As with all review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
Everyone has their own personal list of the greatest movies ever made. Mine would most definitely include Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Both flicks are near and dear to my geeky heart – a heart that I have to say has been broken watching the franchise diminish with every sub-par sequel that’s followed. And while Terminator: Dark Fate has the benefit of creator James Cameron’s input and the return of the amazing Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, unfortunately the flick feels more like a tired T2 re-tread than a breath of fresh air.
So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few decades, you already know that the Terminator flicks were all about preventing a future where the human race gets eliminated by an artificial intelligence known as Skynet – which sends sophisticated cyborgs back in time to eliminate the leader of the future human resistance, John Connor (Edward Furlong), by killing his mother, Sarah (Hamilton) before he’s even born. But for every Terminator sent back to kill, a protector was always sent back by the resistance. But the thing is, in T2, Sarah, John, and the protector T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) defeated Skynet and therefore, changed the future. The nuclear holocaust of Judgment Day thankfully never happened.
This is where Dark Fate picks up, and we see Sarah and John finally enjoying a little peace and quiet on a nice beach somewhere – when all of a sudden, yet another Arnold-model T-800 appears out of the blue and shoots poor young John dead, leaving a devastated Sarah behind. Yeah. That’s it for John. I think they actually did away with him faster than Alien 3 killed off Hicks and Newt. And anyone who’s seen that flick knows that’s not a compliment. Honestly, part of me wanted to call bullsh*t and jump off the ride right then and there – but the money was already spent.
So then we get our intro to the new present day, 22 years after that. In Mexico City, our new heroine, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), arrives the way all future warriors do – naked and inside of an electrified, giant blue bubble. Grace’s bubble happens to materialize in the middle of a freeway bridge and she falls to the ground, seemingly lifeless. A couple of teenagers try to help her but then the local cops show up. They’re about to arrest the kids, but then Grace revives and makes quick work of the cops. Then she steals the teenagers’ clothes and drives off in one of the cop cruisers.
Next up, we meet the new future savior – a plucky youngster named Daniella ‘Dani’ Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Despite living in poverty, she manages to keep a smile on her face and a spring in her step, buying fresh flowers at the market and taking care of her father and brother (Diego Boneta), who has dreams of being the next Bruno Mars as they get ready to head out to work. I half-expected Dani to burst out into a Disney-esque ballad about her life and dreams as we followed her from the market to her family’s little apartment.
But there’s no time for that, as the other future warrior arrives, this one known only as Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). Its bubble materializes right in the middle of Dani’s building’s courtyard. Now, in years past, there would have been some suspense as you tried to figure out which warrior was the Terminator and which one was the protector. But that mystery no longer exists. If you’ve seen any of the trailers or commercials, you already know which one is which. Rev-9 asks a terrified woman who just watched him drop out of thin air where it can find Dani.
Meanwhile, Dani and Diego have just started their shift at the auto plant, where, in a clever bit of irony, they find out that a bunch of new robots are taking over some of their positions. The boss is about to give Diego his walking papers so Dani goes to the boss, pleading for her brother to keep his job. And while all this is going on, both Grace and the Rev-9 have gotten into the plant. Rev-9, who has all the abilities of the T-1000 from T2 and then some, has changed his appearance to look like Dani and Diego’s father. He’s about to close in when Grace shows up and a terrific fight ensues with Grace using a sledgehammer to kick Rev-9’s liquid butt all over the place. But nothing she does kills him, it only slows him down.
Grace, Dani and Diego flee the plant, jump in a truck and drive off – but it isn’t long before Rev-9 catches up in a bigger truck with a huge plow on the front, mowing every vehicle out of his way. Grace turns the wheel over to Diego (because Dani can’t drive) and jumps into the bed, throwing a bunch of rebar at Rev-9, spearing it right through the chest. And here’s where we get the big reveal of the Rev-9’s scariest feature – its ability to separate from its skeleton, turning into 2 Rev-9’s instead of one. Oh, and did I mention that the thing can also morph its arms into guns? Which is cool except that at no point in the flick do they ever explain how it’s able to do any of that or even what the thing is made of. Sorry, but that’s just sloppy.
