Imagine you’re in a class you don’t like, taught by a professor you also don’t like. One day, this professor gives you a dumb assignment worth a lot of points. You give it all you have, turn it in and get a low B. You’re happy because it’s better than you were expecting. You can live with it. Essentially, that’s “Terminator: Dark Fate.”
When I saw that Tim Miller, who directed “Deadpool,” was heading “Dark Fate,” I felt disappointed. “Deadpool” ruthlessly parodied unnecessary blockbuster franchises and their clichés. The “Terminator” franchise and “Dark Fate” are exactly the kind of movies “Deadpool” was making fun of. But after seeing “Dark Fate,” I think Miller did just fine.
This movie did the best it could with what it had, which is building a new and interesting story while having to address all of the movies that came before it. The past sequels from the “Terminator” franchise after “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” have been less than stellar. “Terminator 3” and “Terminator Salvation” were both just okay, while the previous installment, “Terminator Genesis,” was critically panned as a terrible film.
Based off that, I assumed this was going to be terrible. Instead, “Dark Fate” can be surprisingly entertaining and is easily the best sequel since “Judgement Day.” It takes itself seriously enough in some scenes but never seriously enough to suck out its sense of fun.
What holds “Dark Fate” back are the previous movies. While this film sets out to retcon the past sequels, it can’t remove the memory of those movies. Some moments in “Dark Fate” would have worked on their own, but because these moments appear in one or more of the other “Terminator” movies, they lose their impact. We’ve seen them before.
“Dark Fate” does separate itself from the previous sequels with a few small changes. For example, out of all the Terminator villains, this one (Gabriel Luna) feels the most like he actually has a human personality, though it’s only hinted at. This movie would have benefited if we got to see more of that. After all, we’ve seen the unstoppable, emotionless killing machine in all of the other movies.
While “Dark Fate” never reaches the same level of investment the original two films did, it does make you care for its new story. At first, the idea of Lynda Hamilton as Sarah Conner and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a T-800 sounds annoying. Why can’t we move on to new characters? “Dark Fate” makes you buy that they belong here. They don’t feel out of place. Both Hamilton and Schwarzenegger give solid performances.
With the new characters, we also buy they’re in this movie and are part of the main focus. But retcon or not, it’s still the sixth film in the franchise. I never cared as much for the new characters, or the old characters for that matter, as I did in the original two. Like I said, the previous movies hold it back.
It’s quite possible that the “Terminator” franchise can’t move on. It was built around Sarah Conner, her son John Conner and Schwarzenegger playing a T-800. Maybe it can’t cycle in new characters like other franchises, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was designed for that purpose.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” is a good movie. It’s not at the level of the original two, but when you consider how bad it could have been compared to how much it was able to get right, the filmmakers should really be proud of that low B.