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  • Accidental Aesop:
    • As Grace's Heroic RRoD can attest to... kids, remember to drink water and stay hydrated.
    • One that has been brought up in more critical reviews is that Dark Fate accidentally inverts the message of T2. In the previous movie, the prevailing Aesop was that all human life is precious and machines are only as bad as their programming. This movie makes the accidental case that even the most important person on Earth is ultimately expendable and replaceable and that A.I. will always be bad for one reason or another.
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  • Ass Pull: See the franchise page.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: The film's status as an Un-Reboot that ignores Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys would suggest that Cameron and Miller understood that these sequels were disliked to varying degrees, but the execution would suggest they didn't understand why. A significant number of people were apathetic or outright put off from this movie due to a combination of factors: increased focus on new characters the fanbase didn't care for, continuing the trend of being a Happy Ending Override for Terminator 2: Judgment Day that made prior sequels reviled, and fans correctly predicting that John Connor would be killed off before leaks and early release confirmed it. All of these issues are cited by analysts as what contributed to the movie flopping at the box office.
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  • Author's Saving Throw: After Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys were criticized for being rated PG-13, James Cameron made it official that this film would be rated R, like the first two movies. Once the film came out in early screenings, the R rating turned out to be in the film's benefit, mostly helping its Darker and Edgier tone.
  • Awesome Music:
    • The trailer's use of a cover of Björk's "Hunter". It would have been easy to just play on the audience's sense of nostalgia by re-using the original Terminator theme, but this helps make the film seem more like its own thing, especially since Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in only one shot. It's also dark, somber, and haunting, giving the trailer an air of mystery.
    • The second trailer one-ups this by including a mashup of the classic Terminator theme and "In the House — In a Heartbeat".
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    • The main theme of the film itself — it, of course, being Junkie XL's take on the traditional Terminator theme — being a composite of the first two films' iterations of the themenote  and incorporating guitar acoustics, giving an undeniable Mexican/western vibe while also sounding more tragic than any other version; reflecting off of the film's End of an Age status: with the deaths of John Connor, Skynet, and its Terminators.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • The Rev-9 being able to imitate human behavior most effectively of all the killer robots thus far has split audiences between those who think this makes it the most effective infiltrator in its being unremarkable and those who think it removes the Uncanny Valley factor that made its predecessors disturbing and scary.
    • Some people take Dani as this as well, accusing the film of pandering, due to her acclimatizing to being The Chosen One way too quickly, especially when you consider that she happily greets her uncle and is apparently calmly explained to him that his brother and nephew are dead, compare with John who, while nobody close to him died, took at least a decade to be the leader of the resistance and even then he was resisting it until at least Salvation.
  • Broken Base: The main point of contention surrounding the film can essentially be boiled down to John Connor's death and the inevitability of a war between humans and machines. Either it means the entire franchise (or at least the first two films, depending on who you're asking) has been All for Nothing and sends a cynical message that John's only purpose was to destroy Skynet and he had outlived his purpose/life once Skynet was destroyed as well as another You Can't Fight Fate message from 3, or it was necessary to depict the message that As Long as There is Evil, there will always be a hero to combat it.
  • Captain Obvious Reveal: That Dani is the heroic leader of the resistance, not the mother of that person, was clearly meant to be a huge twist, but most audience members assumed that right off the bat.
  • Contested Sequel: While critics received it about as well as T3 and much better than any of the other sequels, the film still proved to be controversial with the fanbase, for many of the same reasons as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Genisys. Like the previous sequels, Dark Fate retreads certain plot points from the first two films, has a Happy Ending Override for Judgement Day, completely drops the Screw Destiny message of that film and instead pushes a You Can't Fight Fate message by once again declaring that Judgement Day is inevitable, and suddenly kills off a main characternote .
  • The Danza: According to supplementary materials, the Rev-9's cover name is Gabriel, the actor portraying it is Gabriel Luna
  • Director Displacement: James Cameron's return to the franchise was significantly hyped up, but he was only the executive producer and was merely one of several people who helped write the story. His name is as big as director Tim Miller's on the first poster and stands above the latter, but his actual involvement is subject to debate, including reports of heavy Creative Differences with producer David Ellison and Tim Miller that suggest his actual involvement might have been indeed very limited (besides, he was also busy guiding Robert Rodriguez on Alita: Battle Angel and filming the Avatar sequel when Dark Fate was being filmed).
