Another year, another “Terminator” sequel attempting to rise from the ashes of the lumbering franchise, and stumbling along to the finish line. Mind you, “Terminator: Dark Fate” is not as negligible as either “Terminator: Rise of the Machines” or “Terminator: Salvation,” but mostly it’s a gigantic missed opportunity to reinvigorate the franchise. It’s great that Linda Hamilton is back as Sarah Connor, who makes an effective link between this new universe (as this fifth sequel ignores everything that came after “T2”) and what’s come before: The character’s progression and Hamilton’s performance are effective and believable, in particular a confrontation between Hamilton and “Carl” (it’ll make sense once you see it). It’s also great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back to the franchise (even though he was in 2015’s silly-but-entertaining “Terminator: Genisys”), and both he and Hamilton are well-matched by a ferocious Mackenzie Davis in a “Universal Solider”-ish role that absolutely commands the screen. However, there are several action scenes that are so darkly lit it’s often difficult to follow them, which may have been director Tim Miller’s attempt to hide some occasionally laughable CGI that’s made all the more perplexing by some truly awe-inspiring special effects work in other scenes (like a flashback to 1998 that took my breath away thanks to its downright photo-realist look). There’s also the central problem of Natalia Reyes in a pivotal role: Reyes seems charismatic but she’s completely miscast here, while the narrative demands that we care about her before we know where she fits into the story, and never sells her the type of character they want us to believe she is. On the other hand, Gabriel Luna is perfectly cast as the robotic antagonist, capable of being both charming and lethal in the same shot, but by the second half he seems to have largely disappeared from the movie’s plot, save for a few brief appearances here and there on the way to an underwhelming climax. So in my opinion, it’s not that “Terminator: Dark Fate” is a total failure, it’s that it’s a missed opportunity that seems to have everything going for it but has too many cooks in the kitchen, leaving us with a compromised, overstuffed but occasionally effective attempt to reinvigorate a franchise that should probably be left for dead once and for all.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)