Deadpool director Tim Miller is the latest filmmaker to try to bring freshness to these reheated beats, and there are some promising flashes early on. That iconic shot of terminators skull-crunching their way across an apocalyptic landscape transforms into a tranquil beachside scene in one smooth edit. The tension at the heart of these Terminator movies was always between the clutch of terrified, clued-up survivors and the oblivious masses, and the moment captures it neatly.
The best parts of Dark Fate all feature Sarah, who shifts between superhero toughness and all-too-human vulnerability as she works through decades’ worth of isolation and grief. Things get particularly interesting when an aging T-800 (not the friendly one we remember from Terminator 2: Judgment Day) enters the mix, not just because it’s always a pleasure to see Arnold but because the robot has undergone some development of its own since we last saw it.
The setting, 27 years after Judgment Day, then shifts south of the U.S. border where a Mexican woman, Dani (Natalia Reyes), finds herself under attack from a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), a new generation of killer ’bot sent back from the future. Riding to the rescue comes augmented supersoldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis), also from the future, sent to protect Dani, and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. She’s not from the future but she sure is pissed off enough to be. The pair of vying guardians come together at the end of a thunderously executed car chase (the film’s best moment), and are soon crossing swords like only two people from totally different timelines can.
It’s also a joy watching Davis kick ass, with Grace wielding everything from a giant hammer to a giant chain as she tears up the Rev-9. The action in Dark Fate is all over the map — an early highway chase is thrillingly clear, while a later airborne fight is visually incomprehensible, and the CGI doesn’t quite hold up from scene to scene — but the close-quarters combat Grace gets into is consistently great.
The liquid Rev-9 can morph, squid-like, with black tendrils as it repairs itself, like a cross between Robert Patrick’s iconic T-1000 and something you’d find in the freezer section of your local grocery store, but the character’s blandness drains the menace. Instead, sit back and enjoy Arnie’s committed turn as a battle-worn T-800 just trying to make a go of it as a man—okay, a killer cybernetic organism—of the land. The character once famous for saying next to nothing gets all the best lines. Sadly, it’s the only surprise here.