  • Epileptic Trees: The mysterious, geometric-looking scars on Mackenzie Davis' character in the first promo image have been taken by many fans as an indication that she's actually a Terminator and might be the films' equivalent to Cameron. The first trailer seems to confirm this, but the film josses it, stating that Grace is but a Cyborg akin to Marcus Wright.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: Although this trend started as early as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, this installment is a particularly notable receiver of this reaction due to a number of plot decisions, among them killing John without any ceremony, revealing that Sarah's work was All for Nothing and invalidating (again) the Aesop of the two original films.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • After the release of Alien³, James Cameron (who directed Aliens), was one of the parties who berated the film for its Happy Ending Override and killing off the characters of Bishop, Newt and Hicks. Then this film is released, written and produced by Cameron, and it begins with a Happy Ending Override where John Connor is immediately killed off.
    • The film's title of Dark Fate can seem strangely prophetic, seeing as the film's underwhelming box office returns seems to have killed any likelihood of sequels in the foreseeable future.
  • It's the Same, Now It Sucks!: While the film's reception hasn't been universally negative by any stretch, one common point of criticism is that it tends to rehash plot points of previous Terminator films note  and is especially derivative of the first two installments.
  • It Was His Sled: John Connor dies at the beginning, and Dani Ramos takes his place as the future hero. This was almost guaranteed to be this anyway, as this was a very risky path to take the whole franchise through. Many fans and detractors of the film were very critical of this.
  • Just Here for Godzilla:
  • Les Yay: Many fans of the film were quick to read Grace and Dani as a budding romance (in the vein of Sarah + Kyle in the original film) and the pairing quickly gained popularity with the Shipping fandom, especially fan artists on Tumblr.
  • Mis-blamed: John Connor's death at the beginning has caused controversy and left some think it was a cause of Creative Differences between James Cameron and Tim Miller or the film's other producers and that Cameron had nothing to do with it. Turns out, it was his idea.
  • Narm:
    • The trailer has one moment where a hammer hits the new Terminator's leg and it makes a very cartoony splat sound.
    • Sarah randomly saying "She's John." after the big reveal, as if we somehow couldn't possibly get it without that.
    • For a Spanish-speaking viewer, it is impossible not to notice that Vicente Ramos is actually played by an European Spanish actor unsuccessfully trying to fake a Mexican accent. The same happens later with Felipe.
  • Narm Charm: The shot of Carl and Rev-9 laying down together as the former does a Taking You with Me seems less like a sacrifice and more or less two drunken buddies lounging on the floor. But once you look into it some more, as well as Rev-9's Not So Different statement, they are one of a kind, and the shot showcases how they are Foils - Carl is the last remnant of Skynet, Rev-9 is the start of Legion.
  • Older Than They Think:
    • This isn't the first time the Terminator franchise has shown a cyborg of human origin. The graphic novel Tempest released in 1990 revealed that one of Skynet's earliest attempts at creating cyborgs involved reconstructing injured humans. Terminator Salvation also had Marcus Wright, a death row inmate who signed over his body to be experimented on to Cyberdyne, leading to him being converted into a cyborg as well. T2 Trilogy also featured SkyNet creating genetically-modified humans to turn into cyborg infiltrators, sacrificing some of the regular Terminators' combat power in exchange for being much harder to detect, even for a Resistance that knows what to look for.
    • Rev-9 looking far more average when compared to its predecessors qualifies; back when the very first film was still in development, Cameron originally intended for the Terminator to be more of an infiltrator, sporting a "common man" appearance. He even had Lance Henriksen cast as the titular assassin, prior to recasting Schwarzenegger later on.
    • Major Dean, Sarah's contact in the U.S. Army, is criticized for being an unexplained plot thread about how Sarah met him just so that the heroes can get a hold of a useful weapon. Terminator 2: Judgment Day also did this with Enrique, who also met Sarah at some unimportant Noodle Incident and served as a way to advance the plot by giving weapons to our heroes (although Enrique had the benefit of receiving a real backstory, being one of the military men Sarah had sought to train John, while Dean's background with Sarah isn't given).
    • Rev-9 disguising itself as a Border Patrol officer, the Mexican-US border issue and the refugee crisis, and that the Border Patrol are portrayed as antagonists has been criticized as forcing politics into the franchise, even though in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-1000 disguising itself as a cop was confirmed by James Cameron to be a commentary on corruption in the police and police brutality, similar to what Dark Fate seems to have been aiming with its depiction of the Border Patrol.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • John Connor... before he dies.
    • Tom Hopper as William Hadrell, a musclebound Resistance fighter during the Future War.
  • Replacement Scrappy: Dani for John Connor for a large part of the fandom. It doesn't help that John Connor dies at the beginning so she can be the future savior instead.
  • Shocking Moments: The beginning scene: a T-800 showing up out of nowhere and shooting John dead. How's that Gut Punch feeling?
  • Squick: Grace reveals that she's a cyborg in the same way all the other Terminators do: by accumulating a series of gruesome injuries. By the film's climax, Dani has to tear a gadget out of Grace's abdomen.
