Temporal Flux is absolutely right to say that JUDGEMENT DAY, RISE OF THE MACHINES and GENISYS have all featured humans fleeing a cybernetic assassin who is just barely held off by a reprogrammed robot Arnold Schwarzenegger; SALVATION varied this a bit with Sam Worthington playing the robot(ish) protector. Perhaps DARK FATE, in addition to being the fourth installment in a role to be the first in a trilogy that could be left unfinished, was yet another chased-by-a-robot movie and the audience had seen enough of those. Also, DARK FATE tries to sell itself in ways that GENISYS already attempted to the disappointment of the audience. Maybe they weren't willing to take the chance of being fooled again.
I'd argue that every pre-DARK FATE sequel to JUDGEMENT DAY has suffered from being either inauthentic, incompetent or incomplete or some combination of all three. RISE OF THE MACHINES is, like Season 4 - 5 of SLIDERS, a cheap copy of the original content, in this case JUDGEMENT DAY.
JUDGEMENT DAY had grand and lavish action sequences from James Cameron who has an incredible grasp of geography, motion, location, editing, pacing and timing. It also had a grippingly troubled female protagonist in Linda Hamilton, a hilarious dynamic between the rascaly Edward Furlong and the taciturn Arnold Schwartzenegger.
In contrast, RISE has blandly pedestrian action and a blandly present Claire Danes. RISE also presents a John/Terminator relationship that rings false. Nick Stahl's John is ineffectual and weak, perpetually cowering and overwhelmed by simple acts like breaking and entering that the young John performed with confident ease, and Stahl performs John with a one-note nervousness. He reflects none of Furlong's wit, cunning, rebellion and daring and simply isn't John Connor. And Schwarzenneger is back as the Terminator, but this is a different machine with the same face; this Terminator never bonded with John in T2.
Despite RISE claiming to be the further adventures of John and the Terminator, this isn't the T2 John and this isn't the T2 Terminator. It's inauthentic. The best that can be said of RISE is that it dares to show (a fairly sanitized) rendition of Skynet's victory at the end (even though RISE had alternate footage filmed so that another Terminator would have shown up to defeat Skynet had the studio balked at the ending).
SALVATION is incompetent. The story is nonsensical with Skynet inexplicably augmenting a human, Marcus Wright, with Terminator powers to infiltrate the human resistance despite this human (inevitably) switching sides. John Connor has once again been recast as Christian Bale who exists to run around in various action sequences that don't affect the core plot for Marcus and Kyle Reese. The ending simply resets the movie to the beginning of the situation with Marcus Wright dead and John Connor continuing his leadership of the resistance.
The reason for all this: Connor was supposed to be a mostly off-camera character, but Christian Bale declined the role of Marcus and insisted that he play John and ordered that John have (superfluous) scenes added to the film for him to perform. In addition, the original script had Connor dying and Marcus Wright changing his appearance to look like Connor to maintain the legend of the man, something Bale also had altered. The ending was also changed: the original intention was that Skynet would reveal that it was enslaving humanity to save it from its own destruction, but this was also lost in shifting the film from Marcus to Christian Bale.
THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is, despite being an excellent TV show, somewhat inauthentic and incompetent. The recasting is actually pretty good with Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker doing a great job of performing new versions of Linda Hamilton and Ed Furlong and the scripts are also splendid. However, CHRONICLES seemed determined to create unresolved plot thread after unresolved plot thread and was dead set on creating a cliffhanger finale for Season 2 that had next to no chance of ever being resolved (and remains unresolved) when a more competent TV show would have crafted the final episode to work as both a season finale and a series finale in the likely event of cancellation.
And GENISYS is completely inauthentic, shockingly incompetent and again incomplete. The original TERMINATOR featured a troubled, war-scarred Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese. GENISYS recasts with Jai Courtney and Courtney is a charisma-free vacuum whose performance has no thought, no detail, no effort and no depth. Courtney's Reese is a bland hero; there is nothing of Biehn's rebel soldier, nothing of Biehn's madness or grief or loss or desperation as survivor of a borderline extinction. And then we have Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor except Clarke captures nothing of Linda Hamilton's 80s demeanor in TERMINATOR and also nothing of Hamilton's angry war veteran in JUDGEMENT DAY.
