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07 Nov 2019

A Trying 'Terminator': Linda Hamiliton Is Back, and So's James Cameron (Sort Of)—Which Makes the Blandness of 'Dark Fate' Disappointing

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Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate.

The big thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is that James Cameron has returned to the franchise as a producer and story-credit guy. That means we’ll be returning to the sort of Terminator movies he directed back in the day, right?

Well … no.

Tim Miller, the guy who directed Deadpool, is in charge of this bland and banal chapter, with Cameron essentially whispering in his ear from afar. Cameron apparently never even visited the set, which is not surprising, considering ex-wife Linda Hamilton is back—and given her physical prowess, she could easily kick the living shit out of him. Cameron’s real attention is on the Avatar sequels, which have mercifully been postponed so many times that I am conditioned to think I will never have to sit through them. One can dream.

For the umpteenth time, the future is all screwy, because rogue A.I. has essentially taken over the planet and deemed humans unnecessary. This chapter picks up where Cameron’s second chapter left off, with the future changed thanks to the work of Sarah Connor (Hamilton); her boy, John; and a cuddly Terminator in Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Had things turned out all peachy after Sarah’s handiwork, we wouldn’t have this movie. Some major happenings transpire in the opening minutes here, featuring a CGI de-aged Hamilton that is remarkable. It totally looks like 1991 Hamilton on the screen; other characters from Judgment Day show up as well. Things get off to a good start.

Then things get, well, routine at best.

An “augmented human” built to fight Terminators drops into the past (our present) in the form of Grace (Mackenzie Davis). She’s been sent to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) and immediately finds herself facing off with a new form of liquid Terminator (Gabriel Luna). The new cyborg’s liquid form can run around and mimic humans while its skeleton can drive a car. It’s visually interesting, but it feels like the writers are overreaching in search of new Terminator angles.

The movie is a bunch of action-set pieces in which Miller fails to distinguish himself. The editing makes much of the carnage hard to follow—a fight inside a crashing plane is a real mess—and the set pieces lack imagination. It feels very much like déjà vu.

I can’t explain what I dislike most about this movie, because it would give away too much. It has to do with the timeline after Sarah and John destroyed the Judgment Day Terminators. Things occur with little to no explanation; they just sort of happen, because the screenplay needs a future where things are bad. It feels like a cheat.

Hamilton, returning to the role that made her famous, has her moments, but the screenplay lets her down. The Sarah Connor in this movie behaves in ways that are inconsistent with her past, and it’s awkward at times.

Schwarzenegger shows up late in the movie as Carl, a Terminator who has domesticated himself and even has a girlfriend. He sells draperies, which makes for a couple of funny moments during which Carl elaborates on his new trade. It’s fun to see Arnie in these films, but this has to be the last time, right?

The Terminator franchise at this point feels like it’s been there, done that. Dark Fate, although better than the Christian Bale-led Terminator: Salvation, is a small step backward from the wacky but kind-of-fun Terminator Genisys.

Still … if they keep making these movies, I’ll keep going to see them, because that’s what I do. I’m a sequel junkie, and it’s a problem. Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad sequel, but not so awful that it’s a complete waste of time for fans. Go for Arnie and Linda having one last hurrah—but don’t expect much beyond that.

Terminator: Dark Fate is playing at theaters across the valley.

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