And so we discover with TERMINATOR: DARK FATE that time is not an endless loop where events repeat zoetrope fashion. Rather it is a curly-cue, not unlike a fusilli. So it is that in this version of the saga, the apocalypse that was/will be Skynet never happened, and John Connor is a name unknown in the new future. We know this because the nifty new gadget sent back in time has never heard of him, or Sarah Connor, for that matter, but is obsessed with a comely Mexican girl whose life is about to go from routine to surreal.
She’s Dani ((Natalia Reyes), and her brother, Diego (Diego Boneta) is losing his job to a robot in the car factory where they both work. Yes, foreshadowing. She has no idea how lucky she would be if that were the worst to befall her family, but, of course, it’s not. As the factory foreman is delivering the bad news, a new terminator (Gabriel Luna), the Rev-9 for those of you keeping track, is making his first of many attempts to kill Dani. He fails, but only because Grace (Mackenzie Davis), the new-fangled device from the future saves her. Grace isn’t a terminator, though. She’s an enhanced human, and one that should have gone in for more than beta testing before being sent out into the field. Perhaps it was the nature of the apocalypse that replaced the Skynet debacle. Who know? Anyway, she has issues with metabolism, and a penchant for repeating the same plan over and over. It’s also a failing with the plot, in which all the characters, including a new version of Sarah and a reunion with a previous terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), model T-800, keep coming up with that same plan. That would be trying to stop an unstoppable terminator even though they know he’s unstoppable. Naturally, if this weren’t the case the film would be 10 minutes long. Maybe 15 if they stretched out the first and last action sequences.
What we have here is a warmed-over story that we’ve already seen with special effects that are similarly familiar. The few changes fail to make for a compelling case for revisiting the saga. The same can be said of the characters. Sarah, voice like steel wool and a stare that could stun a gila monster at 20 yards, has become an outlaw with a serious drinking problem and issues that prevent her from working well with others. Grace, a jumped-up version of the six-million dollar woman of 70s fame, may be stronger, faster, and more sharp-eyed than your average human, but she’s not a strategist, and far from an A-type personality. Sure, she and Sarah spar, but only because the script needs something for them to do between battles, but the alpha of the duo is never in doubt. Dani is sweet, but not terribly interesting. Written as a limp, if feisty, dishrag, she adds nothing to the sparkle factor as she constantly asks why this is happening to her. As for the new terminator, he’s pretty much the T-1000 as played by Robert Patrick back in the day. Same tricks, same ability to ooze in and out of humanoid form. The only new thing is the ability to be in two places at once, but that perk’s potential is never exploited to its fullest potential.
The one exception is Schwarzenegger’s terminator. It would be unfair to give away which particular timeline this one belongs to, but Arnold makes him easily the most interesting thing happening on screen, particularly when indulging in a devastatingly precise deadpan humor.
The rest of TERMINATOR: DARK FATE is a dull and incoherent effort with soupy flashbacks, interludes of pretentious metaphysics, and astonishingly inert action. Sure, things blow up and/or get shot to pieces as cars crash and people and machines duke it out in fiery mid-air set-tos, but none of it springs to life. Run bicker fight. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Worse, there is a sense of deja-vu to it all, with the lingering whiff of desperation to revive a franchise that seems to have said everything it has to say. And did so several sequels ago. Not even the choice to take a few swipes at current immigration policy, or to make the story gyno-centric with genuinely strong women who pass the Bechtel Test can provide it with a reason to exist.