REVIEW: TERMINATOR: DARK FATE strikes a timely note with a franchise reboot and a twist on a familiar classic.


While it treads on familiar ground for long-time fans of the franchise, Tim Miller and James Cameron’s reboot of the Terminator franchise takes a wise step in grounding the film with some timely cultural notes.

If the tagline “I’ll Be Back” could be applied to Arnold Schwarzenegger and his various iconic roles throughout the years, in the last two decades it could not be more properly applied than to the Terminator franchise itself. While Cameron’s first two installments in the Terminator saga, 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, are universally lauded as science fiction/action classics, the series’ preceding four installments (Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines, Terminator: Salvation, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Terminator: Genysis) have all rebooted the franchise to further diminishing returns. Part and parcel in all of these reboots is the idea that John Connor, Sarah Connor’s son, is fated to lead the human resistance against a machine intelligence known as Skynet. Skynet, desperate to ensure its existence, sends Terminators, killing machines in the guise of humans, backward through time to stop its defeat at the hands of the Connors because fate is not yet set and the future can be averted. Dark Fate tries to shake up the franchise by rebooting this core assertion of John Connor’s role as messiah and in doing so gives the franchise a fresh coat of paint for a modern audience.

Dark Fate shakes things up by telling us that John and Sarah did stop Skynet back in 1991, but that the machine had sent back other Terminators prior to its defeat to try and increase its odds of defeating John pre-Judgment Day. In the mid 1990s, one of these Terminators succeeds in killing John Connor (Edward Furlong) and sends Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) down a spiral of rage and revenge. Queue the present and we meet Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a factory worker in Mexico who has been targeted for termination by a different machine intelligence, Legion, and has sent its killing machine, the Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna), to eradicate Dani before she reaches a destiny in the future. Like Sarah, Dani has a protector, an augmented soldier from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to try and make sure she stays alive to see a new tomorrow. But, Grace isn’t alone, as in the ensuing years since John’s death, Sarah has become a Terminator killing badass and shows up to destroy this new machine hunter and try and make sense of what Dani’s role is in the future without Skynet.

Dark Fate’s inspirations seem to broadly follow the success of 2018’s Halloween film with Jamie Lee Curtis returning as a dark, revenge-driven anti-hero version of her iconic character Laurie Strode. Hamilton’s Sarah Connor readily follows in this mold, her no-nonsense dark character as something of an evolution of her T2 character. That being said, Hamilton’s presence is a bit muddled; when in full badass gear, her character is awesome and lights up the film. When thrown into fish out of water mode with her interactions with Davis’ Grace, it’d a less effective portrayal. Grace is an interesting character; a melding of Kyle Reese from the ’84 Terminator in origin and portrayal, but also heavily influenced by Hamilton’s T2 version of Connor. As such, Connor and Grace tend to fight over who gets to hit important story beats, which is a script issue. That being said, the relationship between Davis’ Grace and Reyes’ Dani works well, if the mystery behind it is drug out a bit long.

This leads us to the Rev 9, played by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s Gabriel Luna. A cross between an Endoskeleton with a T-1000 skin not unlike the Terminatrix from T3. Luna channels his performance heavily from T2’s Robert Patrick. The film overall follows T2 as a roadmap, hitting most of the same beats, but aiming for a new audience. That being said, the Rev 9 is presented as a near-omnipotent machine, which after 4 films and a TV show full of the next big Terminator, Luna’s Rev 9 seems like monster by plot advancement at times. That being said, given that he is the Butterfly Effect answer to a world where Skynet’s version of Terminators doesn’t exist, the core design of this Endo is cool but different from what we’ve seen, while still evocative of the original T-800.

Some audiences will likely have issues of the idea that if Skynet is defeated, why is there an off-brand version that takes over. Clearly, we need a reboot of the franchise to try and revitalize it. Killing off John and adding a future villain we don’t know much about is an interesting tack to try and relieve the film franchise of 20 years of cobbled backstory and try to reinvent the series. That can be seen in Schwarzenegger’s small role as Carl, a Terminator who has helped Sarah find Terminators to try and atone for the code he has long since outgrown. Schwarzenegger’s role is smaller than in many other Terminator sequels he’s been in, but he’s essentially passing the torch of the franchise, and the grouping of Terminator hunters at the end of the film does look promising if the franchise were to continue while honoring those films that came before it. That being said, the most intriguing and interesting part of the film’s lore is having Dani, the new savior figure of the franchise, hail from Mexico. It touches on timely cultural issues regarding immigration in the United States and the treatment utilized by Homeland Security in keeping immigrants in abeyance in the film is not that different from the cells we see humans imprisoned by Terminators in the future. This is clearly by design and the subtext throughout gives a timely and welcome social commentary that the original films do not have.

Overall, Dark Fate is an enjoyable entry in the Terminator franchise that is the best entry since T2. That being said, the previous bar of quality franchise entries wasn’t set too high. Terminator Dark Fate is an entertaining sequel, but time will show if this is the entry this franchise will follow moving forward.