James Cameron’s lack of involvement in latest ‘Terminator’ makes film flop

James Cameron, director and cowriter of the iconic first two installments of the “Terminator” series, is back. This time, however, Cameron serves only as executive producer of the franchise’s sixth and latest entry “Terminator: Dark Fate.”

A comment left on a YouTube trailer for “Dark Fate” described the extent of Cameron’s involvement with the movie as him showing up to the set one day to collect a sprinkled donut from catering. It’s a joke, but the commenter’s frustration has merit. Cameron’s actual involvement, much like the return of Linda Hamilton who starred as the heroine of the first two “Terminator” movies, has been used to promote the film rather than add anything noteworthy to the final product.

The creativity that made the “Terminator” films Cameron directed enduring is disappointingly absent from “Dark Fate.” Director Tim Miller has delivered an uninteresting, all action reboot of the original film instead of the franchise saving sequel it is being marketed as.

In the first few minutes, a convincingly de-aged Linda Hamilton appears as the young Sarah Connor and surprises audiences with a new twist for the franchise. Nevertheless, the rest of the movie settles for reusing the same plot that has driven almost every “Terminator” film.

In a hellscape future where the remainder of humanity fights a war against genocidal machines, a soldier (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back in time from the post-apocalypse to ensure the survival of an asset who will become crucial to the human resistance. Davis’s character is tasked with protecting the unassuming Dani (Natalia Reyes) from a shapeshifting machine (Gabriel Luna) that has been sent from the future with orders to assassinate her.

Any deviations from this plot are the result of the forced inclusion of both Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger whose characters are ancillary in this story.

Hamilton’s gray-haired and raspy-voiced Sarah Connor plays a gruff mentor to Reyes’s Dani, who is hardly noticeable among an overly crowded cast. The script gives Reyes little opportunity to establish herself as anything more than a fill-in-the-blank replacement for the younger Connor or her son John, previous targets for assassination in the earlier films. It also doesn’t help that the character Reyes is being groomed to replace shares the screen with her and commands more attention.

Similarly forgettable is the film’s antagonist, a machine that combines the abilities of every previous villain of the series into a single entity that is neither scary nor imaginative like its predecessors.

Davis fares better as Grace, a half-machine hybrid not unlike that played by Sam Worthington in “Terminator Salvation.” The tall and lean Davis brings the physicality and imposing presence required to play a convincing super-human. However, she is dragged down by the direction of the film and screenplay that doesn’t afford her the opportunity to explore a personality beyond that of a standoffish and violent fighter.

Schwarzenegger returns for the fifth time as the T-800 “Model 101” Terminator, a cybernetic killing-machine disguised under human-like flesh and skin. Even though his character has a ridiculous role within the narrative, the elderly Schwarzenegger brings his usual charisma to the screen as well as some welcome humor. Why a robot has aged into a 70-year-old man was a question answered in 2015’s “Terminator Genisys,” but “Dark Fate” ignores it altogether.

For a movie that places action above plot and characters, the action is surprisingly disappointing. Some of the action set pieces presented are so outlandish they rob potential tension from scenes desperate for it. Excessive CGI and liberal edits also make some of the exciting fights and chases appear cartoonish and difficult to follow visually.

In 1984, Cameron shocked audiences with the image of a burning Schwarzenegger emerging from the flames a red-eyed metallic skeleton. In 1991, he thrilled audiences with Schwarzenegger seated on a Harley-Davidson, twirling a shotgun on his fingers and blasting buckshot at a shapeshifting enemy that is also one of the most memorable special effects in movies. In 2019, Miller frustrates audiences with another entry in a tired franchise that fails to deliver the originality its waning fan base desires.

Based on its box-office performance, it’s likely that Cameron’s most sensible contribution to “Dark Fate” as executive producer would’ve been to terminate the movie during pre-production.