CVIndependent

Wed09302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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.

Published in Reviews

Alita: Battle Angel is a project that’s been on James Cameron’s plate for almost two decades.

Then the whole Avatar thing happened, and Cameron, the director, got lost in Pandora speaking Navi and doing strange things with horse-like creatures. He went from directing Alita to producing and screenplay contributions only. Directing chores went to Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn)—and after substantial delays, the movie has finally arrived.

The first time I saw the character of Alita in previews (played, in motion captures, by Rosa Salazar), I found her super-creepy, with her big eyes and ghostly smile. After seeing her in 3-D IMAX, I have to say: Something about adding that third dimension makes her more visually accessible. She really is an impressive special-effects feat, blending in just fine with the 100 percent humans and special-effects backdrops.

The movie itself is rather absorbing for a while, telling a decent story about a 300-year-old android trying to fit into a dystopian society, even if she does have the dullest boyfriend in cinematic history (Keean Johnson).

Looking through a garbage heap (that looks uncannily like the garbage heaps from Idiocracy, a film for which Robert Rodriguez, uncredited, did some special effects), Dr. Dyson Ido (a superb Christoph Waltz) finds the upper half of a strikingly beautiful android. He takes some readings, discovers she still has brain activity and takes her home. He meshes her upper parts with a robot body which was intended for his late daughter. He brings the android back to life, dubs her Alita (his deceased daughter’s name) and starts feeding her oranges.

Alita can’t remember a thing, but it all comes back to her in flashes. She’s a big-time former warrior, so, naturally, her talents take her toward a career in … killer roller derbies. That’s where the movie really starts to lose it. It’s an interesting movie about a young girl in an old android’s body looking for her sense of self, and even becoming a bounty hunter. Then, in a snap decision, she decides to go for fame and money in roller derby. Huh?

It’s as if the filmmakers had no idea where to go. The film is based on an original graphic novel that probably birthed the roller-derby angle, but that’s an element Rodriguez and Cameron could’ve easily jettisoned. It comes off as a tech geek’s kind of Quidditch—a lame attempt to instill the Harry Potter universe in the world of Alita. Every second of this movie during which Alita is skating around feels like a distraction.

There are many other killer cyborg characters with familiar faces, played by Jackie Earle Haley, Jai Courtney, Jeff Fahey and Casper Van Dien. The cyborg characters are pulled off with varying degrees of success, from impressive (Haley) to downright silly-looking (Courtney). While Alita herself is a surprisingly well-integrated visual figure, some of the other characters come off as badly cartoonish.

A subplot involving persons named Vector and Chiren (Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly) is supposed to provide the film with two super-villains, but I never really got a handle on what the pair was actually doing. They weren’t very scary.

Now that Cameron’s little Alita diversion is out of the way, he can get back to dawdling with his funky smurfs in Pandora for future boring installments of his CGI wasteland. Alita: Battle Angel feels like a decent idea that didn’t get his full attention—and suffered as a result.

Alita: Battle Angel is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews