One thing should be made clear about this film: this is not a Terminator movie. It does have the name Terminator in the title. It also has three of the iconic characters from the film series: Sarah Connor, John Connor, and the dreaded T-800 played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, it’s a less than five minute, hood-winked beginning that is meant to completely shatter everything we know about the franchise since T2. Spoiler alert: John Connor gets killed by another rogue, T-800 future-bot. With that, we, the audience, are left to pick up the pieces with Sarah Connor as she and we try to make sense of our purpose for being here in the first place.
Skynet doesn’t happen, which is good, but this movie can’t go on without another future robot war to come in and fuck up our present to secure its future. The new robot adversary is Legion; and while they may look like Skynet, and act like Skynet the movie insists that they be called Legion, so you better just roll with it.
Legion (not Skynet) has sent back a killer robot that is probably one of the coolest killer robots this franchise has invented yet: The Rev9 (played by Gabriel Luna). Its mission: to kill Dani (played by Natalia Reyes), a Mexican daughter of blue collar manufactures who will lead the future resistance against Legion in a Halo style guerrilla war that might’ve made a better video game than movie. However, as luck would have it, the resistance has also sent back a champion: a cybernetically enhanced human, Grace (played by Mackenzie Davis), to protect Dani from this killer machine.
Along the way (and on the run), Grace and Dani meet up with Sarah Connor who looks like the grizzled, steely-eyed, military grandma I’ve always wanted to see on film. Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Sarah Connor plays the character so beautifully that it made me wonder if the potential had been wasted and had ought had been imported into a different film altogether.
And, of course, it’s required by law in the Terminator universe to include another T-800 (again, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), despite the fact that Skynet is no longer active in this new continuity arc the film is spinning.
While there were a lot of pleasant surprises that had offset the shockingly brutal beginning of the film, I was left feeling a similar sense of deja vu that mirrored my feelings of the previous film Terminator Genysis. In Genysis one of the major characters – Kyle Reese – is changed from a warrior lover sent from the future into a third-wheel, sperm donor that had no business being sent back in the first place. The Genysis reboot had a young Sarah Connor that could clearly handle herself and didn’t need protection or a love interest to survive the horrors of killer, time traveling robots.
In the same vein, Terminator Dark Fate slays more sacred cows like young John Connor and robbing Sarah Connor of any real purpose in the film. Her character is relegated to being a tag along, whose usefulness barely matches up to the cybernetically enhanced Grace.
However, no character was more redundant than the T-800. Its flimsy reasons for being in the film, along with its more flimsy reasons for helping out Grace and the others were so contrived and ridiculous that I had to hold back laughter just trying to wrap my head around the idea. Like Sarah, the T-800 is simply extra cannon fodder for the Rev9 to tear a part while Grace does all the actual work of destroying the Legion-bot.
Ultimately, the real story is about Dani and Grace. This film is focusing on two new characters in a franchise that has been long dead since Terminator 3. Ironically, the most relevant and even best parts about this movie are the stories and characters that have nothing to do with the Terminator franchise at all. This is not a Terminator movie revolving around Sarah Connor, John Connor and their fight against Skynet. It’s a Legion movie about Grace and Dani, and their fight against the Rev9. Perhaps no one was going to watch a movie called Legion, but they got plenty of people to go see a movie called Terminator (though perhaps not enough judging by the box office numbers).
In the end, this film obviously didn’t want to be a Terminator movie, and that’s okay. Maybe instead of Terminator Dark Fate it should have been called Legion: A Terminator Chronicle instead, and just cut Sarah Connor, the T-800, and that whole mess of a beginning out all together. Maybe then this franchise could get the newer, more receptive audience they wanted all along and not the over the hill fans like me who wonder why they showed up in the first place.