So, the big thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is that James Cameron has returned to the franchise as a producer and story credit guy, so that means we’ll return to the sort of powerful franchise chapters he directed back in the day, right?
Well, actually, no. Tim Miller, the guy who directed Deadpool, is in charge of this mostly bland and banal chapter, with Cameron essentially whispering in his ear from afar. Cameron, apparently, never even visited the set; not surprising, considering ex-wife Linda Hamilton is back and, given her physical superiority, 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'm currently 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 ruled 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 (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 I must say is remarkable. It totally looks like 1991 Hamilton on the screen, and some other characters from Judgment Day show up as well. Things are 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 can extend itself so that its liquid form can run around and mimic humans while its skeleton can drive a car. It's visually interesting but reeks a bit of overreaching for new Terminator angles.
The movie is a bunch of action set pieces where Miller fails to distinguish himself as crafty when it comes to things smacking each other around and blowing stuff up. 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 any true sense of imagination. It feels very much like déjà vu.
To tell you what I dislike most about this movie would be to give away too much. It has to do with the timeline after Sarah and John destroyed the Judgment Day Terminators. Things happen with little-to-no explanation or back story. They sort of just happen because the screenplay needs a future where things are bad. No real details necessary. It feels like a cheat.
Hamilton, returning to the role that made her famous over a quarter century ago, has her moments, but the screenplay lets her down in many ways. The Sarah Connor in this movie behaves in ways that make no sense, 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 where 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 just feels like been there, done that at this point and 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. Hey, 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. Just don't expect much beyond that.