The chase movie is one of the oldest and simplest forms of film. Look at Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner: One idea, with endless variations, always satisfying.
What worked for the coyote and roadrunner works very nicely for “Terminator: Dark Fate,” a highly enjoyable chapter in that ongoing franchise. It’s one long chase, with a pause in the middle — and that pause constitutes the most fascinating sequence in the entire “Terminator” storyline.
This film asks us to ignore all the movie and TV sequels since “Terminator 2,” which came out in 1991. If you’re like me and can’t remember all the time-tripping plot turns anyway, this is not a problem.
Two key figures return from “T2”: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose efforts to protect her son formed the backbone of the previous films, and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the terminator itself, now aged and in a surprising new place.
“Dark Fate” kicks off with a startling scene set in 1998, then jumps ahead to the present day. Once again, a visitor from the future arrives to save someone.
The visitor is Grace (the decidedly otherworldly Mackenzie Davis, from “Tully” and “Blade Runner 2049”). She’s an “augment,” so parts of her body are mechanically enhanced.
Grace arrives in Mexico City to save Dani (Natalia Reyes), a young woman who will be important in the 2040s. Unfortunately, Grace is followed by a next-generation terminator (the very unnerving Gabriel Luna) seeking to eliminate Dani.
Sarah Connor gets into the mix almost right away, but the T-800’s entrance is delayed, as it should be for any proper diva. First we get a thrilling car chase, then a tense stand-off at an immigration detention center on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Director Tim Miller (he did the first “Deadpool”) manages the action with aplomb. There’s no coyote or roadrunner, but the film is basically a series of cartoon cliffhangers, rendered breathlessly.
The film’s one calm sequence is Schwarzenegger’s arrival, which has a reflective tone. For a few minutes the film allows its characters to sit around and hash out old resentments and regrets; there’s a whiff of mortality in the air.
Even the T-800 looks gray and weary, something conveyed by Schwarzenegger’s canny performance. You’re allowed to feel a sense of how a gigantic apparatus like the “Terminator” mythology comes down to actual characters.
Then, back to the slam-bang stuff. But at just over two hours, “Dark Fate” doesn’t outwear its welcome — by comparison to other franchises we could mention, this sequel does its job in tight fashion.
It’s easy to detect the hand of “Terminator” originator James Cameron, who was more directly involved in the production on this film than he has been since “T2.” Cameron’s gift for grabby ideas is on juicy display — it’s candy you know is empty calories, but hard to resist.
Will there be another one? Could be, but “Dark Fate” has the air of a farewell, too. At this point there are so many time-travel lines criss-crossing that maybe we should just leave the future alone.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” (3 stars)
Picking up the action after “Terminator 2” (forget those other sequels), this chapter brings back Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for a tight, well-managed chase movie. You can detect the hand of producer James Cameron in the movie’s grabby ideas, and this one doesn’t outwear its welcome. With Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-in, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza