“I won’t be back.”
Justin’s rating: T-Rific
Justin’s review: It seems like the forces of Hollywood are hellbent in ruining any great scifi series over time. The Terminator franchise has been a wild mess following the first two incredible films. Rise of the Machines was, in my opinion, decent, but it wasn’t to everyone’s liking. Then there was the nonsensical mess of Salvation and the weird do-over of Genisys. And does anyone even remember the Sarah Connor Chronicles any more? None of these movies or shows fit together to form a narrative continuity, so fans were left to mix-and-match their most desired head canon.
Yet in 2019, Hollywood actually surprised me by redeeming the franchise with Terminator: Dark Fate. The idea was to wipe out the previous three movies — call them alternate timelines or whatever — and have the sixth movie become the third, chronologically. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger came back, James Cameron gave it his blessing, and fans finally got a third act that fit in with the first two. It wasn’t quite the box office smash or critical darling that some hoped, but as for me, this is definitely the best Terminator movie since Judgment Day. I’d even put it above the first movie, if I had to rank them in terms of sheer enjoyability.
Dark Fate takes some risks right off the bat by [spoiler] outright killing John Connor off via terminator after the events of Terminator 2. With Skynet and John dead and Judgment Day averted, the future is wide open for humanity. Except that terminators keep coming back through time bubbles and a new holocaust is in the works. Leaping out of the gate with high tension and great action setpieces, Dark Fate throws a new terminator (a Rev-9, which can do some body shapeshifting in addition to separating from its matte black skeleton) and a new hero (a cybernetically augmented future soldier named Grace) after a Mexican girl named Dani who is hinted at having a key role in the salvation of humanity. Sarah Connor, now a grizzled alcoholic terminator hunter who had her own episode on America’s Most Wanted, and an aimless, aging T-800 model (now named Carl) end up joining the band as a showdown approaches.
There’s a bit of old and a bit of new and a lot of effort expended to tie the two together while keeping the tension high as the Rev-9 relentlessly pursues Dani in this age of omnipresent surveillance. It’s not a movie that messes around with the tried-and-true formula of the first two movies, although it does have some fun upending expectations and throwing us some humor and great lines. Apart from Dani, who is the development-free princess in the castle that Super Terminator Bros. wants to kill, every one of the main cast gets some time to shine. In particular, I loved seeing Sarah as a broken, angry older lady who is even tougher than we saw in Judgment Day, and Arnold’s family man terminator is a bizarrely fascinating twist on the assassination machine.
Special mention should also be made of the Rev-9, who is played in a rather more charming way than Robert Patrick’s coldly sinister T-1000. It’s kind of frightening to see how he turns on and off his good nature and adapts quickly to different social situations. This right here captures the idea of a terminator as an ultimate infiltration unit, blending in rather than sticking out. You also never know when or if he’ll kill bystanders, which also makes his presence unpredictable.
Dark Fate is just a good movie all in all, with marvelous looking editing, some quippy one-liners, and action that’s far quicker than the previous titles but still easy enough to follow. It gave me a sense of closure on the series that I didn’t realize I needed. I think it’s a crying shame Dark Fate didn’t do better, but I have a feeling that the odds were against people giving this a fair shot. But you know what? They should.