Anyway, Diego ends up crashing the truck and getting impaled with some of the rebar. He’s a goner. Grace drags Dani away from the truck and blows it up – but just as she’s getting ready to take on both Rev-9’s on her own, another truck suddenly shows up. Out steps Sarah Connor, who makes quick work of both Rev-9’s with a shotgun and a missile launcher – and while she’s doing that, Grace and Dani take off in her truck – but Grace is fading, fast. She needs medicine to treat her injuries so they go to the nearby pharmacy, where Grace plows through their meds and gets what she needs.
They barely make it to a motel where Grace passes out – and a bewildered Dani has no idea what to do or what’s going on. But Sarah shows up not long after and gets a good look at Grace. She checks her wounds, and sees strange material underneath Grace’s skin, along with surgical scars covering her entire body. Sarah dumps a few buckets of ice on Grace to help alleviate her fever – and while Dani’s out getting food (letting her go anywhere alone? Not a great idea.), Grace wakes up to find Sarah standing over her pointing a gun at her.
But Grace leaps up and disarms Sarah with a couple of quick moves, and Sarah has no choice but to back off. Dani comes back and they all make their introductions. Sarah gives them the basic rundown on herself – how she and John fought the Terminators and stopped Judgment Day. But it turns out that Grace never heard of the Terminators, Judgment Day or even Skynet. In the future she comes from, the artificial intelligence that takes over the world is called Legion – but the outcome is the same. Legion turns the world into a wasteland and nearly destroys humanity. But just as in the old future, a resistance rises up to fight the machines – and we assume, just as before, that it’s Dani’s future child who will lead the resistance.
Grace doesn’t want any more of Sarah’s help but Sarah tells her that despite all of her surgical upgrades, Grace doesn’t know how to navigate this world – what to do or how to do it. Grace asks Sarah how she knew where to find them. Sarah says that over the years since John was killed, she’s been getting messages from an unknown source, telling her where to find all the Terminators that Skynet apparently continued to send back. The messages contain coordinates and two words: “For John.” Years had gone by since she received the last one – and then suddenly, just a week ago, a new message, a new set of coordinates, which brought her there.
Turns out Grace has a set of coordinates of her own, tattooed on her belly. She says it’s the location of someone who can help them. Grace takes Sarah’s phone – which she keeps inside empty potato chip bags. The foil keeps anything that might be tracking her from picking up the phone’s location. Grace downloads all the information into her augmented brain and realizes that the source of the text messages Sarah’s been getting match her tattoo. Okay, sorry, but I have to stop for a second here and call bullsh*t on this whole aspect. How in the hell would those in Grace’s future even know about the Terminators? They’re from completely different timelines. How could they possibly know about each other? And why is it that the Rev-9 looks so much like…well, a Terminator? I guess we’re not supposed to be asking such silly questions.
So the source’s location is in Laredo, Texas – which means they’re going to have to cross the border. Conveniently, Dani just happens to be related to a coyote, or smuggler – her uncle. The three hop a northbound freight train full of people planning to cross. And as they ride atop the freight cars, Grace tells them about her future, where she’d been fending for herself since she was a kid and would have died had it not been for the one person who found her and helped her – not Dani’s son, as we half-expect, but Dani herself. She becomes the founder and leader of the resistance. And Grace feels so indebted to her that she volunteered to turn herself into an ‘augmented’ soldier and travel back in time to save Dani.
They get to Dani’s uncle’s place and he then leads them out into the desert on his smuggling route. But of course, while all this is going on, the Rev-9 has managed to tap into the US Border Patrol’s aerial surveillance and take control of a drone so it can find Dani – which it manages to do in pretty much the blink of an eye even though there’s thousands of miles of border and thousands of places to cross and thousands of people crossing. Whatever. The Rev-9 radios out to the BP Agents that Grace, Dani and Sarah are part of a cartel and need to be arrested – so a ton of Agents surround them at the crossing and take them into custody.
The three are separated once they get to the holding location. Grace gets taken in for medical attention while Sarah gets singled out for questioning given her long and distinctive criminal history. This of course leaves Dani vulnerable, and the Rev-9 closes in, disguising itself as a Border Patrol Agent. But then Grace gets loose and opens all the gates to let everyone free and cause a huge distraction that they can get lost in and get Dani out. The three find their way to a helicopter (which of course, Grace knows how to fly even though it’s not something from her time, but again, whatever). They fly to Laredo and hike the rest of the way to the location.
