’t touched upon all that much.
What if Legion was explored as a fascistic corporation? Or perhaps it was some sort of Amazon type of company originally? Maybe it was originally developed as a means automation to replace human workers and spiraled out of control? Who knows? In either case, Gabriel Luna and Natalia Reyes are great, while Makenzie Davis is fantastic in the role that combines the Kyle Reese and T-800 function altogether. At the end of the day, “Dark Fate” isn’t a complete disaster like “Genysis.” It’s serviceable and garners some pretty rousing action sequences and stunts. I just wish it could have carved its own path rather than reminding us yet again that in 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger once said “I’ll Be Back.”