It's been a couple of decades since Linda Hamilton was in the shoes of Sarah Connor, burdened with saving the world in a Terminator movie. Since the masterpiece that is T2: Judgment Day hit theaters in 1992, the quality of the franchise can be summed up as "forgettable." Bringing back the original franchise star for a reunion with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the skin of his iconic cyborg from the future is what Terminator: Dark Fate uses to its advantage as a means to essentially erase the in-between stories to replace them with something much better.
While hardcore fans of the original films may have their gripes with the movie in its mind-blowing opening sequence, what follows should warrant forgiveness for those triggered few. Arriving from the future, Mackenzie Davis' Grace is teleported to the middle of a bridge in Mexico City and sent hurling naked to the ground. Before anyone has a moment to breathe it all in, she is asserting her futuristic dominance in the present day and sent on the classic Terminator mission. Grace has to protect the young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who is the key to human survival in the future.
Davis makes quite a splash in her entrance, commanding the screen through well-choreographed action beats and even a small, intentional laugh from the audience. However, Hamilton gets the ultimate return to form when she emerges in a crucial sequence to blow away the very machines she hates so much, simultaneously blowing away the audience's expectations. From her raspy voice to intense swagger, Hamilton brings an attitude to the film which lifts the quality overall as she carries it forward.
Terminator: Dark Fate somewhat follows the formula of the original pair of films that James Cameron nailed his fingerprint into years ago. This time around, Cameron is on board as a producer, giving a vote of confidence to Deadpool's Tim Miller as he steps in to helm the film. Miller is clearly a fan of the franchise, not only because the opportunity brought him to tears when he unveiled it at CinemaCon, but because his enthusiasm is portrayed throughout the film. Staying true to the roots of the franchise and bringing in Gabriel Luna as a Rev-9, this film's equivalent to the role once occupied by the likes of Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick, Miller explosively crafted the follow-up to Sarah Connor's story. Luna's menacing presence comes with a bit more charm than the previous films, meaning Dark Fate is less of a genuine horror film than the franchise's first entry, but he maintains a menacing presence, nevertheless.
Truth be told, the film would have functioned just fine with Hamilton, Davis, and Reyes alone. Schwarzenegger checks in for a surprisingly comedic performance but was never entirely necessary to the film outside of serving as the Terminator icon itself. His presence certainly doesn't detract from the film as his moments on screen are pure nostalgic joy enhanced by modern stunt and VFX abilities.
Miller does not shy away from diving into the VFX budget. While it is sometimes seamless, transitioning from practical to computerized effects, it isn't anything audiences haven't seen before. This means the originality and innovation of the first films are lost on Dark Fate but they are mostly substituted by a story worthy of Hamilton's return, offering up impressive levels of heart, albeit somewhat predictably so.
Terminator: Dark Fate might not leave audiences clamoring for the franchise to become a mainstream title with new releases every few years and earning spinoffs, but it will finally satisfy the hunger among fans for a satisfying and faithful follow-up to Terminator and T2 and will hopefully launch Hamilton and Davis into more roles.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Terminator: Dark Fate lands in theaters no November 1st.