While it’s true that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator film since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), it’s also not saying much. After all, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015) were forgettable, at best.

For a franchise whose first two highly influential and ground-breaking sci-fi actioners could be described as some of the best in the genre, Terminator: Dark Fate can feel underwhelming. This is especially true when you consider that it pairs Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800) again for the first time in nearly 30 years, and that it sees the return of the illustrious director James Cameron in a very hands-on producer role.

This isn’t to say that Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad film. In fact, it’s an above-average action film. I found it amusing how it ignores the three mediocre films before it and continues the story directly after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. James Cameron has called those films an alternative timeline.

It’s also nice to see Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger together in their nostalgic roles. The two have good chemistry as old fogeys who are looking for a purpose in their lives after having hit their peaks many decades ago. Of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the same T-800 as he was in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That Terminator, as you may recall, slowly slid into lava while giving us a not-so cheerful thumbs up after having helped John (Edward Furlong) and Sarah Connor stop judgment day.

Despite some well-placed social commentary, nostalgic chemistry and fairly decent action, Terminator: Dark Fate comes across as a good film, not a great one

No, this T-800 does something terribly naughty that may irritate many fans of the franchise. It distinctly feels like a James Cameron decision because it has a big impact on the series. While it may feel annoying, it adds an extra dimension to the relationship between this Terminator and Sarah Connor.

Even the action scenes in Terminator: Dark Fate are mostly good. There are a lot of impressive huge set pieces in the film that remind us of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Likewise, there are also some savage hand-to-hand combat scenes. On the other hand, Terminator: Dark Fate suffers from some intensely choppy editing that’s more Michael Bay than James Cameron. Coupled with the fact that many of the scenes are shot in darkness, the action can be hard to follow. James Cameron said that director Tim Miller was surprised by how James Cameron wanted to take over the editing. Apparently, the two fought so much in the editing room that it was like hell on Earth.

But the editing isn’t the biggest problem. Terminator: Dark Fate relies too heavily on the CGI. In fact, I just watched the remastered version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the 30-year-old film’s action scenes felt more authentic because they found the right balance between old-school and computer graphics.

And that’s the underlying problem with Terminator: Dark Fate. It’s a bit soulless. The story isn’t terrible, but for a film that wants us to forget the bad films, it feels like a mishmash of the three films before it. While some of the tropes are understandably hard to avoid, many aren’t.

The three new actors are fine. Natalia Reyes (Daniella “Dani” Ramos), who plays the new target is okay and appreciably tries to give the narrative some emotional weight. Mackenzie Davis (Grace) as an enhanced soldier sent back in time is also acceptable as the new guardian. And Gabriel Luna (Terminator Rev-9) as the Terminator with a few tricks up his sleeve can be evil, though perhaps not sinister enough.

The film also offers some good commentary on America’s treatment of migrants. It also appreciably offers strong female characters and notes on feminism without being heavy-handed.

Unfortunately, the film comes off as a good action film and not a great one. It’s like a throwaway Fast & Furious film, and not a great Terminator movie.

Although it tries to give each character a backstory and multilayered characterisation, with the non-stop action, there isn’t enough time to do all of them justice. This is especially true for Natalia Reyes. She should have been the star, but we don’t care about her fate. With the film’s recycled storyline and over-reliance on obvious computer-generated special effects, Terminator: Dark Fate feels more mechanical than human. Considering the film’s unfortunate nearly 200-million-dollar budget, and that it has disappointed at the box office, you may also consider this franchise finally terminated. It’s not an ecstatic end, but it’s a mostly satisfactory one.

Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 10th, 2019