True confessions time. I’m more than a little late to the Terminator game. Until last week, my only exposure to the decades-old franchise revolved around random clips featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a menacing looking robot dude and pop-culture references to his signature line, “I’ll be back.”

Since I never ventured there to begin with, I couldn’t really go back. Or could I?

Seemed fitting to try, given the brand’s own penchant for messing with time. So thanks to Amazon Prime (free streaming of 1984’s The Terminator) and iTunes ($3.99 rental of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day), I got up to speed pretty quick, and got the baseline I truly needed for Terminator: Dark Fate.

But wait, you say! What about Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), and Terminator Genisys (2015)? And the 2008-2009 TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles? Where do they fit into the mix?

Well, they don’t. They’ve been relegated to the metal scrap heap of Terminator lore. Alternate universes. Poof – gone! Erase them from your mind. Terminator: Dark Fate is considered a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. So do as I did and watch T1 and T2 (again, or for the first time). They’re both quite good.

Dark Fate holds its own as a satisfying sequel, thanks to an extra-large dose of gritty and witty #GirlPower.

Here’s the gist: two decades have passed since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and saved billions of lives – including that of her son John who Terminators were bent on killing so he wouldn’t grow up to lead the Resistance against machines that took over the world (or something like that). In The Terminator and again in T2, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a T-800 model Terminator robot. He was a really bad guy in the first one; a good guy in T2 (because he’d been reprogrammed); and in Dark Fate, he’s baaaack, as a guy named Carl who owns a drapery business. Linda Hamilton is also back in her iconic role, and she’s more badass than ever. For the record, Hamilton at 63 and Schwarzenegger at 72 can both still make a killer entrance onscreen.

In Dark Fate, Sarah Connor reluctantly joins forces with Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an “augmented human” super-soldier sent from the future to protect a young woman named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who is being hunted by a good-looking but ruthless, upgraded model of Terminator known as a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). He’s got all sorts of crazy killer abilities that will put the trio of Sarah, Grace and Dani to the ultimate test. Once again, the future – and the fate of humankind – hangs in the balance.

The heart of the story rings familiar because another familiar force was back in the mix, behind the camera. James Cameron has a producer and story credit on Dark Fate. Cameron created the franchise and directed the first two Terminator films, and recently regained the rights. So it literally picks up where he left off, though Cameron passed the directing reigns for this one to Tim Miller (Deadpool).

A lot has changed in the cinematic universe since 1984 and 1991. Dark Fate’s fighting sequences, chase scenes, special effects and CGI bring the future to the present on a whole new, adrenaline-fueled level. Some fans will revel in that part of the film; but I preferred the quieter scenes, where heart and humor could shine through the torrent of violence and distress. Don’t close the drapes on the Terminator just yet. Dark Fate definitely sets the stage for a continuation of the franchise, in one form or another.

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