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What The Rotten Tomatoes Reviews Are Saying About Terminator: Dark Fate

It appears that Terminator is back.

Reviews are coming in for Terminator: Dark Fate, the continuity-resetting latest entry in the franchise. Call them mixed-to-positive: critics generally agree that while Dark Fate doesn't quite hit the heights of James Cameron's The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the flick stands as the most worthy installment since those two films ignited the popular imagination decades ago. The movie is currently certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

While those movies are widely considered to be among the best sci-fi/action films of all time, the Terminator series has produced severely diminishing returns in recent years, beginning with 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. While that movie was pretty good, it presented a couple of problems. First, fans wanted and expected a heck of a lot better than "pretty good" after waiting a dozen years for a sequel to T2. Second, Rise of the Machines began the work of mucking up the series' continuity that would become maddening in later installments.

2009 brought us the Christian Bale-starring Terminator Salvation, the first film the series to be roundly panned by critics and outright rejected by fans. It was the type of film that the phrase "soulless, cynical cash grab" was designed for, and its screenwriters seemed to have far overshot "trippy sci-fi brain bender" and landed squarely on "convoluted, frustrating mess."

It shouldn't have gotten any worse, but that didn't mean it couldn't, and it did.  The bizarrely titled Terminator: Genisys arrived in 2015 to an even less enthusiastic reception than its immediate predecessor, and it completely finished the job of rendering the series' overarching storyline absolutely impenetrable, if not outright nonsensical. It seemed like it was time to pull the plug on Terminator for good — but the filmmakers behind Dark Fate are intent on fixing the franchise's past transgressions in a couple of interesting ways.

First, it's one of those flicks (like last year's Halloween) that ignores all of the confusing, continuity-muddling entries in the series and positions itself as a direct sequel to the last film in said series that everyone loved (in this case, T2). Second, it's getting the band back together in a big way, bringing back Cameron (as a producer) along with T2 stars Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Edward Furlong as her son John, and of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger as an aged version of the T-800.

The movie is also not skimping on the fresh young talent. Joining the cast are Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) as cyborg protector Grace, Natalia Reyes (Running with the Devil) as new "mother of the future" Dani, and Gabriel Luna (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the Rev-9, a different kind of Terminator that employs freaky new technology. The flick was co-written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight) and directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool).

Those are a lot of pretty cool pieces in place — but how does Terminator: Dark Fate acquit itself? Let's hear from the critics.

How does Terminator: Dark Fate measure up to the rest of the series?

First things first: those who recommended the film were uniformly pleased that the filmmakers chose to hit the reset button. The flick was also praised for its story and action, and for the performances of its cast — in particular Davis, who is likely to become a heck of a lot more well-known after Dark Fate's release, and Hamilton, who proves that she has always been the heart and soul of the series.

"In retrospect, it's weird that [the franchise] kept trying without Hamilton," wrote Mike Ryan of Uproxx. "What Terminator: Dark Fate teaches us, pretty quickly, is that these movies have always been Linda Hamilton's movies, and trying to keep churning them out without her was a lesson in futility. She adds a weight to Dark Fate that is palpable and, frankly, this movie doesn't work without her."

Ryan went on to call Dark Fate "the best Terminator movie since T2," and he was not alone in comparing it favorably to the first two films. "[Dark Fate is] Terminator all over again, but the way Terminator would be told if it were made for the first time today," wrote The Wrap's William Bibbiani. "But to Tim Miller's credit, he doesn't seem to be competing with the past... Whether Terminator: Dark Fate is the last chapter in this story or the first in an all-new franchise is, for now, irrelevant. The film works either way, bringing the tale of the first two films to a satisfying conclusion while reintroducing the classic storyline, in exciting new ways, to an excited new audience. It's a breathtaking blockbuster, and a welcome return to form."

David Crow of Den of Geek appreciated how Dark Fate paid homage to the series' legacy while avoiding the mistakes of previous sequels. "As good as the cast on the whole can be, it's Hamilton and Schwarzenegger taking their most popular characters out for what feels like one last ride that truly elevates Dark Fate into being worthwhile," he wrote. "If nothing else, it does right by its time-sliding themes by washing away the bad taste of past mistakes and the sequels that made them."

Even some of the flick's positive notices, however, noted its thematic and narrative similarities to The Terminator. "Dark Fate is a lean, tough, and absorbing sequel that taps back into the enthralling surface of the Terminator series," wrote Owen Gleiberman of Variety, "[But] part of how the movie achieves that is by coloring rigorously within the lines, introducing a new slate of characters by swapping in one character and situation for another with a nearly mathematical precision. As a result, it's not a film of galvanizing imagination. Yet Dark Fate puts flesh on the metal bones of its concept."

Of course, not all reviewers were won over. Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly called the movie "another unsteady piece of franchise recycling... frequently bad in a funny way, without the dutiful dullness of the last couple sequels." He went on to opine that "at times, you can sense Dark Fate just giving up" — which doesn't exactly line up with the ambitious, franchise-resetting blockbuster the film's defenders are promising.

Many of the negative reviews weren't quite so harsh, acknowledging the flick's entertainment value while simply wishing that more attention had been paid to its script. "The fun parts of Terminator: Dark Fate can't mask the fact that the episodic script drags," wrote Polygon's Karen Han. "Though the film leaves the door open for more Terminator shenanigans, it hopefully serves as a definitive end. Sarah deserves some closure. Dark Fate is at its best when offering it."

For the most part, though, the critical reaction to Terminator: Dark Fate is encouraging for fans who have felt increasingly let down by each new attempt to get the franchise right over the last 16 years. Huw Fullerton of Radio Times summed it up best: "As a Terminator entry and a movie this is a great return to form for James Cameron's world, and a true sequel to T2 that finally gives Linda Hamilton her due," he wrote. "Whether another follow-up will come is unclear... but whatever happens, if they keep Hamilton on board it'll be worth another visit."

We're not sure why it took everyone so long to figure out that Hamilton was the key to making the Terminator series work; we could have told you that in 1991. But with Sarah Connor back to kick ass with a little help from some intriguing new friends, it sounds like Dark Fate has finally gotten the series back on track. Check it out for yourself when the flick hits the big screen on November 1.