Growing up, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the go-to action hero for the 1980s and 1990s. No one could blow things up while spouting the best one-liners like he could, and not even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can compare... though he's close.
While Schwarzenegger is now in his 70s, he still makes the occasional appearance as the T-800 Terminator. And he's back yet again in the new Terminator: Dark Fate.
Modern films have gotten trickier, from cinematic universes, remakes, reboots, to now direct sequels that can easily ignore 6 to 8 films in an established franchise. Last year's Halloween movie ignored nine films in the series to be a direct sequel to the 1978 film. Next year's Ghostbusters looks to do similar, keeping only the 1984 and 1989 films. And this new Terminator film ignores the previous three movies to be a direct sequel to 1991's Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Confused yet? Welcome to the modern cinema experience.
For those who loved the 1991 film, Terminator: Dark Fate is now the “new” Terminator 3. While Sarah and John Connor averted Judgment Day by stopping the machines and defeating Skynet, it seems that a robot uprising will always be inevitable, if not from the original source.
For the first time in 28 years, Linda Hamilton reprises her role as Sarah Connor, and her return really emphasizes how important Hamilton was to the series, her character still hiding out in Mexico after the events of Terminator 2 have made her one of the most wanted criminals in the United States. Schwarzenegger may be the draw, but Hamilton is the heart of the franchise.
Schwarzenegger makes good on his “I'll be back” quote to once again play the cyborg, and his return is always welcome. His character is similar to the Terminator 2 version, just longer lived, and now with greater self-awareness, a sense of humor, and a life to live. Hearing a machine describe the drapes of a little girl's room with clinical precision is far funnier than it should be. But there's a sense of “realness” this long-lived cyborg presents that brings something deeper and somewhat sad to what will likely be Schwarzenegger's final turn at the role.
Natalia Reyes plays Dani, a young girl who has attracted the attention of a new wave of cyborgs, and Mackenzie Davis plays Grace, the “Kyle Reese” of this film: A soldier sent back through time to protect that has new Terminator fighting abilities. Gabriel Luna plays the newest Terminator revision, with even more powers and abilities as each of these films progress. Each of these actors do well with their roles, and bring their own moments to the story. The newest Terminator has all sorts of crazy abilities, making the original 1984 model look antiquated at this point.
Surprisingly, Edward Furlong also returns to the film... sort of. What they can do these days with digital de-aging is incredible.
When all the major characters come together, big action scenes are assured, and overall, the film delivers. There are some great effects and stunts performed in the film. The computer generated effects are solid in the (Third? Sixth?) sequel are good, but it's unlikely any films in the series will ever be able to recreate the “Wow” factor that Terminator 2 originated.
The story overall is good, though retcons are plentiful, and in the end, it's still the same “protect the savior before the bad robot gets them” beats as the previous films. What really stuck with me are the performances of Hamilton and Schwarzenegger. Both are now veterans of a war that never existed, and they have to come to terms with that realization and the losses they've suffered.
Hamilton largely left the acting and Hollywood scene for several years, but the weight she reestablishes in her role brings something back that the franchise has been missing for a long time. The success of the Terminator series has always been both Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, and their absences have always been felt. It's arguable that Hamilton may have been the larger missing element.
Terminator: Dark Fate does have some story issues. The first half of the film is excellent, and while the second half and resolution are satisfactory overall, there are several instances of plot set-up that don't lead anywhere, especially leading into the inevitable “final confrontation.” There's a lot of “everything hinges on this” until it doesn't anymore. It doesn't break the film, but it raises a lot of questions.
With the changes established for this new Terminator film, it's ensured that the franchise will continue to go forward, make more sequels, and potentially become more confusing. Terminator: Dark Fate is likely the last time that Hamilton and Schwarzenegger will work together in these roles, so for older fans of the series, it's a good way to say “good-bye” to old friends before the franchise is handed off to the next generation.
Terminator: Dark Fate is easily the best sequel to the 1991 action classic, and a respectable enough of a direct follow-up to it. Unless the studios decide to ever do a third Terminator 3, which in today's modern cinema landscape, is not as laughable a concept as it once was.