The Terminator franchise has been on an ever declining slope since Terminator 2. Rise of the Machines was a nice idea, but was let down by a ropey script. No one ever needed to see a T-800 say “talk to the hand”. And then we hit pretty close to rock bottom with Genisys which was just a failure on all fronts. It seems that the people behind the franchise agree as Dark Fate has retconned all the sequels, meaning this picks up after T2.
It is also the first film since T2 to bring back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner, after Rise of the Machines killed her off before the film. The film picks up in present day when a Terminator is sent back in time to kill off Dani Ramos, a young Mexican woman who works with her brother at an assembly plant. Sent back to protect her is the cybernetically enhanced Grace, who is a resistance fighter from 2042 who fights against an AI called Legion. This was a convenient way of keeping the franchise going without undermining the plot of T2 where Sarah and John stopped the Judgement Day caused by Skynet.
But this kind of obvious story writing really gets to the heart of the problem with Dark Fate, which is a fairly poor script. There are five people credited as working on the story, with three then given screenplay credit. This could go some way to explaining how the screenplay ended up as a bit of a mess. Because the story just hits a lot of familiar narrative beats for the franchise, and when it does try and change things slightly this is obvious from quite a way out. The dialogue too is often pretty poor.
But there are redeeming aspects for the film, particularly in the cast. It is fantastic to see Hamilton back in the role of Sarah Conner, as unsurprisingly she is the absolute standout of the film, badass as ever, but still with the vulnerability and flaws that made her such a compelling character, all who PST fighting through some terrible dialogue. Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis are both good as Dani and Grace, and although some of the writing is a bit on the nose about having three great lead characters, it is still something to be appreciated.
Meanwhile Gabriel Luna plays the Rev-9 model terminator in the film, and does a great job as well. It is also great to see a major franchise like The Terminator headed up by people of colour, and that is something the film does well, and without being self congratulatory. Finally Arnold Schwarzenegger is brought back in a smaller role as a T-800, and whilst I don’t particularly love what they did with the character, Arnie is obviously great in the role.
Dark Fate is directed by Tim Miller, whose only previous directing gig was the first Deadpool. And he turns out to be a great hire for Dark Fate, as he does a fantastic job, particularly with the action sequences. He does a fantastic job of making each of the different action sequences feel unique, and constructs each one fantastically so they’re exciting and dynamic.
Dark Fate is a real mixed bag of a film. There are things that are great, particularly Miller’s action sequences and the cast, but it all feels let down by a poor script that is at its best when recycling material from T2, so is hardly original. I guess here we are back at step one of right where we were with Rise of the Machines.