Terminator: Dark Fate

(R)

Two and a half out of four starsMuch to the chagrin of James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd — the second of his five wives and his co-writer on “The Terminator” — owned the rights to future installments and against his wishes she green lit the third, fourth and fifth productions.

While all three of these movies made decent profits, a great many fans of the first two (both directed by Cameron) wish they had never been made. With “Dark Fate” those fans sort of get their wish.

In a manner identical to that of the last “Halloween,” this sixth installment in the “Terminator” series ignores everything that happened in the previous three and basically picks up after the events in “T2: Judgment Day.” The good news is “Dark Fate” is the best “Terminator” flick since “T2.” The bad news is it is essentially a carbon copy of “T2.”

For some fans this isn’t a bad thing. Sci-fi/action sequels are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food; no surprises, lots of (mostly fat) calories with characters and story lines sticking to a time-tested recipe.

For the rest of us something different would have been nice. For the first five minutes different is what we get and it is excellent. Screenwriters David S. Goyer, Billy Ray and Justin Rhodes come up with some revisionist history set in 1998 and it totally blows our minds.

After jumping ahead to 2020 the writers and producer shift over to auto-pilot and coast for the next two hours.

This is not to say “Dark Fate” is a total bust. Making her first appearance in the franchise since “T2,” Cameron’s fourth wife, Linda Hamilton, reprises her iconic role of Sarah Conner and is she ever loaded for bear. With a short grey mane and a few more wrinkles, Conner makes her entrance swearing like a sailor, packing major heat and is ready to pick a fight with anyone who looks at her sideways.

As this is Hamilton’s first high-profile role in close to three decades (“T2” to be exact) she holds nothing back and tosses any and all caution to the wind.

Also going all in is Mackenzie Davis (“Blade Runner 2049”) as Grace, an “augmented” human sent back in time to protect Dani (newcomer Natalia Reyes), a Mexican auto worker who is the target of Rev-9 (virtual unknown Gabriel Luna). A new model terminator who, frankly, possesses pretty much the same shape-shifting and re-assembling powers as the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) from “T2,” Luna’s Rev-9 is by far the biggest letdown of the movie.

With all due respect to Luna, he lacks the intensity and presence of Patrick (and that other guy from the first movie) and if you subscribe to the theory any movie is only as good as the villain than it’s easy to understand why Luna fails to make much of an impression.

Another big letdown with “Dark Fate” is the shockingly low variety of the special effects when compared to those which essentially changed the industry in “T2.” The Rev-9 character is only given a single different power (he can divide himself in two) than T-1000 and it is not nearly enough to make him all that interesting.

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his fifth appearance as T-800 Model 101. He doesn’t show up until the middle of the second act, but it IS well worth the wait. Forget the fact that the machine T-800 ages like a human (grey hair and beard, slight paunch), seeing Schwarzenegger AND Hamilton exchange nasty glances and vocal barbs during their “reunion” is (almost) worth the price of admission.

As long as Cameron can keep Schwarzenegger and/or Hamilton above ground and on the payroll, the studio can keep cranking out these “Terminator” puppies at will. If the final scene is any kind of indicator, a seventh installment is already in some form of pre-production.

If Cameron can tear himself away from the editing bay where he is simultaneously working on no less than four “Avatar” sequels and get behind the camera again directing his own screenplay, maybe he can recreate the magic of those first two movies.

Don’t hold your breath.

(Paramount/Fox)

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