Terminator: Dark Fate First Reviews: Linda Hamilton Rules a Mixed Bag of Familiar Franchise Nostalgia

Critics say the latest chapter of the Terminator saga is a cut above previous sequels, but isn't quite as thrilling as many had hoped.

by | October 22, 2019 | Comments

Retconning more than half of its predecessors, Terminator: Dark Fate is the latest reboot-sequel to pull a do-over by directly following-up the early classic(s) of a franchise. For some, the effort is pulled off perfectly, while others see the new Terminator installment as a nostalgic rehash that panders to fans. The first reviews highlight the return of Linda Hamilton alongside regular Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the new cast, especially Mackenzie Davis, but they’re mixed on how well everything comes together this time around.

Here’s what critics are saying about Terminator: Dark Fate:

How does Dark Fate measure up to the other installments?

Dark Fate feels like a real Terminator movie at last.” – Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

Terminator: Dark Fate is the redo the franchise needed.” – Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider

“It’s easily the best sequel since 1991.” – Huw Fullerton, Radio Times

“It’s the saga’s best sequel since Terminator 2: Judgement Day, however you might interpret that.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

“It’s a film that returns, in good and gratifying ways, to the smartly packaged low-down genre-thriller classicism that gave the original Terminator its kick.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“A clear step down from the franchise’s early heyday.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film

Dark Fate is just another bad Terminator movie in a string of bad Terminator movies (although better than Genisys).” – Lindsay Bahr, Associated Press

Does it try too hard to be like the first two movies?

“Coloring rigorously within the lines… it’s not a film of galvanizing imagination.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“[It] can sometimes feel like a remix of the series’ greatest hits.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film

“[It] mines nostalgia in all the thoroughly predictable ways, playing like a watered-down greatest hits of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“Nostalgia alone doesn’t cut it. In fact, giving us happy memories of the first two films is what hurts this impostor the most.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

“There are references and callbacks galore – some welcome, some self-indulgent.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

“Occasionally [it] leans too heavily on the homage but mostly, remarkably, feels like a worthy descendant rather than a cheap cash-in.” – Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

Paramount Pictures
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

What’s it like to see Linda Hamilton back in action?

“What Terminator: Dark Fate makes clear is that… [Schwarzenegger] wasn’t the key ingredient that made these movies really work. It was Linda Hamilton.” – Matt Singer, ScreenCrush

“It’s Linda Hamilton who is the true star of the movie… She brings a ferocity to the screen that is fun and exciting to watch.” – Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider

“After 28 years away from the character, Hamilton brings the strength, vulnerability, and badassness you expect from Sarah and then some.” – Jill Pantozzi, io9

“Hamilton, playing this burnt-out husk of a savior, is triumphantly funny and alive… She’s like Susan Sontag as a badass.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“She’s not given material that does anything innovative with her legacy… [It’s] what the all-male creatives behind Sarah 3.0 think female empowerment looks like these days.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

And what about Arnie?

“Arnold Schwarzenegger adds a dash of life and much-needed comedy when he makes his… entrance.” – Lindsay Bahr, Associated Press

“The movie’s shiniest glimmers of genuine humanity come from Schwarzenegger, playing a slightly different version of this character than audiences may expect.” –  Jesse Hassenger, AV Club

“He’s invaluable in the action scenes, which are some of Dark Fate’s most crowd-pleasing moments.” – Huw Fullerton, Radio Times

“It almost felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger could have been left out of this film entirely. His initial appearance had me wishing they’d let him do less, not more.” – Jill Pantozzi, io9

Paramount Pictures
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

Do any of the new cast members stand out?

“It’s [Mackenzie] Davis’s brusque and androgynous Grace who turns out to be Dark Fate’s most stonily compelling asset.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“Grace can kick ass, but she’s also pretty boring.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

“At least the film provides the franchise with a Latinx leading lady [with Natalia Reyes], who continually exercises her agency.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“The casting of Natalia Reyes is a triumph for representation, but Dani is merely serviceable, a surrogate John Connor who’s largely devoid of a personality.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film

How do the female characters fare?

Terminator: Dark Fate is an engaging story about three, tremendously powerful women. That’s it. That’s the review.” – Jill Pantozzi, io9

“It’s the film’s three female leads that come to the rescue. Given how depressingly rare it is to see women even talking to each other in an action movie, I suppose Terminator: Dark Fate should be commended for this.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

“Dani is not much more than a plot device and Sarah is a reductive stereotype of an embittered woman. Even Grace, who thanks to Davis rises above the rotten script unscathed, has coded ‘female’ limitations.” – Lindsay Bahr, Associated Press

“The motives are transparent…imparting a disingenuous feeling. We’ll give you a cookie, filmmakers, when you add the depth and dimension these women so richly deserve.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

What about the new Terminator?

“The Rev-9 is a genuinely fearsome piece of creature design.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“[The] new Terminator can do more than ever; it can also look like a weightless little cartoon character in the process.” – Jesse Hassenger, AV Club

“He’s a first base riff on what Patrick and Schwarzenegger did better decades ago.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film

Paramount Pictures
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

And the visual effects?

“[The] VFX are generally so impressive that you can forgive a few poor moments.” – Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

“The biggest issue in the film is that the CGI is a mixed bag… When you compare it to the effects from T2, which still stand up today, it just nags at the back of your brain a bit.” – Jill Pantozzi, io9

“The film too often slides into a CGI blur, with zero sense of who’s where and what’s going on.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

“Tim Miller has gone overboard with special effects here, staging an impossible fight on an airplane, which leads to a cheap-looking underwater sequence.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

Does the action live up to franchise standards?

Dark Fate [has] dynamic action pieces and inventive fight sequences. They are all extremely high-octane and will leave you gripping your seat.” – Jill Pantozzi, io9

“The action scenes have a satisfying 20th-century crunch, thanks to a tactile intermingling of practical effects and CG.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“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.” – Karen Han, Polygon

“This one offers a series of action set pieces that go from big to huge to ludicrous.” – John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter

“[The] inevitable desire to keep upping the ante result in the movie going a couple of action sequences too far, straining plausibility and sheer gravity to their breaking points.” – Brian Lowry, CNN

Paramount Pictures
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

How is the script?

Dark Fate is a movie of the now…the story will likely surprise with some ever-present current issues in our society.” – Jill Pantozzi, io9

“There were times when I was actually a little bummed out when another shootout would erupt because I was having so much fun watching Sarah Connor banter with the Terminator.” – Matt Singer, ScreenCrush

“The fun parts of Terminator: Dark Fate can’t mask the fact that the episodic script drags.” – Karen Han, Polygon

Should we look forward to more Terminator movies?

“It raises the question if the franchise has much life beyond this point. Dark Fate certainly sets up for another sequel, but this vein feels pretty tapped out.” – David Crow, Den of Geek

“After Dark Fate the question is no longer who can save Terminator, but who will be bold enough to just let it die?” – Lindsay Bahr, Associated Press

“Whatever happens, if they keep Hamilton on board it’ll be worth another visit.” – Huw Fullerton, Radio Times

Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters November 1. 

Adjusted Score: 84.62%
Critics Consensus: Terminator: Dark Fate represents a significant upgrade over its immediate predecessors, even if it lacks the thrilling firepower of the franchise's best installments.
Synopsis: More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of... [More]
Directed By: Tim Miller

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