Twenty-eight years have passed since James Cameron and Linda Hamilton have had any hand in the Terminator franchise. That period has brought around The Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys, with each installment further proving how inessential this franchise has become over the years. With its baffling timelines and frequent reboots, Terminator no longer is the future, but like the long-gone past. Which probably explains the return of Cameron – this time only as producer and receiving a story by credit – and Hamilton, star of the two best films in the franchise. Much like Sarah Conner has done several times, Cameron even changes the timeline, making Terminator: Dark Fate a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, completely ignoring the twenty-eight years he hasn’t been involved with this series. While Cameron might make the choice to forget the past, audiences haven’t, and at this point, Terminator: Dark Fate is too little too late.
The story of Terminator: Dark Fate feels as old as time itself. A time-traveling robot, a Rev-9 model (Gabriel Luna) comes to the present day to kill a young woman, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who will be integral to the future war against the machines. Sent to protect Dani is another robot, this time Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human soldier from 2042. Dani and Grace have help from Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, who has dedicated the last few decades of her life to killing Terminators as they pop up around the country. While Connor might’ve stopped Skynet years ago, a new company, Legion, has continued the process of bringing about the end of the world through killer machines.
Cameron might be back, but his presence behind the camera is noticeable. Instead, Deadpool director Tim Miller takes the helm and the results aren’t great. Miller’s frantic, yet still dull action directing from Deadpool does a great disservice to Dark Fate, especially when he’s trying to fill Cameron’s shoes. This is most apparent during a highway chase early on – clearly reminiscent of Judgement Day – that trudges along and is too scattered in its editing. Miller also oddly borrows from the other films in this franchise, but most notably in the bleak, bland, gray future that seems like it could’ve just been deleted scenes from Salvation.
With a screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray, Dark Fate hints at making deeper points than your standard Terminator film, but never quite gets there. Ramos is a woman living in Mexico City, who has to sneak into America under the border wall in order to escape the Rev-9. Eventually, Ramos’ entire support team gets captured and put in a migrant detention center. It seems as though Goyer, Rhodes, and Ray’s screenplay is trying to hint that maybe the grim future has already come true, but instead makes these ideas little more than set pieces for boring, never-ending action.
Dark Fate also continues Cameron’s unfortunate decision to try and make the Connor family funny. Between Edward Furlong’s John Connor and now the older, angrier Sarah Connor, this family doesn’t have a funny bone in their collective body. But that doesn’t stop Dark Fate from throwing one-liners as Hamilton’s Connor, as if one of them will stick. Her humor doesn’t land, and neither does her gruff rage that almost always feels over-the-top, despite all that she’s been through. As one of the most iconic action heroes of all time, it’s disappointing to see Hamilton return for this.
The rest of the new cast doesn’t fare very well either. Luna isn’t as menacing as one would expect from an unstoppable murdering machine, and Reyes’ only defining features are that she’s a Mexican woman who might be important in the future. Davis makes a solid action star, but it’s the direction of that action that ruins her performance. Of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still great in this series, and this might be his best return to this character since Judgment Day.
But what made Cameron’s involvement in this franchise fundamental to its success in the beginning was how each of his films felt unique. After the sci-fi horror of The Terminator, Cameron reinvented the franchise with the pioneering CGI action of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Yet Dark Fate ends up is merely like a cocktail of what come before, including the films that are best left forgotten. In the past, it was easy to hope that the Terminator would come back. With Dark Fate, here’s hoping he’s gone for good.