This time the words “I’ll be back” belong to Sarah Connor. As does the film, really. She of the righteous anger and legendary chin-ups from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), returns in Terminator: Dark Fate. Her slightly vexed delivery of lines and unpretentious confidence, suitable for someone who has saved the world many times over, make a mostly boring new instalment of the franchise worthwhile.
The other returning name is of co-writer James Cameron, director of the original and its sequel, who has produced this reboot. Directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool, 2016), it picks up 22 years after August 29, 1997, or Judgement Day. As such, only the first two films in the series matter for context: Judgment Day (1991) and The Terminator (1984). The three films from the intervening period — Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys — are just as irrelevant to the latest plot as they are to the universe of cinema.
Connor, whose son John led the resistance against the evil world-destroying AI company SkyNet, is still fighting killing machines. She knows what it is like to be pursued. It prompts her to help a new “enhanced human” from the future, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), to protect a new target, commoner Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), against a new enemy firm, “Legion”, which sends a new assassin, Terminator Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) after them. Rev-9 can mutate into anything he touches, and has cockroach levels of indestructibility. Of course, Connor’s renowned frenemy, T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is still in the mix.
The mission to keep Dani safe takes them from Mexico City into Texas. Crossing borders means navigating the US’ brutal detainment (nay, imprisonment) of illegal immigrants. True to the franchise’s mainly superficial nature, the filmmakers give this subject a quick nod. Headlined by three women, Terminator: Dark Fate takes a small step in the direction of being female-forward. Still, it is a gesture more forced than genuine, as these strong characters were written by roomfuls of men and the shows of power are typically perfunctory.
The big reveals, as and when they happen, are unsurprising. They are not interesting either, which makes it feel like a “late” film in many ways. The gambit of time travel that allows characters to take cold-blooded revenge is also one which allows them soul-searching and vindication. The way these latter experiences are portrayed is rather fun. The question the film asks viewers regularly is if they would resign to fate or take actions that will change what happens next.
This review is based on a 2D screening, although the 3D version likely also suffered from the same moments of near-total darkness. A scene of combat in the last quarter of the film is so poorly lit that a line one of the characters utters in panic echoes the viewer’s thoughts exactly: “What is happening?” In another instance, when Grace is asked to explain what she’s while hacking a phone, she says simply: “Future shit.” Which is a fine way to sum up the gobbledygook science of this popular fiction. The film, which is R-rated for violence, language and nudity in the United States, has a UA rating here. So a lot of the rude words are dubbed over in a way that is quite distracting.
The world these characters inhabit, even after many painstaking rescues, is forever on the brink of the next destruction. In all likelihood therefore, more Terminator films will come. That would not be the worst thing so long as Connor (Linda Hamilton) remains in the picture.