There are a few basic questions to answer when a new Terminator movie is out in theaters. Firstly, is the film better than Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys? Secondly, does Arnold Schwarzenegger make a memorable cameo? Thirdly, does the involvement of James Cameron breathe new life into the franchise? Are there any new path-breaking special effects shots like in Judgment Day?
The answer to all of these questions in Terminator: Dark Fate is not just a no but a no accompanied by a sad trombone. As someone who has Judgement Day posters plastered all over the walls, it was especially painful to see childhood memories messed with by director Tim Miller, even more so because he showed so much promise in the first Deadpool. This is the third attempt to build a new Terminator trilogy and is yet again a spectacular misfire on all fronts. One begins to wonder at what point a real T-800 would travel back in time to massacre the people responsible for diluting such a classic brand with increasingly dull sequels.
The formula remains the same – yet another heroic Terminator (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back in time to protect a woman (Natalia Reyes) who could prove to be an important character in the humans’ revolt against the machines, and yet again a villainous shapeshifting Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is out to get her. The woman then drives an assortment of vehicles, including a truck through a highway chase with her buddies to escape the machine baying for her blood, and learning her ultimate purpose in the future. Clearly, this is embarrassingly cliché fan-fiction-like narrative even if the film were pretending to be a soft reboot. Writers David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray do very little to make new inroads in both sci and the fi, leading to a movie jam-packed with unintentionally funny moments.
Schwarzenegger and Hamilton are back, of course, but their presence is weighed down by not just their own age but also by the brutally obsolete nature of the setup. In 2019 film geeks have access to a lot of very intelligent science fiction, and you need to do more than giving them another cheesy movie about a robot sent back in time. The writers attempt to take the high brow route by slapping on commentary about Mexican immigrants but it carries the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Then there’s the horrendous CGI which looks like it’s been put together by etch-a-sketch knobs swiveled with anger by an adolescent screaming at the DVD cover of the original Terminator. The much-maligned Salvation had its problems but at least the VFX department delivered some real and threatening looking robots, in Dark Fate everything is video gam-ey and plasticky – with no apparent menace. There are a couple of passably believable de-ageing moments, but they do make the movie look like a Deep Fake video strung together on YouTube.
To make things worse, our beloved censor board has made sure we do not learn any bad words in the English language; some lines have been ‘sanitised’ with dubbing and are so bad, they will make you wish for the ‘No Fate’ sequence in Judgement Day to occur inside your movie theater just so this film ends soon. I take no joy in not recommending a Terminator movie, but like its compatriots Alien and Predator, this is a franchise from the ’80s that should finally be put to sleep. I am not sure human beings are built with the pain threshold of bearing another Terminator sequel enthusiastically offering a pun-tastic subversion of ‘I’ll be back’. Please, for the love of cinema, don’t.