With the invention of time travel neither the past nor the future are set in stone, instead rendered malleable, a change at the right point potentially influencing, directing or entirely overwriting a previous truth; thus it is that Terminator: Dark Fate is simultaneously the sixth film in the sequence and also the third, supplanting the previously established continuity.
Taking place in the aftermath of 1991’s Judgment Day but following possibilities alternate to those of Rise of the Machines, Salvation, Genisys and The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series, Sarah Connor may have successfully prevented the ascendancy of Skynet on August 29th, 1997, but rather than preventing the downfall of humanity the future presented itself in shape different yet equally bleak.
In Mexico City in the year 2020, two travellers emerge from the future, the resistance fighter Grace, an enhanced human whose implants give her strength, speed and astonishing endurance, and a Rev-9 Terminator, an upgraded metal frame covered in synthetic regenerating nanoflesh, the two parts capable of operating autonomously and each virtually indestructible.
Both Grace and the Rev-9 are seeking Dani Ramos, a key player in the new iteration of the future, Grace to protect her and preserve what little hope remains for humanity, the Rev-9 to kill Dani and prevent the rise of the resistance which stands against Legion, the cyber warfare artificial intelligence which decided to eliminate the biological infestation which developed it.
The second feature from Deadpool director Tim Miller from a script by David S Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray, Terminator: Dark Fate marks the return of producer James Cameron, only his second production credit since 2009’s Avatar, documentaries aside, and of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, her first appearance in the role in twenty-eight years.
Inevitably reuniting with Hamilton is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star around whom the franchise was built, and joining the cast are The Martian‘s Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Gabriel Luna as Grace, Dani and the Rev-9, the cogs in the wheel of a by-the-numbers action film whose resetting of the timeline seems to have required that it follows cinematic standards from the era of its chronological predecessor rather than feel contemporary or even ground breaking.
The temporal mechanics of Genisys may have frustrated some yet they were more ambitious than the mediocrity of Dark Fate which opens as a telenovela of mundane domesticity before repurposing plot elements and sequences of the first two films, a girl group cover version of a classic with the original stars roped in for extended cameos to give it credibility with the aging yet demanding fanbase even as it attempts to appeal to a new but indifferent audience.
While better paced than The Last Jedi it is in effect a two-hour chase sequence of predictable mechanics and devoid of engaging characters, it is little surprise that the few good lines are given to Schwarzenegger’s deadpan “Carl” while Luna’s killing machine has to make do with purpose over personality, as relentless and unstoppable as a lava flow but essentially an unruly operating system refusing to respond to the requests of task manager; a reboot following updates which only clutter the system, rather than a revolution which restores relevance Dark Fate may be the last patch before obsolescence.
Terminator: Dark Fate is currently on general release and also screening in IMAX