WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate, in theaters now.
As much as it's suffering at the box office, Terminator: Dark Fate does have a few positive points -- a strong, badass female presence, some of the franchise's craziest action sequences, and last but not the least, a very terrifying Terminator in the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna).
However, the weak points are simply way too many to ignore and despite some decent enough reviews, the general public simply isn't rating the film as highly as director Tim Miller or producer James Cameron wanted them to. This is a bad sign because after ignoring the sequels from Terminator 2: Judgement Day onwards, high hopes were held that this movie would kickstart a new trilogy. But upon closer inspection, it's clear from that Dark Fate was always destined to fail.
Firstly, there's simply a lack of originality in this film as it rehashes the time-travel plot from previous efforts. All the Terminator movies, bar Terminator: Salvation, dealt with robots traveling back in time to kill a messiah, so having the Rev-9 doing this felt repetitive. Even Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) returning as a protector to the new John Connor in Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) reeked of T2, while Arnold Schwarzenegger's Carl (the T-800 who killed John) plus the augmented human/Terminator hybrid in Grace (Mackenzie Davis) fell too close to previous plots where a Terminator also served as a guardian to the messiah. Even Terminator: Genisys had Schwarzenegger's 'bot as a hero and still suffered from disappointing box office returns, which should have served as an indication that fans were over that aspect of the franchise.
Admittedly, as much as Salvation was panned, the concept of fighting the war against Skynet and the machines in the future did feel fresh and differentiated McG's vision from what came prior. But here, despite Hamilton's return being hyped up and Cameron coming back with some creative oversight, there's just not enough of a new path being carved out. Dark Fate rinses and repeats a lot of what came before and surprisingly, with Cameron saying Miller wanted "to make his own movie," one has to wonder what would the film had been had Cameron gotten more hands-on. Simply put, as a direct sequel to T2, Miller's movie doesn't feel like it builds on the franchise and fails to carve its own identity.
Now, the preceding films are truly beloved but again, there's a lack of consistent mythology building across the other sequels which may have drained the audience's goodwill towards the franchise. Uniformity and consistency are key, and honestly, this franchise never had that; feeling so unstable after T2 -- especially with Genisys turning John into a villain and then altering timelines. Dark Fate also treads dangerous ground by having Carl haphazardly absorbing information from possible futures and using it in the present, complicating and convoluting a plot that by now feels poorly-made and very much doomed due to a lack of ideas.
Most of all, what hurts this film is the lack of a proper mastermind. Skynet stood tall as the looming shadow but when Genisys took over, it really lacked impact, coming across as merely a rebranding exercise that we get yet again with Legion in Miller's vision. There's no rhyme or reason to it causing the robot apocalypse in 2042 and as badass as the new killer robot is, this kind of makes the Rev-9, well, kind of bland. Terminators with a different purpose than just a kill mission, or even sentient ones would have spiced things up, giving them more personality and character. Having the Rev-9 as another brainless lackey just fell flat, not to mention we didn't get more of the best parts of the movie: the war being fought in the future with Terminators shooting tentacles out their backs and a Resistance waging war on the machines.
In short, Dark Fate embraces the flaws of old rather than scrubbing them clean. It apes almost every emotional beat that came before, it has the same run-of-the-mill villains and also, we get a routine story with protectors of a savior we've seen time and time again. Maybe the film should have gone to the future where Judgement Day happened; maybe we could have just gotten a parallel reality with another take on the series, or maybe we should have just gotten a straightforward reboot.
Either way, it's too little, too late, and all we're left to do is wonder what could have been because, yet again, a once-adored franchise seems to have run out of inspiration, innovation and ideas.
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, in theaters now.