de facto film reviews 3 stars

“Terminator” sequels have largely not had the best reputation. Since 1991’s “T2: Judgement Day”, every installment in the decaying franchise has either flopped at the box office or been met with less-than-kind reviews from fans and critics. With 2015’s abysmal “Terminator: Genisys”, the franchise seemed to have finally ran its course. In that time, however, the rights to the franchise have been returned to series creator, James Cameron. With Cameron’s heavy involvement and the return of Linda Hamilton, reprising her role as Sarah Connor, fans had reason to be excited again. Given the final result, fans should find themselves pleased as ‘Terminator: Dark Fate” marks a return to form for the franchise.

Helmed by “Deadpool” director, Tim Miller, “Dark Fate” takes its approach from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in that this is ultimately a rehash of ‘T2″, with new story elements sprinkled throughout. More often than not, this approach has been a cynical tool used by studios to cash in on audiences nostalgia, while essentially making the same film. Thankfully, “Dark Fate” doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia to coast its way through; save for a few obvious moments. Forgoing every franchise installment after “T2”, this new “Terminator” tells a compelling story while sticking to the narrative formula of the first two entries.

In the “John Connor” role the time around is Dani (newcomer Natalia Reyes), a typical girl living in Mexico with her father and brother working in a factory. When a genetically augmented soldier by the name of Grace (Mackenzie Davis) arrives from the future to save Davi from the newest edition Terminator, the “Rev 9” (Gabriel Luna), they team up with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who has since spent her years dedicated to hunting Terminators, and protect Dani who might be the key in stopping the inevitable Judgement day.

Returning to the franchise after 28 years is Linda Hamilton who has never been better. This older, battered Sarah is even tougher and more grizzled than when we last saw her. Hamilton, whose career has been next to quiet over the past couple decades, delivers a performance of great pathos and even melancholy. Sarah has always been a wounded figure, which is what helped make her so relatable in the first place, but Hamilton finds ways of digging even deeper into the sorrow of the character, making for some unexpectedly powerful moments.

Frequent scene-stealer Mackenzie Davis finally gets a big screen leading role and she proves herself worthy. Davis, like Hamilton, is given a strong character to work with which  makes for a compelling new hero in the franchise. She also greatly impresses in the films action scenes. Natalia Reyes is also a strong screen presence in her first big role. Reyes captures the vulnerability and hidden strength in her character to an impressive degree.

It’s no secret that Arnold Schwarzenegger once again returns here, but to say how or why would give away some critical plot details. To keep things vague, Schwarzenegger is given more to do here than previous entries and although the plot revolving around his character will have some fans divided, he’s responsible for several of the films best moments.

Tim Miller is by no means on the same pedestal as James Cameron, but he proves himself more than capable of handling big action set pieces. The action in “Dark Fate” is consistently rousing and offers plenty of electrifying moments. Miller is one of the few directors that comes from the VFX world who is efficient in both spectacle and working with actors.

Some of the best material in “Dark Fate” surprisingly doesn’t come from just the action. “Dark Fate” offers some truly poignant themes that deal with loss and forgiveness. The moments between Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are particularly strong given their history with the franchise.

“Dark Fate” is by no means a homerun. Some of the editing in the latter action sequences is choppy beyond the point of comprehensibility. The CG effects aren’t exactly great; ranging from passable to laughable. There’s also some maddening logical issues and numerous instances of painful dialogue. However, these issues aren’t enough to bring down the energetic ride that is “Terminator: Dark Fate”.

After 3 films that did almost nothing but beat a dead horse, it’s a welcoming surprise that this newest entry doesn’t continue to beat us into further submission. “Terminator: Dark Fate” is popcorn entertainment done right. It’s a thrilling and adrenaline-fueled action flick with actual meat on its bones. There may not be much life left in this franchise, but there’s enough to make this film a satisfying follow-up.