Terminator: Dark Fate is a welcome return to form for the long-running sci-fi action franchise, and the first genuinely good sequel since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, upon whose events it builds.
In a set-up familiar to fans of the series, in Dark Fate two figures travel back in time, in search of Dani (Natalia Reyes), a young woman working in Mexico City: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically modified soldier sent to protect Dani; and Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), a new Terminator model tasked with killing her. Grace and Dani are quickly joined by Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who in the years since the events of Judgment Day has become something of a Terminator Hunter. Whenever a time anomaly appears, she's sent to prevent further changes to the past. Agreeing to work together, the three must make their way across the Mexican border in an attempt to gain the allies and weapons they will need to stop the Rev-9.
Directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool), the film boasts a uniformly strong cast that brings the right amount of self-awareness to the sci-fi setting. Hamilton imbues Connor with an exhausted edge, not unlike Jamie Lee Curtis did in last year's Halloween. The traumas of her past have caught up with her; even if she's no longer the Terminator's target, she's determined to fight for anyone who is. Davis plays Grace with enough vulnerability to help her stand out from the other, more bland saviors of the series, and Luna makes for a surprisingly funny (but still terrifyingly efficient) killing machine.
The heart of the film as Dani, fits in well among her more experienced co-stars. She also experiences an arc that purposefully mirrors that of Sarah Connor in the 1984 original film, but with an edge of the second's love of weaponry. The script, by Davis S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray. makes sure to flesh out Dani and her world, making the Mexican setting feel lived-in and familiar.
The presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger has been spoiled heavily in the marketing, which is a shame. Introduced late into the second act, he plays the aging T-800 model, or "Carl," as almost benign. Without a purpose, he found a family and a new role, resulting in a fun character. The character could have benefited from more screen time to develop, but that only would have added to the film's nearly two-hour runtime.
Produced by franchise co-creator James Cameron, Dark Fate follows many of the conventions of the first two films, and ignores the subsequent, lackluster entries. The plot plays out exactly how you would expect, with few actual surprise. But it's nevertheless enjoyable. Miller stages number of impressive action sequences, ranging from high-octane car chases to over-the-top duels between Rev-9 and the Terminator hunters. There's also a freefall fight inside the supply bay of a crashing plane that may be a serious contender for the best sequence in the entire franchise. The action is the big draw, and it doesn't disappoint.
Despite the high regard with which Judgment Day is held, the Terminator series has always had trouble defining itself. The previous sequels and spinoffs kept trying to find absurd, new heights to distinguish themselves from their predecessors, but in the process lost touch with essential elements, like character and tone. But by going back to the property's roots, and creating a direct follow-up, not only in terms of plot but also theme, Terminator: Dark Fate proves there's still potential in the future.
Directed by Tim Miller and produced by James Cameron, Terminator: Dark Fate stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes and Diego Boneta. The film opens Nov. 1 nationwide.