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Terminator: Dark Fate

Year: 2019
Studio: Paramount
Director: Tim Miller
Producer: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Diego Luna, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Alita: Battle Angel should have warned us. When we heard there was a new Terminator film coming that was sanctioned by James Cameron himself as co-writer and producer, we expected something befitting the director who made the two most popular movies of all time for nearly two decades.

Avatar was the first (tiny) red flag when I rewatched it recently almost a decade after the fact and realised how awful it was. And while I can't fairly comment on Robert Rodriguez's incarnation of the anime because I didn't bother seeing it, the reviews told me almost everything I needed to know. A Cameron movie with Cameron hiring another director suddenly wasn't a slam dunk any more.

Consequently, I wasn't terribly shocked that this didn't turn out to be a stone cold classic, the one we've been deserving all these years since Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out. What I wasn't prepared for was how awful it was. After the way the rest of the Terminator movies have been received since Terminator 2: Judgement Day, hopefully this will be the flogging for something old and tired that should have been put out to pasture with dignity decades ago.

In the opening coda, we see Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John (Edward Furlong, or whoever's playing him in the motion capture gear), having defeated the T-1000 at the end of T2, living in hiding in Latin America to hide from the remainder of the Terminators sent back to hunt them. Eventually one catches up with them, killing John and leaving Sarah a vengeance-filled shell who makes it her mission to hunt the rest of them down.

In present day Mexico City, another actress who probably jumped out of her skin with excitement at being cast in a global blockbuster with movie stars only for it to turn out an utter commercial and creative failure, Natalia Reyes, plays simple but lovable factory worker Dani.

A new, different kind of Terminator in the shape of Diego Luna shows up gunning for her, quickly dispatching her father and brother but at the same time, a young woman with seeming superpowers, Grace (Mackenzie Davis) intervenes just in time to protect Dani from the robotic assassin during a blistering factory floor fight and freeway chase.

It's a new kind of Terminator made of liquid metal... that's just like the old kind of Terminator we saw in 1991, and it seems Dani is the mother of the yet-to-be-born leader of the resistance who'll fight the machine armies of Skyne... sorry, 'Legion'. This time it's a completely different scenario involving an AI weapons system that becomes self aware and decides humans are a threat, you see. It's not called Skynet, it's called Legion... big difference.

In the midst of that battle, a grizzled, scowling Sarah Connor shows up to show the kids how destroying Terminators is done. As repayment for saving them, Grace and Dani steal her car and take off.

When she catches up with them, it cues up a few expository scenes that lay out the entire plot, about how Grace is an augmented human soldier and how Sarah has been hunting the last of the Terminators since they killed her son and honestly, by the time you get even this far you'll have tuned out of how stupid the story is and how badly executed the movie is.

When they show up at the rustic cabin of an aged man who looks exactly like the T-800 (Schwarzenegger), I expected some cool backstory about how he's the geneticist or engineer the original line will be based off in the future (they should have just called me). Instead the script they went with had him as the Terminator who killed John and then, with his mission fulfilled, lost all purpose in life and decided to live as a human, including having a wife and raising a son of his own. Seriously, I'm not making that up.

A few monumentally numbskulled plot contrivances later and he joins the fight against the seemingly unstoppable antagonist, by which time I'd utterly given up on any of it.

Cameron was never the best writer in the business but with Billy Ray, David S Goyer and others working on it, the amount of lazy shortcuts and conveniences explained away with a single throwaway line or device is jaw-dropping.

A former killer robot just decides to be good and live as a human, and during the entire time he and his wife and been married she's had no idea he's a robot, explained by a line that their relationship isn't physical? He tells them to leave so he can go fight another robot with a bunch of strangers and they do without question (or even a single speaking part between them), despite him knowing he won't come back from the battle?

After really impressive de-aging work on Hamilton and whoever they got to play Furlong in the opening, the rest of the CGI is just hideous, the shot of the Terminator clambering up the concrete wall of a dam looking like a badly lit animatic.

The acting is also dreadful across the board. If there's another surprise you should have seen coming, it's that for all the goodwill Hamilton has because of her place in the genre, she's far from a good actress. The recap scene of her being interviewed in the mental home from T2 reminds you how cartoonish she is playing desperate and angry, and she never looks comfortable here either with her female Chuck Norris swagger.

The whole thing is a travesty bordering on offensive, unworthy of the name of the immortal original and a bit like standing in front of the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David or Klimt's The Kiss and doing a big shit right there on the floor.

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