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TERMINATOR: DARK FATE: 3 STARS. “stays true to the roots of the franchise.”

There may be six “Terminator” films but James Cameron would like you to ignore half of them. Cameron, who returns to the producer’s chair after a twenty-eight year gap from the franchise, designed the new movie, “Terminator: Dark Fate,” to be a direct sequel to 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” So, forget about “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” Christian Bale’s meltdown on the set of “Terminator: Salvation,” and “Terminator: Genisys,” they have been relegated to the delete bin.

The time-shifting reset, directed by “Deadpool’s” Tim Miller, dials the way-back machine to the end of “T2.” The tough-as-tacks Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), her teenage son John (a mix of actor Jude Collie and CGI to recreate original actor Edward Furlong) and a T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) have saved the world from a take-over by the artificial neural network Skynet.

Cut to 2022 and a familiar set-up. Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) and brother Diego (Diego Boneta) are living quiet, unassuming lives in Mexico City when—wait for it—a shape-shifting Rev-9 “My whole body’s a weapon” Terminator (Gabriel Luna), is sent from the future to eliminate Dani before she can become a threat to the Legion Machine Network. “Two days ago, I had this nice, simple life,” Dani says. “And now it’s a nightmare.”

Her survival depends on two warriors, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a time-traveling augmented soldier and Connors, the original Terminator butt kicker. “I hunt Terminators and I drink till I pass out,” she says.

Along the way they meet Carl (a salt-and-pepper Schwarzenegger), a retired T-800 “Model 101” who left Skynet behind to integrate into human society. He found his humanity, married a human, raised a stepchild but is brought back into the fold to battle against the new Terminator, even though he is a Commodore 64 compared to Rev-9’s quantum computer.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” feels familiar. The basic plot holds true to the classic original. The time travel, the protective force, the relentless evil, are time-honoured tropes that date back thirty-five years. Grace is even a cinematic echo of Kyle Reese and there are not one but two riffs on the famous, “I’ll be back” line. Director Miller and a long list of screenwriters including David S. Goyer and Billy Ray keep things current with references to undocumented immigration between Mexico and the United States and diverse and gender-blind casting but by the time the end credits roll it feels like we’ve been down this road before.

The main difference between then and now are the special effects. The original “Terminator” was a low-budget beauty that focused on story telling over wild effects. “T2” was more advanced but now our eye is accustomed to the kind of superhero CGI that allows Rev-9 to liquify and reconstitute. It doesn’t shock or charm, it just is. The Terminator characters must have remarkable capabilities but his gooey reformations don’t have the impact of the cool T-1000 liquid metal sequences.

Miller provides the kind of big set pieces we expect, wild car chases, and helicopter stunts but the interesting stuff lies in the characters. It’s fun to have Hamilton back as Connors, equal parts badass and wise ass. She’s snaps off one liners with ease and re-establishes her place as an action icon one bazooka shot at a time.

Schwarzenegger returns with a new twist on his famous cyborg character. He still weighs four hundred pounds and can punch his way through metal doors, but he’s discovered his human side. He gets a few laughs, provides some old-school heavy metal action but there’s a twinkle in his LED eye that hasn’t been there in past Terminator movies.

By not straying far from the roots of the franchise “Terminator: Dark Fate” is the best “Terminator” movie since “T2” but feels more like a chance at setting up a new batch of sequels than a rebirth of the story.

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