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Review: Formulaic 'Terminator: Dark Fate' tries to fix convoluted series

Courtesy of Paramount


“Terminator: Dark Fate” - the latest sequel in the franchise that never seems to die - is doing for the “Terminator” series what “Halloween” did for Micheal Myers last year. Director Tim Miller is treating “Dark Fate” as a direct sequel to the groundbreaking 1991 classic “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” Therefore it forgets McG’s abysmal post-apocalyptic “Terminator: Salvation” and the most recent “Terminator: Genisys.” Much like “Halloween,” the franchise also brings back an iconic female heroine to lead the charge. This time, it's Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Sarah Conner who seemed to have solved the mass crisis at the end of “T2.” But as we quickly learn in this franchise, the laws of time travel paradoxes change constantly.

I do give credit to “Dark Fate” for trying to move things in a new direction, and returning to its R rated roots. But the visual effects are fairly crummy, the script is one gigantic re-hash, and you’re left feeling uneasy about the future of the series. Aside from a promising turn from Arnold Schwarzenegger as the OG Terminator (his role in the film is the best addition) “Dark Fate” falls into a big budget cycle of fueling those hardcore fans appetite with cheeky winks and nods and doing little to make its presences valid. In other words, it’s a studio desperate to keep one of their flagship series monetary and relevant.

In “Dark Fate,” Sarah finds out the hard way the apocalypse is hard to avoid, where she earns a huge victory and then faces a tragic loss. Skynet doesn’t so much run the world as does an A.I. squad called Legion, a mechanized army sent to wipe out civilization. (Where have you heard that one before?) Enter the relentlessly death proof Rev-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) who, of course, is sent back in time to kill a young Mexican woman, Dani (Natalie Reys), an enhanced super-soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis - painfully underused) arrives from the year 2042 to protect her, and backup comes in the form of Sarah wielding a freakin’ bazooka.

These earlier interactions all play fine, Hamilton has clearly bulked up for the role, Davis - with little to do - seems to be physically up for the action sequences, which left me with Rey’s Dani whom I could care less for, and “Dark Fate” does little to make her character worth the investment. It takes a while before Schwarzenegger’s T-800 model is reintroduced and it’s the best subplot in the film. Now known as “Carl,” the once killing machine now runs a drape business (yes, drapes) and lives in the quiet countryside with his wife and adopted son. Like Arnold himself, the T-800 has clearly aged and the constant dad jokes and zingers further hint at the machine’s retirement, though, his brief scenes are welcomed nonetheless.

Another noteworthy canon brought back into the fold is James Cameron who created the series in 1984, but the biggest applause will probably be reserved for Hamilton. She’s not so much the victim this time around as “Dark Fate” actually tries to give the leading ladies some meat to chew on. These aren’t warriors waiting to be saved by the heroics of bulky men, they shoot first and ask questions later. Oh, did I mention that Hamilton is swoll?

Luna’s Rev-9 will likely draw its fair share of comparisons to Robert Patrick’s T-100, but he’s got the stamina and cool wow-factor working in his favor to somewhat stand on his own. It’s a grand effect watching Rev-9 shape-shift in and out of his human and metal exoskeleton. Still, some of the action sequences aren’t up to the standard that “T2” set nearly two decades ago, which is ironic when you consider how much this franchise relies on the future to help tell their stories, but the effects from 1991 are arguably much better.

“Dark Fate” checks all the boxes of the “Terminator” series, including loud ear shaking explosions, killer robots. Plenty of action sequences to showcase Arnold back in action, an extremely high body count, and the iconic “I’ll be back” is uttered (though, spoiler, Arnie doesn’t get it). If that all sounds like your jam, it’s probably worth the sign-up for the mindless entertainment value provided, but the fate of this series and its future dangles in the air. Hardcore fans might be back, but I’m not sure who else.

Grade: C+

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