"You may have changed the future, but you didn't change our fate." — Grace (Mackenzie Davis)
In 1984, a small independent film by an unknown director grabbed the No. 1 spot in its opening week, going on to gross $78 million during its theatrical run on a measly $6 million budget. That film was The Terminator.
With its release, James Cameron's career was firmly grounded, and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally achieved his elusive stardom. The Terminator had fine effects, considering their cost, but Cameron also proved effects alone didn't carry a film — you still need a good story and good characters. The director delivered an even more popular sequel in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and eventually, studios wanted more.
Unfortunately, the result of this determination to further the franchise was three more sequels/prequels — hard to tell, sometimes, with time travel — none of which were good, with 2015's Terminator Genisys standing out as particularly underwhelming, if not downright egregiously bad, partly because producers recast iconic heroine Sarah Connor, substituting Emilia Clarke for Linda Hamilton. Cameron's films succeeded because, in spite of his riveting action scenes, he never neglected the humanity behind them, which future films, no pun intended, lost.
In director Tim Miller's new Terminator: Dark Fate, Hamilton reclaims her signature role. Even at 63, you still don't want to get between Sarah Connor and her mission of hunting those annoying robots that have time-traveled back to the past in order to change the future. She's grayer, but Hamilton's still got that obsessive glare she had back in 1991.
Pretending, thank gosh, that the previous three films (2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2009’s Terminator Salvation and Genisys) the short-lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles never happened, Miller gets the franchise back on track.
HIs film follows Sarah on her current operation to rescue young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from a relentless shape-shifting assassin (Gabriel Luna). Aided by resistance soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis) from the future (much like Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese in the 1984 original), Sarah seeks to discover why an artificial intelligence from decades hence wants Dani dead, and what anonymous ally keeps texting her about when terminators are scheduled to appear — and, of course, the film's other pressing question: When will Arnold show up?
Miller delivers the action, with encounters in an automobile plant and a highway chase recalling similar sequences in the first two films. Davis, as Grace, is a fierce opponent for Luna's merciless Rev-9, whose steely glare matches Robert Patrick's in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, although a subplot about a secret ally of Sarah falls flat because of a glaring lack of development.
But I don't feel the empathy for Dani and Grace that I did for Sarah and Kyle Reese in 1984, and there's also a palpable sense of "Been there, done that." You know it's a homicidal robot from the future here to kill some kid who will lead the human race in resistance against its mechanical overlords. In 1984, part of the fun was the mystery. Now, there's no mystery, and it'll never be possible to regain it.
That doesn't mean Dark Fate isn't fun. It is, showcasing Miller's crackling action scenes and the reunion of Hamilton and Schwarzenegger. It's like revisiting old friends.
Beyond the franchise’s ever-present female empowerment — which Dark Fate perpetuates with a trio of strong women pursued by a ruthless monster that at least looks like a man — there's a sociopolitical slant to this Terminator that the other movies didn't contain.
It’s no coincidence that the deliverer of the human race is a Mexican girl, an illegal immigrant who bypasses the border wall in seconds for a violent confrontation in a soulless ICE detention center. The machines can only take over if we set the stage for them.