James Cameron flipped the sci-fi genre on its head when he released 1984’s groundbreaker “The Terminator” about a time-traveling machine sent to kill a waitress before she births the future leader of a resistance.
In 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Cameron crafted an industry-changing CGI villain that morphed from human to liquid to metal. Decades, many sequels and a TV show later, “Terminator: Dark Fate” marks Cameron's return producing the franchise he created — and it completely derails from the canon.
It’s present-day Mexico. Dani (Natalia Reyes) arrives at her factory job, where machines are replacing workers. Enter two travelers from the future: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and a new and improved REV-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna). Their meeting ends with a body count, a chase scene and a badass Sarah Connor entrance complete with an “I’ll be back.”
The return of Sarah Connor is a big deal. Her origin story and character arc propelled the franchise forward. She was killed off after "Judgment Day." The industry took stabs at other portrayals in "Terminator Genisys" and FOX's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," but "Dark Fate" is Linda Hamilton back at her roots.
Hamilton’s Sarah is hardened and missing the vacant and stuffed humanity of her character’s former self. After a powerhouse re-introduction, she seems to fall by the wayside with tough-sounding dialogue and no room to exercise her range. She hunts terminators and “drinks till she blacks out.” Without more to color this character, that insight into her torment pulls you out of the moment. (Blame it on the screenplay?)
Mackenzie Davis (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Black Mirror”) is a perfect mix of stealth, steel and humanness as Grace. Natalia Reyes’ Dani has the most interesting transformation — both women mirroring Sarah now and then. And the trio aims to outrun the REV-9 terminator by land, air and sea.
Gabriel Luna is the most charismatic of all the terminators, using rhetoric as effectively as force. “I prayed more in five minutes than I have my whole life,” he says as a way to infiltrate.
Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the lethal, aging(?) and sometimes awkward comic relief. When he and the gang walk into his weapons bunker: “This is Texas,” he explains.
Writers David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray do well with the action and with capturing powerful and vulnerable heroes without overcompensating or overshooting the mark. Director Tim Miller and editor Julian Clarke (“Deadpool”) keep the pace, but the character development takes a backseat to said action and packed subtext and parallels.
“You’re not the threat; it’s your womb,” says one character.
And while “Dark Fate” has its low points, it was still enjoyable to watch for its nostalgia, the care with the content and the intergenerational teamwork.
As Jamie Lee Curtis/Laurie Strode faced Michael Myers in 2018’s reimagined sequel to “Halloween,” “Terminator: Dark Fate” gives a cinematic heroine another chance to confront a man who took something from her. And this film offers a chance at amends.
Post-#metoo, we may see more of these. And if they’re as intentional as James Cameron and Co., with a franchise as well-loved as “The Terminator,” it’ll be worth seeing where they take it.
Melinda Lavine is a features reporter at the DNT. Reach her at email@example.com or (218) 723-5346.
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director: Tim Miller
Writers: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Now showing: Premiere, Duluth 10, Lakes 10