PLOT A teenage girl is hunted – and protected – by super-soldiers from the future.
CAST Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
RATED R (bloody violence)
BOTTOM LINE Original stars Hamilton and Schwarzenegger breathe some life into a flatlined franchise.
The future is female in "Terminator: Dark Fate," the sixth installment of the sci-fi franchise that embedded Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a time-traveling killing machine, in the public imagination. He's back, to paraphrase his famous catchphrase, but this time his T-800 Terminator takes a back seat to several women, notably Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Sarah Connor, the woman he once hunted, and Mackenzie Davis as Grace, an "enhanced" human assigned to protect an unassuming teenager, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes).
You can't blame Sarah, whose only value in the first two films was as the mother of a boy who would grow up to lead a resistance against a mechanical army, for striking a note of bitterness when Dani asks why she's been targeted for death. "You're not the threat," Sarah says. "It's your womb."
There will be more to Dani than meets the eye, though the same can't be said for "Terminator: Dark Fate." It's a marked improvement over past installments, and some credit surely goes to original writer-director James Cameron, pausing his "Avatar" follow-up duties to contribute to this franchise for the first time in decades. (He serves as a producer and writer of the story, which ignores the past three films and picks up where his "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," left off in 1991.) As a passable piece of entertainment that re-teams old talent and adds a new wrinkle or two, the movie generally succeeds.
There's certainly something novel about both Dani, a young beauty who hails from Mexico City rather than the usual American heartland town, and Grace, whose backstory – dedicated soldier, near-death experience, reborn as half-machine – typically belongs to male characters. Schwarzenegger, reprising his original flesh-on-metal role, provides some moments of deadpan humor (one of the actor's forgotten strengths). It's Hamilton, 63, who really shines in her new incarnation of Sarah as a grizzled vigilante. "I hunt Terminators and I drink until I black out," she snarls. She's the movie's biggest treat and its most interesting creation, even if Jamie Lee Curtis, 60, struck a similar stance in last year's "Halloween."
Still, it's hard not to feel that director Tim Miller has created exactly the kind of predictable blockbuster he spoofed in "Deadpool." The film's new Terminator, known as a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), is basically the same liquid-metal shapeshifter that dazzled us in "Terminator 2." The action is expensive-looking but familiar-feeling, particularly the zero-gravity fistfight in a free-falling jet. It all works well enough, though you might wish this machine had slightly higher ambitions.