Forget the various other “Terminator” sequels that have pulled in your moviegoing dollars over the past 16 years. The franchise’s latest handlers want you to know that "Terminator: Dark Fate” is the true follow-up to “T2.” Witness the direct involvement not only of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also — for the first time since ’91 — series icon Linda Hamilton and original Termin-auteur James Cameron. “Deadpool” director Tim Miller helmed the new film, with Cameron serving as a producer and one of six credited writers (seven, if you count Gale Hurd, who with Cameron created the original characters).
The reunion makes for flashy marketing, but yields mixed results. As with the installments that this one ostensibly overwrites, “Dark Fate” offers some diverting conceptual riffs and effects updates. Still, it hardly feels essential.
Hamilton’s fanatically resilient Sarah Connor and Schwarzenegger’s beefy cyborg don’t drive the action so much as ride along, as the story line jumps to the present to focus on Mexico City everygirl (everychica?) Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). She’s the unsuspecting quarry of a slick new Terminator (understated Gabriel Luna) dispatched from the future, with only flinty superhuman Grace (Mackenzie Davis, of AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”), another enigmatic time traveler, standing in the way. Oh, and maybe also that battle-worn gray-haired gal who mysteriously knows just when to show up to help, rocket launcher a-blazin’.
But wait, Sarah reminded us in the opener that she saved the future — so what gives? Well, in addition to everything else packed into the movie’s early going — from glimpses of an endoskeleton D-Day to some de-aging wizardry that puts “Gemini Man” to shame — there are some pointed messages about inevitability. This also explains what Ah-nold is doing back, although to say more would be spoiler material. Bottom line: As ever, the series’ stewards aren’t especially committed to all of that waxing profound about there being “no fate but what we make.”
What we’re left with, then, is yet another “Terminator” far easier to appreciate for isolated bits of inspiration than for any stroke of genius it manages overall. Hamilton maximizes her caustic return, and grizzled Schwarzenegger delivers some change-ups and character humor more on target than when he played “Pops” (yeesh) in “Terminator Genisys” (2015). You’ll also spend much of the first act flinching through an extended fight-turned-chase-turned-pyrotechnic-assault that’s thrillingly tense.
Meanwhile, we’ll assume it’s Cameron’s imprint we’re spotting on the movie’s prevailing themes of female heroism. The Dani-Grace-Sarah she-umverate certainly plays like an extension of territory he’s explored through “Aliens,” television’s “Dark Angel,” and, of course, “The Terminator” and “T2.” Remember how Cameron and Hamilton morphed Sarah from waitress to warrior?
For that matter, remember how he and Schwarzenegger morphed the T-800 from a villain played by a B-list bodybuilder to a hero worthy of an A-list megastar? The contrast and balance were perfect. Maybe that’s why another classic “Terminator” continues to prove so elusive.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
Directed by Tim Miller. Written by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray, and Gale Ann Hurd. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 128 minutes. R (violence throughout, language, brief nudity).