Movie Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ can’t escape its destiny

A Terminator is sent back in time to prevent the rise of the human resistance, followed closely by a human soldier out to stop it, in Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth entry in the Terminator franchise which is essentially a reboot of the original 1984 film.

This unusual entry in the series retcons the previous three Terminator movies; ignoring Salvation and Genysis may be wise, but booting the third entry in the series, Rise of the Machines, is a mistake. That movie, and especially its ending, was a memorable and important step in the Terminator mythos.

Here, we pick up in an alternate timeline where a young John Connor has been killed 1998 by one of the original T-800 Terminator models (Arnold Schwarzenegger) after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. For reasons unexplained, while Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has successfully prevented the rise of Skynet, the now-non-existent T-800 still comes back to kill her son, who would never become the leader of the human resistance anyway.

And what does a Terminator do after completing its mission? According to Dark Fate, it settles down in rural Texas into a platonic relationship with a single mother and her son, helping raise the family for the next 20 years a la John Rambo in his latest movie. Yes, the inhuman killing machine from 1984’s Terminator is now a big ol’ softie at heart after two decades with a human companion.

He also feels remorse, or something, for killing John Connor, and for the past 20 years has been sending Sarah anonymous text messages with the GPS coordinates of newly-arriving Terminators, so that “John’s death can mean something.” Sarah, in that span, has become a professional Terminator hunter, despite this film’s frequent insistence that the newer Terminator models can not be killed.

The reason behind the retconning may be the involvement of James Cameron, who here receives story and producing credit for the first time since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Deadpool’s Tim Miller, meanwhile, handles directing duties).

The influence of Cameron is clear in Dark Fate’s slam-bang first act action sequence, which runs for nearly half an hour as a deadly new Rev-9 Terminator model (Gabriel Luna) goes on a killing spree to reach his target, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes, from last year’s excellent Birds of Passage). Dani, however, is protected by Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a machine-enhanced human super-soldier sent back in time to save her.

It’s nothing new story-wise, but the breathless action that makes up most of Dark Fate’s first act more than makes up for it, with first-rate practical and CGI effects as the Rev-9 battles Grace and Dani and anyone who gets in its way, in broad daylight, at an auto manufacturing plant before pursuing them through the streets of Mexico. Leave the movie at the 45-minute mark and you’ll be more than satisfied with what you’ve seen.

The second half of the movie also features extensive action scenes: entirely at night, in the sky, at the bottom of a lake bed, in an abandoned warehouse, and other low-light areas that successfully obscures the effects work, along with any other comprehension the viewer might have with what’s happening on the screen.

While Dark Fate’s opening action scenes could have been ripped right out of T2, it’s shocking to see Cameron’s name attached to the shoddy work throughout the second half of the movie.

Beyond the action, there’s little of note in Dark Fate. Hamilton is so good here you wonder where she’s been all these years (her last starring role in a wide theatrical release was in 1997’s Dante’s Peak) and Davis is excellent in the Kyle Reese role; as one of numerous featured players, her character arc is the only one with any weight. Schwarzenegger, too, elevates every scene his in, and gets at least two big laughs amidst the otherwise serious carnage.

But the film’s central character, key to the entire story, is dreadfully underwritten. Reyes’ Ramos is a MacGuffin in place of a character, a one-note stereotype who doesn’t change throughout the entire film. When we discover (spoiler alert) that she sent Grace back in time to save herself, that should mean something, character-wise – – but instead, it’s only needless exposition. Luna, too, is something of a dud as the menacing new baddie, especially when stacked against T2’s Robert Patrick, a similar character Dark Fate’s Rev-9 seems to frequently invoke.

Effectively a reboot of the core Terminator concepts, along with a couple original cast members around for nostalgia purposes, Dark Fate devolves from genuinely exciting to interminable within its 2+ hour runtime. It’s hard to say that it’s worse than the previous two movies in the franchise, but it’s another disappointing high-profile 2019 sequel – following Godzilla: King of the Monsters, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Men in Black: International – that might just kill off its franchise for good.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at

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