There’s something metatextually satisfying in the tangled maelstrom of continuity the Terminator franchise has created for itself. It feels fitting that a series based on so much dicking around with the time travel and rewriting the timeline should leave behind it a more than tangled skein. By this point, the Terminator franchise resembles nothing so much as a ‘choose your own adventure’ but the real twist this time is this reboot actually delivers an adventure you might want to choose.
Judgement Day has been averted and Skynet’s creation prevented, but not before a pyrrhic coup de grâce which has tragic consequences for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Fast forward just over two decades and, way down Mexico way, the time storms are a-stirring as two very illegal immigrants arrive from a future. A future free from Skynet but just as assuredly dark and devastated. Their target: Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes) – and suddenly old friends and foes will find themselves fighting a future they thought had been thwarted all over again.
To say that “Terminator: Dark Fate” is the best Terminator movie since “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” is lazy and trite but it’s undeniably true. Sure, it’s not a high bar to clear but nevertheless “Dark Fate” vaults over it with considerable ease. Much of this is due to the presence of Linda Hamilton, rolling back the clock while acknowledging the toll the years have taken. Her presence gives this attempt to continue the story a throughline, one which the filmmakers use to finally, thankfully, shift the saga’s focus away from the narrow obsession with the Connor family. There’s more than a whiff of “The Force Awakens” at play here in seeing the old guard cautiously pass the torch to the new and there’s also hints of “The Last Jedi” in the idea that anyone can become the chosen saviour – it’s opportunity and serendipity, not a hereditary entitlement.
While it may still rely on the absurdly funny idea that Skynet kind of just sprayed terminators into the past like buckshot, it at least does something quite interesting with the mandatory T800 this time out as it explores what happens to an ‘evil’ terminator once it fulfils its purpose. We also get another Terminator upgrade with the new Rev-9 Terminator (Diego Luna) combining the relentless sturdiness of the T-800’s endoskeleton with the mighty morphin’ action of the T-1000, providing plenty of spectacular action. Rounding out the new cast is Mackenzie Davis’ Grace, an entirely new type of warrior to the franchise but an understandable and logical step in an ongoing war against the machines, even if it is a little reminiscent of the Weapon X programme.
It’s satisfyingly action-packed with great performances and certainly has stronger thematic ambitions than the other pretenders to the succession of Terminator 2 – and a more disciplined approach to incorporating new ideas than its immediate predecessor and while it may be the weakest of the trilogy it does, at least, give the Terminator franchise a cohesive trilogy to claim as its own.