GENISYS claims to be returning to the roots of the original TERMINATOR and yet presents impostors once again. Furthermore, despite showing the original version of Reese being dispatched by John to save Sarah (which is why John meeting Kyle doesn't match the SALVATION depiction), GENISYS doesn't explain where the "Pops" Terminator came from to rewrite the events of the 1984 film. It's presented as a mystery to be explored later, but it comes off as sloppiness. And the film works in revisiting/remaking moments of the 1984 film -- except it then inexplicably has Sarah and Kyle time travel to 2015 on the eve of Skynet being activated. At no point does the movie explain WHY Sarah and Kyle would decide to throw away 31 years to find a way to stop Skynet other than the filmmakers not wanting to continue recreating the 1984 setting -- which also makes the 'mystery' of Pops look less like an ongoing question and more of a plothole -- one that will never be resolved as GENISYS will have no sequels. Inauthentic. Incompetent. Incomplete.
GENISYS sold itself as being a return to the series' roots (by returning to the 1984 movie to choose an alternate path) and advertised itself with James Cameron claiming he loved GENISYS, a claim he'd later withdraw. I suspect that Cameron was thrilled to see GENISYS refilming moments of his 1984 film and was so overwhelmed by these overtures that he only later came to see that outside of these recreations, the surrounding movie featured bland impostors of his creations in a clumsily plotted and unfinished story.
Fairly or unfairly, DARK FATE is part of a franchise that presents unfinished, confusing stories with stand-ins for the real characters.
DARK FATE, like GENISYS, it claims to return to the roots of the series, sidestep the sequels (but only after T2 whereas GENISYS replaced even the original TERMINATOR) and is endorsed by James Cameron once again -- except with GENISYS, all of that turned out to be utter BS. The fact that DARK FATE managed to recapture authenticity, competence and completion doesn't seem to matter because such things can only be appreciated by an audience that sees the actual film and as they'd been burned on three previous occasions, one can understand them not returning for a fourth. That's despite the authenticity being real this time: we have Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor; we have Ed Furlong as John Connor. These aren't recasts; these are the same faces we saw in TERMINATOR and T2.
And DARK FATE is a return to competence. While James Cameron did not direct this movie, I feel he might as well have much in the same way HALLOWEEN 2018 recaptured the style of the 1974 movie despite Carpenter neither filming it nor having final cut. DARK FATE is plainly a movie that Cameron had made on his behalf the way George Lucas directed RETURN OF THE JEDI through Richard Marquand. Despite never going to the set, Cameron managed its scripting and oversaw the editing and DARK FATE captures all of Cameron's strengths while also amending some of his weaknesses.
Where RISE, SALVATION and GENISYS were pedestrian in their action, Cameron's gift for pacing, shot sequencing, motion and geography are plainly present in Tim Miller's direction. DARK FATE is a relentless chase movie akin to a Season 2 episode of SLIDERS and Miller and Cameron ensure that each action sequence presents a new variation: a terrifying car chase, a battle in an auto factory, a battle within a crashing airplane, an underwater escape -- each sequence presenting a different form of physicality.
Also, Tim Miller infuses DARK FATE with a beautiful feminine energy. Mackenzie Davis' Grace can be unstoppable and indomitable, but she conveys the pain and shock of each blow and how near collapse she is as she performs another astonishing feat. There's a tenderness and tactile sense of identity to Grace in contrast to Schwarzenegger's implacable brutalism. And also, DARK FATE is complete. It doesn't end demanding a sequel, instead ending on a closing note that indicates that should there be a sequel, there'll be a great one, but if there isn't, the adventure continues. It's what SARAH CONNOR's finale so singularly wasn't.
It's a shame that GENISYS was made; had DARK FATE come in its place, it'd have been the first sequel to declare itself a return to authenticity, and had DARK FATE been on track to earn the same $440 million that GENISYS made, it would have been considered an adequate success. And looking at DARK FATE's sister movie, HALLOWEEN 2018 was also a 'deboot' that had the original leading lady reprising her role as a lead character -- except HALLOWEEN 2018 was a return to the original film's roots as a low budget indie movie made for 10 million dollars and earning 255 million at box office.
In contrast, DARK FATE is not a return to TERMINATOR (1984) being made for 6.4 million but instead yet another attempt at T2's blockbuster earnings with a blockbuster budget. Admittedly, a 12 million dollar version of DARK FATE would not have Linda Hamilton or Arnold Schwarzenagger and likely not have the computer generated deaging effects to recreate a young Linda Hamilton and Ed Furlong as Sarah and John, so maybe DARK FATE just came too late. It should have come out in 2015 before GENISYS poisoned the idea of going back to the original well.