  • Surprisingly Improved Sequel: At least in comparison to Salvation and Genisys. It got generally positive reviews, earning a 70% from Rotten Tomatoes, giving it the third highest score there, though in Metacritic it lagged behind Rise of the Machines, earning the fourth spot. Of course, both are still considered vastly inferior to the first two.
  • Tainted by the Preview: Responses to the first trailer were rather varied and far from unanimously enthusiastic, with it garnering 1/5th of dislikes on the film's YouTube channel.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • The plot point that Skynet sent Terminators back at multiple points of time as backups to kill John Connor would alone make for an interesting story, especially with the new revelation that they can be redeemed through human contact and turned into potential allies. However, this fizzles out due to killing John Connor, introducing a replacement savior in the form of Dani, and retreading the Terminator Twosome formula.
    • Part of the reason why director Tim Miller decided on killing off John Connor was that he wasn't a fan of The Chosen One trope and he felt that the creative idea of John living a normal, everyday existence after averting Judgement Day wasn't thematically or creatively interesting. On paper maybe, but the thought that John was going to be the leader of humanity only for someone new and unknown to take his place has plenty of story and thematic potential. There was opportunity for both John and Sarah Connor working together to train Dani to survive against Legion's Terminators, especially since both John and Dani would share the same experience of having to deal with Terminators in their childhoods. In fact, having John dying in a Heroic Sacrifice to save Dani, instead of being offed by a Terminator a couple of minutes into the film, would have been a much more fulfilling and dignified send-off given that his own role in saving the world had ended with the destruction of Skynet. In addition, the premise of Dark Fate makes the idea of John living an ordinary life a non-issue. The movie is predicated on the fact that Terminators keep coming. Sarah didn't settle down to live an ordinary life either, which means there was plenty of story potential for an elder Sarah and middle-aged John to start a Terminator-hunting family business.
    • Major Dean was criticized for being basically an Ass Pull needed for the heroes to acquire a weapon against the Rev-9. However, it could have changed completely with just a touch: had the character of Dean been Danny Dyson, the now adult son of Miles Dyson from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, his story would have told itself, as he could have believably grown to become a military tech expert with knowledge of Skynet. (In fact, this plot point was partially used in the previous film, Terminator Genisys, which had its own appearance of an adult Danny, and the planned Genisys trilogy would have had Danny return in a more significant capacity.)
    • Seeing Carl's transition from heartless killer machine to kindly family man would have probably made for a more interesting main plot that led to a warmer reception than introducing two new characters and hastily thrusting them into a series of lengthy action scenes. It doesn't help that Dani and Grace's story ends up being yet another retread of the "protect the future savior of humanity" plotline.
    • The film introduces the idea that a terminator which succeeds in its mission is left high and dry to find its own new purpose. This is explored with the character of Carl, but it has more unexplored potential, with there being many possibilites of what a terminator could choose to do without a mission, and could have been used to create a more tangible connection between Skynet and Legion. Perhaps a Terminator, realizing that John and Skynet are gone, decides to create a new AI to take Skynet's place?
  • Uncanny Valley: Possibly intentional. As convincing as the de-aging effects were in the prologue, there's something not quite right about the T-800's face, as if to set him apart from his more heroic predecessors.
  • Uncertain Audience: As Richard Roeper put it, the film sends mixed signals about whom its intended audience is. Marketing the return of Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Cameron to the franchise for the first time in 28 years gives the impression that it's being marketed towards die-hard fans who grew up with the franchise. But then, killing off John Connor, and then falling back on the same Recycled Premise as the first two films except with a new Big Bad and Living MacGuffin that are nearly exactly the same barring a name or gender gives the impression that this was meant to be a clean slate. The end result is that the film failed to interest either side and became a financial flop.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: It's par for the course for a Terminator film, but special mention must go to the flawless Digital Deaging of Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the opening. Many critics have compared the effects in that scene favorably in contrast to similar de-aging effects in Gemini Man (released around the same time period), where the effects quality was criticized as being subpar despite being much more central to the overall film.
  • What an Idiot!: See the franchise's page.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?:
    • Many people have noticed the imagery of a Hispanic woman running away from a ruthless ICE official (Rev-9 in disguise) and the story being set in Central Mexico and parts of Texas does ring for the current political climate of the United States and the increased authority of Immigration Customs Enforcement.
    • Also, said Hispanic woman's brother just had his job pulled out from under him to cut back on expenses.
    • Rev-9's default form is a Mexican man, which may make his seeming employment as an ICE officer appear as if he's a Category Traitor.
    • An officer at the detention center is insistent that the correct term for the people they've incarcerated isn't "prisoner", it's "detainee".
  • Win Back the Crowd:
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: The decision to have Enrique Arce and Tristán Ulloa, continental Spanish actors, playing the Mexicans Vicente and Felipe Ramos, strikes as particularly odd in a film already having several Latin actors and extras.

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