Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is hunted by a time-travelling killer robot called Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) across Mexico and into the US, but is being protected by an augmented soldier from the future name Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the woman who survived the T-1000 and has hunted Terminators ever since.
It's amazing to think just how utterly complex and tangled the 'Terminator' franchise has gotten since 'Judgement Day', and much of it is of its own doing. Simply put, James Cameron wrote the movie into a corner from which nothing could come after. It's why the movie worked so well; it so firmly put the button on it that trying to continue on would only be self-defeating. Yet, for all the false starts with 'Terminator: Salvation' and 'Terminator: Genisys', people will still inevitably give it the benefit of the doubt because they want to see if it can be done again.
'Terminator: Dark Fate', it seems, takes this to heart and essentially plays through the greatest hits of the franchise and revamps it with the same formula as JJ Abrams did so successfully with 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'. Like that, it brings back in the original cast - in this case, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton - and teams them up with a cast of relative unknowns to update it for a new audience, but still keep it familiar enough. By and large, it works - because 'Terminator: Dark Fate' follows the same story beats as 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day', but where the difference lies is in the fact this time around, the audience knows what's coming next.
Moreover, Tim Miller's direction doesn't have nearly the same level of smarts or ingenuity that James Cameron had. The CGI isn't quite as slick as it should be, which is almost unforgiveable for a 'Terminator' movie, and the action setpieces don't have the same authenticity or impact of the original. This robs it of any kind of energy because, when you look at the original, you know you're just seeing pixels flying around a screen - you know that that truck really was driven off a bridge, or that a building was practically blown up to get the explosion just right.
Still, for all of this, it's great to see the likes of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger back together on screen, even if it is going back over familiar ground. Hamilton's performance is vital and terrifying; it's as if she's been permanently stuck in that interview where she screams about the nuclear holocaust and has now exhausted herself to nothing else. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, gets some of the biggest laughs - yes, laughs - in the movie. Sadly, however, the newcomers add almost nothing to the proceedings, save for Mackenzie Davis. Gabriel Luna is a non-entity as the Rev-9, and while there is something subversive about having the villain of the piece dressed as a Border Patrol agent (not unlike the T-1000 dressed as an LAPD officer in the original), it's not enough to make an impact.
What lets 'Terminator: Dark Fate' down is, ultimately, the fact that it is kind of pointless. Compared to 'Star Wars' and 'The Force Awakens', which naturally lends itself to that kind of continuing saga, the 'Terminator' really shouldn't have progressed past 'Judgment Day'. While this is a fine effort and it's not without some interesting moments, it's not enough to be anything more than an unnecessary epilogue.