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'Terminator: Dark Fate' — What the Critics are Saying

With Linda Hamilton and producer James Cameron returning to the robopocalypse, critics are ready to look to the future once again.

The reviews are in for Terminator: Dark Fate, and critics are ready to believe in a new future for the apocalyptic robot franchise that extends beyond 2015's flop reboot Terminator: Genisys. Linda Hamilton and producer James Cameron return to the franchise, with Cameron back for the first time since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In the new installment, Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and hybrid cyborg human Grace (Mackenzie Davis) work to protect a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) from a modified liquid Terminator from the future.

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore says the film offers "a fair bit of pleasure to those wanting a 21st century retread of T2" but fails to "blow minds and up the ante the way that FX-pioneering adventure did." Despite having "excellent CGI" and being action-packed, DeFore found Dark Fate to have "less humor than the last one" and leaves the audience "distracted from the staleness of this storyline by sequences that strain awfully hard to dazzle." However, DeFore described Davis as "the film's best new addition" yet, and describes Gabriel Luna as a "more than capable heir to Robert Patrick's T-1000." Overall, DeFore thinks the pic's worthy action scenes can't prevent the new Terminator installment from getting rusty. 

Similarly, Karen Han of Polygon notes, “The fun parts of Terminator: Dark Fate can’t mask the fact that the episodic script drags,” adding that the presence of Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-880 unintentionally undercut the new characters by offering viewers more easily identifiable focal points. “There’s enough meaty material in Dark Fate — the immigration subplot, the bond between Sarah and the T-800 — that its steady, clichéd moments ('We make our own fate,' groan) stick out like robot wiring under human skin,” she wrote. “Though the film leaves the door open for more Terminator shenanigans, it hopefully serves as a definitive end.

Others disagree, however. IGN’s Jim Vejvoda wrote that, despite multiple elements from the franchise’s past, the new movie “is no mere exercise in nostalgia,” explaining, “While the story may hit several familiar beats — there’s a Terminator out to kill a woman who holds the key to humanity’s future survival against the machines, one prolonged chase ensues — it also deliberately loses other familiar staples in order to pivot away from merely regurgitating the same characters and continuity the franchise has explored for the last few decades. Dark Fate is a big gamble in that sense but it’s a wise one that will hopefully give this venerable but exhausted franchise a new lease on life.”

Matt Singer of ScreenCrush was equally convinced, writing, “Schwarzenegger is always memorable in these Terminator movies, and his new cyborg adds some entertaining new twists to his typical deadpan schtick. It’s clear from the beginning, though, that Dark Fate belongs to his female co-stars, particularly Davis and Hamilton, each kicking an impressive amount of robotic ass while bringing significantly more passion and intensity than one might expect from the fifth sequel in a long-running franchise with a so-so-reputation. Hamilton, who’s been out of the spotlight for most of this decade, is going to surprise people with the amount of power and melancholy she delivers. This is not a cash-in gig for her.”

That last line is echoed by Empire’s Helen O’Hara, who argues that Dark Fate “occasionally leans too heavily on the homage but mostly, remarkably, feels like a worthy descendant rather than a cheap cash-in. Sarah must challenge her presumptions, Grace must learn a sort of peace after a lifetime of war, and Dani finds a faith that will serve her well in the years to come. For the first time in a long time, we can look to the future of Terminator with hope.”

Hope? Some would argue that’s not the right term to use to describe this franchise. Take Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson, for example. “What I found uniquely depressing about Dark Fate, though, is how resigned it is to the reality of its title. How it organizes itself as a paean to tireless scramble and triage, to the fight not for something better but for less of something worse. It’s a bitterly pessimistic film,” he writes. “It’s not that I want a new Terminator movie to be hopeful, exactly. It’s just that maybe we don’t need a new Terminator movie right now. The franchise’s ritualistic reminding that we’re going to do ourselves in seems gratuitous at this point, Debbie Downer talking in apocalyptic terms at a time when we’re made plenty aware of the dire stakes every time we look at our phones. The problem, really, is that nothing about Dark Fate feels novel.”

On the other side of the argument is Corey Plante of Inverse, who suggests that perhaps looking for novelty is a fool’s errand — and that there is joy to be found in the movie: “Dark Fate was never going to be as groundbreaking as Terminator 2, but by focusing on enduring characters, exploring exciting new Terminator abilities, and devoting time to moments of levity, the end product is more inspiring and uplifting than T2 could have been. To some people, myself included, that makes it a better movie than any that have come before it. Because at the end of Dark Fate when the apocalypse still feels imminent, at least we feel like there’s hope for humanity.

Overall, critics seem cautiously excited about Dark Fate, although there’s a certain awkwardness about seeing repeated recommendations that it is “easily the third-best” movie in the series (as Empire puts it) as a positive. It’s surely a movie that will thrill existing fans, at least. But will it do the same to those who haven’t been into the series since the early 1990s?

Terminator: Dark Fate is set to be released Nov. 1.

 

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