It’s not secret among Terminator fans that the franchise has been navigating rough waters for a while. The last three movies ranged from not coming close to measuring up to the original two installments to just being outright bad, and even the well-received TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled after two seasons. So there’s a lot riding on Terminator: Dark Fate, which serves as a sequel only to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, to reverse the Terminator franchise’s fortunes.
The public is still a little over a week from getting to see Terminator: Dark Fate, but early reviews are now pouring in following the initial reactions. Judging by what critics have written, it looks like this movie finally places the franchise on firmer ground, although like the previous three installments, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Terminator or Terminator 2.
Starting off, CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg gave Terminator: Dark Fate 3.5 out of 5 stars in his review, acknowledging that while its plot is very reminiscent of what we saw in the first two Terminator movies, it still works because of the “outstanding collection of dynamic and fun characters, great performances from the whole ensemble, and some bold and thrilling action sequences.”
Terminator: Dark Fate had a low bar to clear, but that doesn’t undercut that it’s still a very satisfying experience.
IGN’s Jim Vejvoda heaped even more praise onto Terminator: Dark Fate, giving it an 8/10 score. In his eyes, what makes Dark Fate an improvement over the last three movies is because it knows that “less is more when it comes to the T-800/Arnold” and that the first two movies were about Sarah Connor, not the eponymous robot assassin. That makes it all the more pleasing that Linda Hamilton came back to reprise Sarah after nearly three decades away from the role.
Terminator: Dark Fate largely succeeds where the last three installments have failed to make the franchise pop again.
But not everyone thought Terminator: Dark Fate was a return to form. Darren Franich from Entertainment Weekly stamped the movie with a C grade, calling it another bad sequel in the Terminator canon. Franich believes Dark Fate is packed with cliches and lackluster story beats, though he noted that at least it’s “frequently bad in a funny way, without the dutiful dullness of the last couple sequels.
This is another unsteady piece of franchise recycling, never really deciding whether it's continuing the story of familiar icons or launching a new adventure.
The AV Club’s Jesse Hassenger was similarly unimpressed with the R-rated Terminator: Dark Fate, giving it a C+. Although he admitted that the storyline of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is one of the “few genuine surprises” the movie has to offer, Hassenger found Dark Fate as whole to be unremarkable and serve as “a case study for the difficulty of crafting a satisfying follow-up to a pair of certified classics.”
Though Dark Fate gets more engaging as it goes on (an escape from a disabled plane is a low-gravity highlight), its sci-fi ideas mostly amount to a listless skimming of hot-button issues.
Back in more positive territory, Jill Pantozzi from io9 commended Terminator: Dark Fate for its female protagonists, as Sarah Connor is joined by Mackenzie Davis’ Grace and Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos. Pantozzi mentioned that the CGI in Dark Fate is a “mixed bag” and the movie’s biggest issue, but the story nonetheless has “dynamic action pieces and inventive fight sequences” that are “high octane” and “will leave you gripping your seat.”
Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day… still stand as a near-perfect story paring. Their stories certainly never needed to be continued but, as this is Hollywood and the franchise wheels are ever-turning, if they had to move forward, Dark Fate is finally the followup they deserve.
Finally, Empire’s Helen O’Hara awarded Terminator: Dark Fate 4 out of 5 stars, complimenting the movie for taking “true narrative risks.” She labeled Dark Fate as a “worthy descendant rather than a cheap cash-in” and felt we can now look to the future of the Terminator franchise with hope.
Easily the third-best Terminator film, which is more of a compliment than it sounds. It’s great to have Hamilton back in this role, but she’s ably matched by Reyes and Davis.
Overall, while Terminator: Dark Fate won’t overthrow The Terminator or Terminator 2 as one of the franchise’s best offerings, it sounds like it takes a step in the right direction. We’ll have to see who Dark Fate performs commercially, but if it does well on that front, perhaps it will indeed launch a new trilogy, something Salvation and Genisys both failed to do.