And of course, when they knock on the door of the cabin, who else should answer but the Terminator himself – and not only that, but the very same T-800 who murdered John all those years ago. He’s old and gray but that doesn’t stop Sarah from going wild with rage. Grace has to put herself between them to stop Sarah from blowing his head off right then and there. Sarah storms off to cool off – and Dani follows her, comforting a still-grieving Sarah who confides that she’s starting to forget what her son even looked like.
Dani brings Sarah back and the three have a sit-down with the T-800 – who goes by the name ‘Carl.’ He says that after completing the mission and killing John, there were no further orders. He was left to his own devices and ended up coming to the rescue of a single mother and her son. He ended up staying with them, becoming the mother’s companion and father to the boy. Not to mention he also discovered a whole new career in draperies. And in the midst of living this new life, he developed a sense of guilt over what he did to John and Sarah – and that’s why he started sending Sarah the messages. (Of course, how he knew where to send the messages is never explained. Again, whatever.) But he always knew that eventually his time would run out and he would have to fight the future machines again. So he’s ready to help Grace and Dani. Sarah reluctantly agrees to work alongside him – but she also warns him that when it’s all over, she’s going to kill him, and he seems perfectly okay with that.
So the group arms themselves to the teeth with the T-800’s considerable weapons cache – and when Dani asks why he’s so hardcore, he says he developed the survivalist instinct, knowing that civilization would eventually collapse at some point – and, ‘besides, this is Texas.’ Good one. So then the gang comes up with the idea of using an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) bomb to destroy the Rev-9. It’s the only thing that’ll work. Sarah calls in a favor from a military source who brings them the devices. And the gang hops on a military transport plane (that of course, Grace knows how to fly) – but in mid-flight the Rev-9 shows up in a refueling plane and chaos and firefights ensue, and the EMP devices end up getting destroyed.
In a crazy sequence where the gang ends up flying around the cargo bay Vomit-Comet-style, they all pack into a Hummer and drop out of the flaming plane into a dam (that looks like Hoover Dam but I can’t be sure). The Rev-9 still keeps coming, and it takes all four of them just to keep the thing at bay. They eventually manage to force Rev-9 into one of the giant spinning turbines and mangle it to pieces – but of course, that still doesn’t kill it. And in the melee Grace gets badly injured – badly enough that she tells Dani to remove her power source. Jabbing it into the Rev-9 should fry its brain. Dani of course doesn’t want to, but they’re out of options. She removes the glowy cylinder from Grace’s belly and the remaining three keep fighting the Rev-9.
But it’s the T-800 that takes on the duty of making sure Rev-9 is destroyed by holding it down after it’s been stabbed with the power cell – which means it destroys him as well. And in a sequence that’s almost exactly like the end of T2, Dani and Sarah are left looking down on the mess of charred Terminators. So, threat eliminated, global destruction thwarted once again. And then in a sweet little epilogue, Dani and Sarah watch a young Grace playing in a park and then drive off – in a Jeep Wrangler, of course.
So anyone who loves the original Terminator and T2 as much as I do know how incredibly lame all of the sequels have been. Fans have been baited and switched over and over with this franchise and it’s gotten old. Really old. So even after I saw that first trailer and saw that both James Cameron and Linda Hamilton were returning, and I saw that little glimmer of hope that we might finally get a sequel that lived up to the originals – part of me was still wary. And unfortunately, I was right to be. Given the long list of A-list writing power on this thing, a sloppy, gender-swapped T2 re-tread is the best they could come up with? Seriously? Don’t get me wrong, having a cast of all-female heroes is awesome – but if the story’s lame and largely unmemorable, then what’s the point of doing it at all?
Now this is not to say that the flick’s unwatchable. Not at all. It’s fun, it’s action-packed, the visual effects (for the most part) look awesome – and it’s totally worth the price of admission just to watch Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor again. She’s wonderful, as are all the leads. It’s just a shame their hard work has to be attached to yet another disappointing sequel. If Dark Fate is really the best we Terminator fans can expect to get, I think it’s time to just call it quits on this particular franchise.
Directed by: Tim Miller
Written by: David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Release Date: Nov. 1 , 2019
Run Time: 2 hr 8 min
Distributor: Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox