I've said for years that the Terminator franchise should end. The fifth film, Terminator Genisys, was terrible. It lacked heart, went completely off the rails with its story and showcased a cast that never fully grasped its most well-known and iconic characters. It made over $440 million (against an estimated budget between $155-$158 million) at the box office, which means it surprisingly finished second behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day's $517 million (budget: $94-$102 million), but it was clear Terminator was heading in the wrong direction with its fans.

Of course, no franchise will ever die if it can make money, so Paramount hit the reset button. They decided to follow the path that the Halloween franchise forged last year by jettisoning a few sequels and disavowing them in order to rebuild from the solid foundation its earlier work provided. So, in this case, Dark Fate is now a direct sequel to T2; Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys can all take a hike.

For Terminator fans, there was reason to be optimistic since James Cameron decided to return. Although not directing, Cameron serves as producer and he is co-credited with the story (along with Charles Eglee, Josh Friedman, David Goyer and Justin Rhodes). To add more nostalgia, the cast includes Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, after being absent for years, reappeared in Genisys) and Linda Hamilton, who's reprising her role as Sarah Connor (making this her first time since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day). With these three together again, Dark Fate is a reunion to be excited about.

Also, on board are Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes and Gabriel Luna, all of whom represent the franchise's new blood.

Dark Fate, for all intents and purposes, accomplishes its mission of providing a worthy sequel to The Terminator and T2. There's a good amount of action – the opening set piece is amazing; and there are plenty of quiet moments that help develop its new characters and further develop its veteran characters. Reyes plays Dani who, like Sarah Connor before her, is the key to saving humanity in future dominated by Legion, a Skynet replacement. And with Luna as Rev-9, he is a new and improved version of any Terminator before it. Thus it's the toughest and most technologically advanced Terminator to date.

With Deadpool's Tim Miller directing, Dark Fate creates a new timeline by jettisoning some of its previous ones. This form of passing the torch is interesting because its story is nearly identical to T2's. Recycling its story means new subplots, which will be unpopular for some and blasphemous for others. But when dealing with a franchise where time travel, messing with timelines and creating alternate realities is the norm, you're bound to see some storyline casualties. The problem, though, is Miller basically asks us to forget the events in T2 entirely, a terrible notion since Judgment Day is arguably one of the best sequels ever made.

The effects of that choice are felt throughout Dark Fate's 128-minute running time which (sadly) feels longer. The verbal exchanges, particularly between Sarah (Hamilton) and Grace (Davis) are of the “I've done this longer than you/you don't know what you're doing” variety and builds mistrust. It makes sense, but they keep it up long enough to be annoying. And when Sarah meets Carl (Schwarzenegger), a T-800 that survived the deletion of Skynet, let's just say things get a little intense. All those quieter scenes slow things down as they move like a person stuck in mud.

Carl's storyarc is an interesting, yet not deeply explored, commentary on sentience within machines. It's one of the subplots that could've been eye-opening but ultimately served as a replacement for an older subplot. Schwarzenegger is stoic and still a badass but is obviously limited physically by his age. If the release dates separating Dark Fate and T2 were shorter this subplot could have been better and would've helped make Dark Fate memorable.

With nearly all the sequels being forgettable, Dark Fate is good enough to best all of them; exactly what Miller and Cameron intended. It's not at the level of The Terminator or T2 but it has the look, feel and blueprint of those films. I think, though, the remaining sequels provided irreparable damage. Dark Fate, although a good action sci-fi in its own right, will ultimately be tossed aside like the rest of the sequels. There is potential, though, as it closes the book on the first two films while it opens the door for a new and separate franchise. But if it continues to regurgitate and water down past storylines then its critical and box office fate will be terminated.

3 stars out of 5


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