Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

Score: B-

Director: Tim Miller

Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Linda Hamilton, Gabriel Luna

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rated: R

The latest attempt to recapture the magic in the Terminator franchise has some radical ideas and mediocre execution. This puts it above the other failed attempts to keep this franchise alive, but that's not saying much. It's got a lot more in common with the dystopian vision of Elysium than the rest of the series. But still, this is mostly the same thing we've seen time and time again.

A major point in the film's favor is the reintroduction of Linda Hamilton. She's been absent since 1991's Judgment Day, but her presence here is strong. She's given a lot more to do than Jamie Lee Curtis was in last year's Halloween sequel, which similarly tried to deal with grief and trauma while ultimately settling that for some decent slasher action. Even though she may have helped shut down Skynet, she's still in the business of hunting Terminators when they show up.

The latest model is the Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna) can melt and rebuild himself at will and even split in two for double the carnage. He's been sent back in time to kill Dani (Natalia Reyes), a worker at a car factory in Mexico. Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is also sent back to protect her, and she's almost as good as Terminator, infused with some scientific nonsense that makes her stronger, faster and better equipped to fight the machines.

Tim Miller, who directed the first Deadpool, has an eye for a good chase scene or action throwdown. But none of it is that memorable, and its heavy reliance on CGI makes the first two films' mix of practical and computer-aided effects look even better. Where the film really stands out is in its plotting. Few major movies focus on women, let alone an action movie, let alone one where three women are the definite leads, doing most of the action and giving them at least some characterization.

But the middle section of the film is among the most radical things I've seen in a blockbuster. Dani, an undocumented immigrant, is smuggled into the U.S. and immediately apprehended by ICE. Stuck in a detention center where the conditions are poor and the guards even joke about cages, she's a sitting duck for the new Terminator. In his human form, he appears Latino, but switches into a good ol' boy dialect when talking with other guards and cops on his way to complete his mission. In the midst of the chaos as he chops his way through the mass of people, Grace frees all the other detainees. Part of this is to help protect Grace, but the movie appears to present this liberation as a good thing.

It's too bad the movie doesn't follow through on more ideas like this, falling back on things it knows the audience will love, like seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger again. I will say its attempts at girl power are better here than the lip service in something like Avengers: Endgame, but it would have rung a little more true without Arnold here. It's less convincing when it comes to the humanity-within-the-machine stuff, as evidenced by such clunky lines as "So you grew a conscience?" and "Do you love her?" "Not in the way a human does."

Terminator: Dark Fate is passably entertaining, but could have been much more. That makes four whiffs in a row. Maybe some day James Cameron will stop making Avatar sequels people don't want and make a Terminator sequel that people actually do.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.