It's great to see Sarah Connor return to the franchise she launched, but Terminator: Dark Fate is a lot of what we've seen before

History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Or so they say.

And if it wasn't already abundantly clear what the Terminator franchise's position on the future is, Dark Fate — a non sequitur of a subtitle if ever there was one — makes it clear: The future may not repeat itself, but it rhymes in even cheesier ways than history's poetry does. (Think: If history is a beautiful sonnet, the future is a naughty limerick.) The constantly rewritten threads of futures past, futures averted and futures yet to be that warp and weave their way throughout this big ball of wibbly-wobbly stuff are well beyond the tediously familiar at this point.

To wit: In the wholly redundant Dark Fate, set in 2020, a soldier is sent back from the future — 2042, to be precise — to protect a young woman who is so important to the human resistance against genocidal AI-guided machines that a super-advanced cyborg killer has also been sent back in time to take her out. Which is why she needs protection.

We have literally seen this all before, only slightly off-key from this.

The soldier is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and she is an admittedly cool augmented super-warrior — not quite cyborg, but also not as physically vulnerable as Kyle Reese, the aw-shucks future grunt of 1984's The Terminator. So that's a little different. The young woman needing protection is Dani (Natalia Reyes), and she needs protecting because... Well, as you sit there watching this movie and thinking, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if a woman wasn't primarily defined as mother to a man," Dark Fate has the gall to think it's pulling one over on you by withholding the truth of Dani's future importance, and then begs for feminist brownie points when it tells you the thing they should have told you from the start, but kept from you so that you would later marvel at how woke it was.

Anyway, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) shows up to help kick future-robot ass, and she's still rocking at 63 years old. Honestly, the greatest pleasure of this movie is seeing a gray-haired woman with an honestly lived-in face smacking down unemotional, sociopathic, male-coded ass with high-powered weapons, but even that lacks a certain oomph that Sarah Connor had previously given us. (This is not Hamilton's fault.)

The alt-future "Rev-9" (Gabriel Luna) is liquid metal but not a "Terminator." He's from an alt-future where Skynet is no more — except it basically is, and it's called "Legion" — so he's essentially Robert Patrick's T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day with some minor upgrades. I had nightmares about the unstoppable ferocity of Patrick's Terminator, and I was nowhere near a child when Terminator 2 was released. There's nothing like the kind of menace that T2 and Patrick wielded at work here.

Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) is no James Cameron, who created the series and returns here as producer. He's perfunctory at best, imagining, it seems, that the franchise's tropes will carry the day. Mostly, nostalgia is not enough here. A subplot in the action takes our heroines on a dangerous illegal crossing of the border from Mexico into the United States, and yet the movie has no idea on how to capitalize on the difference between Cold War fears of nuclear war that fueled the original Terminator and the terrors of incipient fascism that today's fractured geopolitics give rise to.

This is a franchise that is, ironically, stuck in the past. ♦

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Maryann Johanson

Maryann Johanson