The first Terminator movie was a seminal work of science fiction up there with Alien, and even up to the 4thinstallment the franchise was finding at least a few fresh narrative elements. Then came Terminator: Genisys, with a plot so ludicrous and convoluted we fans were ready to say enough. But the Terminator, as we know, is unstoppable, so with a plot time-traveled from 1984, here comes Terminator: Dark Fate.
First let’s give thanks that Linda Hamilton is back to show that not all actresses have face work after 30. She’s an older and badder-assed than ever Sarah Connor, and she thought she and her son John managed – in various time-bending iterations throughout the sequels – to cancel the future that involved the Skynet AI destroying mankind. But no, there came to be another AI called Legion that destroys mankind in the exact same way as Skynet did (but then didn’t). “Will they never learn!” rails Sarah when she finds this out, and we give thanks that Linda Hamilton has not become some fancy actriesse since her first outing as Sarah, because you can’t blow holes in a Terminator with the Method.
We get the same basic plot as #1, so this feels more like a reboot than a 5th sequel: Legion made their own Terminator, called Rev-9 (if it took nine revisions to get it to look like Gabriel Luna, we’re happy they kept at it), and this later version of the Terminator has been sent back through time to kill the later version of Sarah Connor, a cute Mexican girl named Dani, who will be pivotal in the birth of the resistance in the later (Legion-caused) version of the apocalyptic future. It’s actually easier math than Genysis.
The little twist we get is that the person the resistance sends back through time to protect Dani is the lead blonde chick from Orange is the New Black. Oh wait, she’s actually winning a fight, so it can’t be her, sorry. This girl’s name is Grace, and she’s been ‘enhanced’ with batteries and Vitamin B shots to battle Rev-9s.
Just as in the original, Sarah-surrogate Dani loses loved ones to the Rev-9 as she goes from terrified disbelief to plucky resolve. She bonds with her protector as well, but unlike in the original there’s no romantic aspect to the relationship, even though we would have been fine with an interracial same-sex couple firing shoulder-mounted rocket launchers at an agent of The Man. In fact, hey, this could have been Terminator: InVitro, where the Terminator would have had to hunt down potential sperm donors to stop John Connor from being born. That would have slowed it down!
Since we’re getting Charlie’s Angels in a month, this film decided it didn’t need to have its own three-lady team of ass-busters carry the day, so they seek help from the original Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we finally get some profound silliness when our old frenemy the Governator gets all guilty Republican and explains how he went from a machine programmed to blindly follow an evil power to something with a semblance of a human conscience. To avoid this issue with future Terminators, Skynet will base their cyborgs on Mitch McConnell.
If you saw the T:DF trailer, you saw the best action set-pieces: Rev-9 morphing out of his metal skeleton to highjack a speeding truck; slashing through a pile of cops with his arm-swords, the 747 scraping alongside the other 747. The drawback to Hollywood making so many of these smash-and-blow-things-up movies is that to get us in the theater they have to throw more and more bones out until we’re left with no surprises once we’ve paid for our $18 Dolby seat.
With its mostly rehashed plot, and the Rev-9’s new trick (splitting in two) not all that wowing, Terminator: Dark Fate is a by-the-numbers affair, and disappointing if you admired the innovative plots and effects of the first couple Terminators. And without any one-liners that land, they turn to the iconic “I’ll be back” twice, first to give it to Hamilton after she sweeps in to save the other girls, and later to have Arnie’s now more human T-800 change it to “I won’t be back” when he realizes he’ll have to sacrifice himself to end Rev-9.
It’s a shame this franchise is just morphing into lazy sequels. Isn’t it time we join Arnold and say “I won’t be back.”?
Terminator: Dark Fate opens nationwide today, November 1
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