Terminator: Dark Fate (dir. Tim Miller, 2019) – A newly modified Terminator hunts down Dani Ramos, whose survival may just depend on a cyborg from the future and a familiar saviour.
Should Genisys have been the final nail in the coffin, fans would have revelled. But that would only be gravely underestimating the resilience of the T-800, who has over and again promised us otherwise. And so The Terminator is back once more in Dark Fate, which wisely ignores the subpar Rise of the Machines, mildly entertaining Salvation, and the unwatchable Genisys.
For a while, the supposed threequel looks promising. James Cameron’s best works will finally get their due proper end… Or so we were led to believe. Instead, T1 and T2 proved to be for naught as the Terminator succeeds in killing off John Connor, right in the very first act. Easily. Without so much as a scuffle. Just like that, the arduous journey of Sarah and Kyle Reese comes to mean nothing in this new, altered timeline.
John Connor is gone, but the war resumes. Stepping into the role of the hunted is Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), with killer machine Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) hot on her heels. The future grants Dani a protector in the name of Grace (MacKenzie Davies), an augmented human with the heart of Kyle Reese and the mission-driven mind of T-800.
Essentially, this Terminator sequel almost qualifies as a reboot, following the formula to a T with added diversity. All would have been a striking deja vu, if not for a hardened Sarah Connor weathered by the passage of time. T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) also makes a return in opposite fashion, having settled down as a rehabilitated family man in the drapes business.
Cue an awkward explanation of his reform that fortunately comes to an end, thanks to the relentless Rev-9. Explosive chases continue, their aversion to the laws of physics making Michael Bay proud.
It is not all action from here. Between set pieces, the script attempts depth by sneaking in a feminist thesis during their downtime from the hunt. Sarah instantly misunderstands Dani’s purpose, assuming that she is not the saviour of mankind, but his bearer. She continues her lament that it is her womb that is valued, not her self. It is only much later that Grace shoots her misguided theory down, revealing Dani as a future heroine who becomes her own.
The take is not just painfully on the nose, but invalidates Sarah Connor’s character arc over the first two Terminator films. It ignores the powerful implication that Sarah, not John, eventually does become the true heroine who stops Judgement Day. The Resistance is her legacy; her son is but an heir.
In contrast, Dani never earns her character’s growth. Instead, she is handed her origins story in a plate of exposition and overly familiar flash-forwards. Her one heroic moment only comes at long last, when she gets to take a stand against the metal shape shifter. She manages to take down the indestructible model… only with the help of T-800. Of course.
Jumping at his chance for redemption, the Terminator atones for his programmed sins and makes good on his promise to never return again… Not that it matters. As film history has shown, and if James Cameron wills it, the future is very malleable indeed.
A sixth Terminator film is as unnecessary as it sounds to what is originally a strong two-parter, which deserved none of its subsequent comebacks.