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Terminator: Dark Fate
First run Theater cinema

James Cameron returns yet again to the long dried up well of The Terminator, this time with visual effects designer and Deadpool director Tim Miller at the helm, to bring us the worst entry in a series that should never have become a franchise. When Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd created The Terminator in 1984, it was a groundbreaking work that blended intelligent science fiction and edge-of-your seat action. The concept of a virtually indestructible killing machine sent from a dystopian future to hunt down the mother of the potential saviour of the human race is still one of the best movie premises of the last forty years. And the brilliant casting of the Austrian-American bodybuilder turned actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to play the unstoppable cyborg made The Terminator iconic. But the film also possessed solid characters, tenacious pacing, and astute imagery, with plenty of room for humor as well as a tender and consequential love story. At the heart of The Terminator’s success was its gifted star Linda Hamilton. Her Sarah Connor transforms over the course of the movie and its first blockbuster follow-up Terminator 2: Judgment Day, from a loveable everywoman to a powerful killing machine in her own right, as she grapples with the tremendous responsibility of raising and protecting the son she believes will be the only hope for the human race in a war against artificial intelligence.

Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor in this creatively bankrupt rehash of the first Terminator sequel, T2. This sixth entry in the movie franchise—there have been official TV and web series as well—picks up three years after the events of T2, which place it on an alternate timeline from the other sequels and series. Dark Fate opens with forty-something Sarah and her son John (a body-doubled and digitally de-aged Edward Furlong) living in Guatemala. In the first of this film’s many inciting incidents, a T-800 Terminator (looking like the ‘90s era Schwarzenegger) shows up and shoots John dead, leaving Sarah broken. Was she able to save the world but not save her son? Or did the future unfold as it was darkly fated to in spite of all her efforts, and those of her stalwart protectors from the future—Kyle Reese and the good, reprogrammed T-800?

This would be a potentially intriguing question were it not for the fact that all the previous sequels have investigated similar quandaries about time and fate, and come up with banal or meaningless answers. For as solid a screenplay as Cameron wrote for The Terminator, and for all the brilliance he brought to bear in realizing in on screen, the imagined future world he conjured in the first Terminator was simply too thin to support more than one sequel. Cameron never envisioned a universe of interconnected stories set along various timelines back and forth between our contemporary world and the bleak future created for his first picture. And, while it’s true that a few excellent series have been built on even less substantial foundations than this one, too many screenwriters have proven how slight the future world of The Terminator really is with their attempts at expanding its mythology, 

With Dark Fate, Cameron returns as co-writer and co-producer for the first time since T2.  Joining him to work on the script are such A-list screenwriters as David S. Goyer (Blade: Trinity, Man of Steel, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy) and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, The Hunger GamesCaptain Phillips), amongst others. But what they come up with is so uninspired and tedious it feels like first-timer fan fiction.

The new picture takes place in Mexico City, twenty-two years after John Conor is killed. A slightly different kind of futuristic machine-run society sends a slightly different kind of Terminator, called a Rev-9, back in time to kill yet another young woman. That woman is Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) and, like Sarah and John before her, she is assigned a guardian from the future to protect her from the Terminator—this time the devoted defender is a cybernetically enhanced female soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Yes, this is the exact same premise and plot as the first two films. But, unlike T2, which was, as much as anything, a showcase for advances in CGI technology that set the new standard for state-of-the-art for visual effects in movies, nothing about the effects in Dark Fate feels any more inventive or exciting than its recycled narrative components. The Rev-9 (played by Gabriel Luna) is no different in appearance or abilities than the T-1000 from T2, other than seeming to have Mexican heritage and possessing the ability to split its shape-shifting exterior and its metallic endoskeleton into two separate units—why it doesn’t just remain as two separate units, which would seem to double its chances of successfully killing its intended victim, is never explained.

What makes this film special is that the now 60ish, battle-hardened Sarah Connor shows up to join the fight and kick some cyborg ass. After the death of her son, this is apparently all Sarah has going for her; and, conveniently, Terminators are sent from the new dystopian future on a somewhat regular basis, so she can keep in practice. Of course, the rag-tag bunch of bad-ass babes eventually team up with a T-800 Terminator played by the now 72-year-old Schwarzenegger, but not until the audience has been visually and aurally assaulted and pissed off by having to sit through many physics-defying battle royals between the Rev-9 and Grace, Sarah, and Dani. After a brief rest at the point where Schwarzenegger enters the story, and we actually get some passable dialogue exchanges from the characters, the film launches back into another endless series of chases and fights where everything is deafeningly loud, nothing obeys the basic properties of matter, energy, gravity, temperature, etc., and everyone (the robots, the cyber-soldier, and the regular humans) is interchangeably indestructible.

The only reason anyone would want to come to this movie is to see Linda Hamilton back in action. But, while she looks great with her weathered face, bleached hair, and mirrored sunglasses, wielding big guns and blasting away at the baddy, her performance here is atrocious. This can’t just be the fault of the lifeless script. The across-the-board failure of anyone in the cast to make us care about their characters must lie at the feet of director Miller. Davis, who gave a perfectly good supporting turn in Tully, is stiff and monotonous here. Reyes never convinces us that her Dani is worth saving from the evil Terminator. Luna is not at all scary as the Rev-9. And Schwarzenegger plays the ageing T-800 in pretty much the same way as all of his other later-day rolls—a once-powerful man who could easily rise again if needed. Yawn! God willing, the spectacularly poor box-office performance of Terminator: Dark Fate will put an end to this series once and for all. If I could go back in time, hunt down and destroy all copies of all entries in the misbegotten franchise launched after T2, I’d certainly start with this exhausted and exhausting picture, which is the cinematic equivalent of being force-fed all the leftovers from all the Thanksgivings of the past twenty years at once.

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The worst entry in a series that should never have become a franchise reunites Hamilton and Schwarzenegger for a creatively bankrupt rehash of T2, with a stagnant script, atrocious acting, and now-generic special effects.

Directed by Tim Miller
Produced by James Cameron and David Ellison

Screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray
Story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer, and Justin Rhodes
Based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd

With: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta

Cinematography: Ken Seng
Editing: Julian Clarke
Music: Junkie XL

Runtime: 128 min
Release Date: 01 November 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1