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A top-notch cast (including appearances from some of the franchise originals), a hot director, and the return of James Cameron to this Terminator movie gives us easily the best entry into the series since Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Terminator: Dark Fate introduces us to Dani Ramos who is a Mexican citizen fighting for the jobs of her and her brother while they are being replaced by robots. She is unwittingly drawn into a future war when a Terminator is sent to the present, and she is paired with several ragtag allies.

This one feels like Terminator

Unlike Terminator 3, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys, this is the first film since Judgement Day that actually feels like a Terminator film.

I’m going to give the credit for that to the return of James Cameron, who contributed to the story and was a producer on this film.

Back long before people kept track of social justice, Cameron gave us Sarah Connor, who was a kick-ass woman lead (and an equally kickass Ellen Ripley in Aliens). He doubles down on that with Mackenzie Davis’ character Grace, and Dani, played by Natalia Reyes.

The story here is also much more personal, which is welcome and keeps the movie much tighter than what we’ve received over the past two decades.

Unfortunately, that tighter story also follows the soft reboot template of The Force Awakens. The old gang is invited back to the playground, they are joined by a younger cast and the story is reset so that we essentially have a replay of the initial story.

While that didn’t bother me too much, it’s not new ground that we’re on here. This is similar to The Terminator and Terminator: Judgement Day, with better special effects, new characters, and a modern setting.

If you’re looking for an expansion of the Terminator world, there’s a bit of it here, but I know that some people are not going to like the differences.

Tim Miller

They did a brilliant job of choosing Tim Miller to head this film. His fun and innovative action in Deadpool translates well to this universe.

You can feel the grinding of bone on metal in each action scene. He keeps the movie moving along at a steady pace. And he brings out good performances from all the players.

The set pieces here are as exciting and perilous as you would expect in this type of film. This work is not innovative or the best of the lot, but it’s good and will go down well with overpriced popcorn and your favorite soft drink.

The Cast

Who gets the top billing in this outing? Schwarzenegger… right? Nope. This one goes to Linda Hamilton, and rightly so.

Her character is tough, salty, and incredibly tragic. And Hamilton brings her character’s arc to full fruition with this performance. She nearly steals every scene she’s in and she holds her own physically with a cast that’s a third her age.

She was wonderful.

Mackenzie Davis has been great in everything I’ve seen her in from Halt and Catch Fire, to Blade Runner 2049, to this film. She’s really a superstar. I completely buy her as a gritty dedicated soldier. She doesn’t give up any gravitas to Hamilton at all. She holds her own and has the most physical role in this film, which she completely pulls off.

Natalia Reyes, mirroring the role of Sarah Connor in the first Terminator film, is also good. Much like the original Sarah Connor she is no damsel in distress. She is outshined a bit by her co-stars, but they have much meatier roles. She does well with what she was given.

That brings us to Schwarzenegger, who reprises his T-800 Terminator role… kind of. Without giving too much away, this Terminator has been around for a while and he’s developed a personality. Instead of just laying down covering fire, this Terminator is exceptionally effective at comic relief.

I think it’s interesting that Schwarzenegger began his career solely based on his physical presence. It was a quiet porch scene in The Last Stand (2013) that made me realize that Ahhnold had become a decent actor. Over time he developed into someone who could take a simple conversation and make it believable and interesting, without bulging biceps, or swords, or explosions.

And, he’s become very adept at comic timing. This film leans heavily on that attribute, although, at 72, he still looks imposing enough to play the role of The Terminator.

That brings us to the bad guy REV-9, played by Gabriel Luna. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring anything to the role that we haven’t seen before. That’s partially the actor’s fault and it’s partially the fault of the writers, who should have built a better villain.

After all this time we’re given a Terminator that is largely a mix of two versions we’ve seen before. What a disappointment.

I hate reviews that go into what the reviewer imagines they should have done, but I’m going to be one of those people. What I would have liked to see is something that acknowledges that what we find scary now is different from 1982—something that addressed our real concerns about runaway technology now. What I’m talking about is an exploration of identity, privacy, metaphorical and actual viruses, or runaway artificial intelligence.

A fresh new Terminator would have been scarier, more fascinating, and more thrilling.

I’ll be back?

You don’t have to look far to see complaints about identity politics and social justice about this film. If that’s something that bothers you, then it’s here. However, I think everything in this film works, it’s explained well, and it’s only distracting if that’s something you worry about. And I’d like to remind you that much of what you see here was very much a part of the first two Terminator films that most people loved.

Finally, I think the most negative thing I can say about this film is that once again they played it safe and gave us a story that we’ve seen before. If they had expanded the universe and carried on the story, much like they did with Judgement Day, then it would have been much better.

They may have felt like resetting this film would lead to two more films where they could be bolder… but you should never assume that you’ll make it to those extra films.

However, if you liked the first two Terminator films, Dark Fate is very much in that mold. There’s a lot to like here, including the performances from a very talented cast, solid action scenes, and even some comedy—from the last person you’d expect it from.

They entertained me for over two hours and I was glad I saw it in the theater. The cast and crew put a lot into this film, and it has some genuine emotion and some quality excitement.

I don’t know if this will be the end of the road for the Terminator franchise, but if it is, I think it’s a fitting end.

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