MOVIE REVIEW OF ”TERMINATOR: DARK FATE”

The people who made “Terminator: Dark Fate” (*** OUT OF ****) must have liked “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.”  Elements of the latter film appear in the former.  For example, a beloved protagonist is bid adieu, mayhap never to return, like Han Solo’s exodus from “The Force Awakens.” Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know this “Terminator” entry is fronted loaded with fireball females.

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Three heavy-duty dames dominate the derring-do, just as Daisey Ridley’s light-saber wielding Rey drove “The Force Awakens” reboot.  Meantime, Linda Hamilton encores as Sarah Connor after a 28-year hiatus, looking far more menacing than she did in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

Columbian-born beauty Dani Ramos plays the blue-collar damsel-in-distress, a reworking of Sarah Connor under a different name before she went militant.  Known simply as Grace, newcomer Mackenzie Davis is cast as a cybernetically-supplemented super-soldier from the future with astonishing stamina.

You know you’re watching serious-minded sci-fi when a babe in a T-shirt doesn’t steal the show.  Mind you, Grace is no Terminator.  She must maintain her cool or suffer the consequences of overheating. Watching her whirl a chain like a gladiator in an arena with an augmented Terminator is a treat!

She replaces Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in “The Terminator” (1986).  Grace is no slouch when she shields Dani from the new version of the Terminator. Ultimately, they share a special bond.  Naturally, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his iconic role as a Terminator, but he doesn’t play the same T-800 from the earlier epics.

He is one of many lookalikes.  This Arnold is kinder, warmer, and remorseful, protocols Terminators aren’t programed to perform.  According to Sarah Connor, the only good Terminator is a dead Terminator.  Basically, the entire opus imitates its iconic 1984 predecessor, and director Tim Miller and his writers have used its $185-million budget to stage some outlandish brawls between Man and Machine.

“Deadpool” director Tim Miller and scenarists David S. Goyer of “Man of Steel,” Justin Rhodes of “Grassroots,” and Billy Ray of “The Hunger Games” have enhanced characters and rewritten the franchise’s chronology.

Basically, they have scrapped “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003), “Terminator: Salvation” (2009), and “Terminator: Genisys” (2015).  Earlier, “Terminator Genisys” disavowed the action of the third and fourth Terminator films, too.  Consequently, “Terminator: Dark Fate” resumes the narrative thread where “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” concluded.  Some of the revelations of this retcon may not sit well with traditional Terminator fans.

 

Briefly, Google defines retcon as “in a film, a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.”  No, this isn’t the first example of a retconned film franchise.  When “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) came out, movie producer Lauren Schuler Donner warned fans to “forget X3 and the first Wolverine” movie.  Marvel has retconned the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and so has DC tampered with its Superman series, too.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” unfolds in 2020, but its 1998 prologue depicts a devastating revelation which would ruin a complete surprise for moviegoers were it divulged.  Essentially, one of the franchise characters bites the bullet.  Twenty-two years later, an ultra-enhanced Terminator, model Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna of “Transpecos”), descends from brooding skies over Mexico City in a crystal-clear bubble and clones the appropriate apparel to appear inconspicuous in crowds.

Nearby, another transparent bubble materializes, and a naked woman, Grace (Mackenzie Davis of “Blade Runner 2049”), emerges and appropriates apparel from unwilling citizens, too.  Not only does she hail from the future, but she also has must locate Dani Ramos before the lethal Rev-9 can annihilate her.  Like earlier Terminator villains, the Rev-9 takes no prisoners, and it is equipped to perform feats far beyond previous Terminators.  For example, the Rev-9 can detach itself from its skeletal being.

This creepy-looking counterpart–a scowling metal skeleton—amounts to his alter ego.  In one scene, the Rev-9’s corporeal being smashes the windshield to clamber atop the hood of a careening truck, while its skeletal counterpart remains poised behind the wheel of the truck!  Definitely, this Terminator poses a far greater challenge.  When Grace and Dani tangle with this dual Terminator on a bridge, Sarah Connor makes a memorable entrance and saves their bacon.

They steal her means of transport, but the three reunite afterward and cooperate as they cross the border into Texas.  Sarah learns to her chagrin she stopped Judgment Day, but she hasn’t altogether thwarted the machines.  They are back, and they don’t aim to capitulate.

Eventually, after several bouts of backstory, which cannot be summarized for fear of revealing too much, they hook up with the soul surviving T-800 Terminator, Karl (Arnold Schwarzenegger of “Conan the Barbarian”), who has been masquerading as an interior decorator who specializes in drapery!

After James Cameron finished “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), the franchise never regained its traction with audiences.  Similarly, Schwarzenegger’s career went into eclipse once he became California’s governor, and his efforts to rekindle his popularity have floundered.  He skipped “Terminator: Salvation,” because he was governor.

Nevertheless, he returned for Terminator: Genisys” (2015).  Unfortunately, “Genisys” didn’t generate enough coin at the box office, too.  The franchise hovered in limbo until Cameron came back onboard as executive producer.  Ironically, despite qualifying as an above-average, action-packed, larger-than-life entry in the franchise, “Terminator: Dark Fate” is living up to the prophecy of its bleak subtitle in a way neither Cameron nor the studios may have envisaged.

Although it captured the top spot at the box office during its debut, it simultaneously flopped, potentially losing as  much as a $130 million for its two studios—Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.  Now, the question which arises for the “Terminator” franchise is: did anybody really want a new “Terminator?”  Clearly, moviegoers weren’t excited about Linda Hamilton’s third appearance as Sarah Connor.  Nevertheless, despite its sense of déjà vu, “Terminator: Dark Fate” qualifies as an exciting science fiction extravaganza worth watching.

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