Have you seen this bo- …er, girl?
Every franchise hits that point where it either has to start over, switch to prequels, or ignore much of what came before it in order to keep audiences coming back for more. The Alien franchise did it with Prometheus, choosing to go the prequel route. The Predator franchise has started over at least twice, with Predators and The Predator. The MCU started over before it even began, remaking The Hulk, then ignoring that movie altogether, including the actor (Edward Norton). The X-Men franchise committed suicide early twice (Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), rebooted itself with First Class, erased Last Stand at the end of Days of Future Past, and now needs another reboot after the very bad Apocalypse and even worse Dark Phoenix.
The Terminator franchise is no different. After the decent, but entirely forgettable T3: Rise of the Machines, audiences really did not like Salvation (I might be the only one who non-sarcastically loved it) and downright loathed Genisys(I only disliked it). Following in the footsteps of other franchises, Terminator went back to James Cameron (original director and writer) to breathe life back into the machines. Cameron promptly decided to ignore everything following T2: Judgement Day (including TV’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles), convinced Linda Hamilton to reprise the role of Sarah Connor, and wrote a major plot decision into the first three minutes of the new film Terminator: Dark Fate to chart a course for the rest of the film and the franchise.
(SPOILER ALERT. I promise I will be good.)
The majority of the film takes place twenty-two years after Sarah, her son John, Miles Dyson, and their humane terminator destroyed Skynet. Right up front, you need to know that the entire layout and plot of this film is the same as T1 and T2. A genocidal artificial intelligence called Legion has sent a terminator back in time – a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – to kill a future leader of the human resistance, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). The resistance has sent back a cybernetically-augmented super soldier – Grace (Mackenzie Davis) – to protect Dani. The entirety of the movie is Dani and Grace running from one location to the next, trying to escape the deadly Rev-9. And, like before, they end up in an industrial setting to have the final battle with the Rev-9.
The good news is that the small differences more than make up for the well-worn plot. The first difference is that Dani and Grace get some extra help in the form of a bitter and battle-hardened Sarah Connor showing up at just the right moment to help them escape their first run-in with the Rev-9. If you have seen a trailer for Dark Fate, you have seen this scene (involving a bazooka). They also get help later in the film from a grizzly old T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), going by the name Carl. Yes, this film has a sense of humor, but it is almost entirely provided by our favorite killer cyborg (as dead-pan and hilarious as ever). If you want to know more about old Carl, just know that, like Uncle Bob from T2, this machine has also learned how to be more human. If I tell you any more than that, I will be breaking my earlier promise (just know that his existence is explained in the first scene of the movie).
The second difference is Grace herself. She is a mashup of Uncle Bob and Kyle Reese, but much more human than not. What makes her so interesting is that she can go toe-to-toe with the Rev-9, but only for a short amount of time. Her implants require a ton of energy and, once depleted, she turns into a massive liability until she gets a cocktail of chemicals injected into her system. It’s a clever bit of imagination that her strength is also her weakness. Also, she is fucking awesome. Sarah is still a badass in this film, but she rubs Grace the wrong way and Grace assures Sarah that she can rip Sarah’s throat out at her leisure.
The third difference the Rev-9. He is very similar to Grace in that he is a mashup of his film predecessors, the T-800 and T-1000. He is even cooler than Grace to behold because he is a carbon black metal skeleton terminator covered by a black-liquid terminator. He can literally split himself into those two different terminators, which creates a whole different dynamic in the chase/fight scenes. To add to his character, he is even creepily charming like Robert Patrick was, though more so, not just murdering everyone like the original T-800. Also like Grace, he is fucking awesome.
I am aware that I am in the minority of people who liked all of the Terminator films (even Genisys to a point), so me giving a glowing review of Dark Fate deserves a grain of salt. Luckily, the majority of critics are on my side this time, as was the plurality of the screening audience. Dark Fate is a very fun movie with great special effects and cool new characters. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it manages to feel new while almost being a remake at the same time. It manages to bring back old characters without seeming trite or forced. Most importantly, it manages to reboot a franchise that we all left for dead. Let’s just hope the next film is a lot more Judgement Day than Dark Phoenix.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back, but do ask that James Cameron stay involved for the next film.