Terminator: Dark Fate (MA15+)
He's back! Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his return in this the sixth Terminator film in the franchise, and the third made with James Cameron in charge of the franchise. It's mindless fun, overly nostalgic in places and held together with the breathless, non-stop action sequences that made T2 a huge hit. If you haven't seen the less successful Terminator movies (T3, T4 and T5) - or any of the previous versions for that matter - it doesn't really matter, although you won't appreciate some of the self-referential playfulness that is sprinkled throughout the two hours.
The original Terminator (released in 1984 when Schwarzenegger was in his mid-30s) set up the basic storyline: in the future, machines have taken over the world and are determined to destroy humans. A resistance leader named John Connor emerges and the machines look set for defeat until they send a T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill John's mother Sarah, preventing him from being born. Not to be outdone, John sends back a human soldier to protect his mother, but the real showdown is between the Terminator and Sarah (Linda Hamilton), who prevails, crushing the T-800 in a metal press.
In T2, the machines try again. To kill the now young John Connor they send back an upgraded Terminator, the T-1000. It's a really nasty upgrade that can shapeshift its oozing metallic body and assume people's identity. To help Sarah deal with this beast, future John sends back a re-programmed T-800 (Schwarzenegger). With his help, the humans prevail.
Which brings us to this film, Terminator: Dark Fate (yes, Cameron and company just ignored anything that happened in T3-T5). Emerging in present day Mexico from the future comes the latest in Terminator technology, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) on a mission to kill unsuspecting Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who works in a factory with her father and brother. Also from the future comes the statuesque Grace (Mackenzie Davis), there to help Dani fight off the Rev-9. But despite being a human with some seriously useful enhancements, Grace seems limited in her ability to deal with the unstoppable Rev-9, providing the perfect entry for Sarah Connor, who is still out there protecting the future of humanity. The three women team up and - in the scene we've all been waiting for - track down and recruit to their side the now retired T-800 (Schwarzenegger), who's taken the name Carl. The spectacular fights that follow range across the Mexican-American border and involve planes, helicopters, hydro-electric power stations, the Trump Wall, and a few choice lines delivered by Arnie in his unique, dead-pan Terminator way.
It's great to see Hamilton back in action, looking lean and mean and providing much-needed gravitas to proceedings. She plays Sarah Connor with a bitey depth; a passionate, cynical soldier who's not about to trust, let alone like, Carl - who is trying hard to lay low among the humans in the guise of a witless grandpa. The film plays in two furious halves with the reunion of old foes forming a strange intermission. Carl lives in a remote hideout with a woman and child (now his adopted son) where he hands out the Mexican beers and reminisces about life as a retired Terminator: "Did I tell you about the time...." Thankfully, it's not long before the Rev-9 works out where they are, and the mayhem resumes.
For me, it's the first half that really rocks. The arrival of Grace, and the early action sequences that follow are loaded with edge-of-the-seat thrills as she battles the morphing metallic killing machine. Davis - who also shone in Blade Runner 2049 as a replicant - cleverly combines human empathy with cyborg agility and, as we are never sure which way the narrative is heading, there's a genuine sense that her life is at stake. By comparison, the second half of the film is designed for Schwarzenegger to reprise his Terminator routine. While he does get a couple of really good lines (along with a bad joke about Texas), the story runs out of steam from the mid-point, and the set pieces become increasingly ludicrous. But you have to hand it to the 72-year-old who had heart surgery just before filming: he may not be the all-bending Mr Universe he used to be, but he reportedly did many of his own stunts.
And never rule out that Arnie might return for more terminating: the ever-practical Cameron is on the record as saying that, if Arnie still has box-office appeal, he'll be back.