Judgment Day creeps up on us once again as old and new characters join forces to fight the future.
A fact that’s rarely discussed throughout the Terminator franchise is that, no matter how hard you try to stop the end of the world, it inevitably happens anyway. Preventing one apocalypse just makes a new timeline that creates another apocalypse. It’s a never-ending cycle. According to the themes of these films, we control our own fate and the future is in our hands…but is it?
Based on the latest installment, Dark Fate, it really seems like humans are goners no matter how much time traveling shenanigans we use to fix it.
Just when we think we’ve killed the last machine sent to kill the future savior of humanity, we have to stop a new and improved model. This time, it’s the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), which is very similar to the liquid metal robot that terrorized in Terminator 2: Judgment Day but with some major upgrades.
Also, just when we’ve saved humanity by destroying Skynet, the company behind the robot uprising, we learn there is another evil group to take its place called Legion. These generic substitutes can make watching the film seem like a slog, especially given Deadpool director Tim Miller‘s relatively murky action direction. But where Terminator: Dark Fate gets interesting is when it subverts other tropes from the previous movies.
This time, the human needing protection is a young Mexican woman named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who works at an auto plant that is slowly being taken over by automation (get it?). When the Rev-9 comes after her, she begins a journey that not only puts her in danger of a time-traveling robot but also makes her suffer through the all too real migration crisis at the border.
A small section of the film takes place in an immigrant detainment (don’t call them prisoners) center that plants the movie firmly in our present times with images of cages, barking dogs and aggressive border agents. They’re the most interesting scenes of the film, but it moves on too quickly for it to be substantial. Still, it spends enough time there for Fox News to probably demand a boycott.
The other subversion that works is with the other Terminator sent to be Dani’s protector. This time it’s not technically even a robot, but an augmented human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). She has the ass-kicking abilities of a Terminator, but the insecurities and fears that come with being a human, and Davis plays all the notes perfectly. She brings a grounded presence that’s been missing in the franchise since T2, and the scenes that explore her backstory fill in a character so compelling that I would not be angry at a spinoff.
Davis and Reyes are both worthy of carrying the movie by themselves, but it clears the space, for better or worse, to the main attraction, the return of the defining character of the series, Sarah Connor, played by her defining actor, Linda Hamilton. Two other actors have subbed in for Hamilton in the meantime: Lena Headey was admirable in the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Emilia Clarke definitely tried her best in Terminator: Genisys, which this film smartly makes disappear in a timeline never to be discussed again.
No matter how hard you try to stop the end of the world, it inevitably happens anyway.
Hamilton owns this character like John Bonham owns drum solos. Others can try, but only one achieves perfection. She hasn’t lost the fire in her soul from the first two films, adding a weariness that keeps the character fresh and alive since we last saw her drive down a dark road to an uncertain future decades ago. But apart from that, Dark Fate really doesn’t know what to do with her; she’s used mostly as an Obi-Wan for Dani’s Skywalker, with a bazooka instead of a lightsaber, but the crowded cast and rushed plot gives Hamilton very little real estate to work.
Which brings us to Hamilton’s highly-anticipated reunion with Arnold Schwarzenegger, reprising his role as the titular robot. This time, he’s found in the middle of nowhere in Texas, living with a woman and her child for the past 20 plus years. (Speaking of spinoffs I wouldn’t mind watching, let’s make the film where a human woman falls in love with a man who she doesn’t realize is a robot from the future, but doesn’t seem to mind when she finds out.)
It’s a delight seeing Hamilton and Schwarzenegger share screen time together again, like watching a band you loved in college reunite for a tour where they play their one classic album again. Dark Fate tries to have it both ways with the reunion tour and adding some new tunes for our modern anxieties, with mixed results. But if we’ve learned anything from the Terminator films is that we’ll have another chance to stop the end of the world, even if it’s a temporary fix.
Terminator: Dark Fate drops into theaters like a pile of post-apocalyptic skulls November 1st.