When he said he would be back, he really wasn’t lying. Terminator: Dark Fate, the first Terminator film to feature creative input from James Cameron in nearly 30 years, takes several steps in the right direction towards undoing the train-wreck that is the previous three Terminator movies without ever really crossing the finish line.

Terminator: Dark Fate is spearheaded by Tim Miller, whose only previous directorial effort is 2016’s Deadpool. Unfortunately, the same energy and irreverence that Miller brought to Deadpool seems to have been lost here, instead opting for a by-the-numbers story with plot “twists” that feel almost designed to be intuited beforehand.

In broad strokes, the plot is very similar to the previous Terminator films: Grace (played with a steady hand by Mackenzie Davis) is sent from a dystopian future to protect Natalia Reyes‘s Dani from a nearly-unstoppable Terminator robot. A painfully gruff Linda Hamilton plays a jaded version of Sarah Connor, also come to join Dani’s bodyguard corps, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s T-800 (now living a quiet life as “Carl”) tags along too — after an hour into the film’s runtime.

The movie starts off well enough, with sequences of well-choreographed and intense action intercut with sparse and carefully written moments of exposition. The chemistry between Reyes and Davis is remarkably natural, and the two form a fundamentally watchable action pair as Dani is forced to leave behind her family and home in order to avoid death-by-Terminator.

As the film continues, however, the ever-debilitating onus of fan service begins to wear heavily on its script. Hamilton’s delivery makes her character painfully one-note, and the constant attempts by the film either to satisfy or subvert fan expectations are signaled so far and so visibly in advance that their resultant satisfaction is virtually zero. The tightly-cut sequences of action in the opening are also washed away by the film’s overlong finale whose action dips into the absurd more than a few times.

Reyes plays her character with an appealing ebb between vitality and vulnerability that makes her more underwritten moments relatively easy to forgive. The same can perhaps even be said for Schwarzenegger, who really does make the best of some highly questionable material with an ability to flex his robotic demeanor in genuinely entertaining ways.

As with all recent Terminator films, Terminator: Dark Fate really struggles with its villain. We are yet again treated to a faceless, shape-shifting robot sent by an AI known as Legion (I struggle to think of a more generic name) who, by design, is without personality or charisma. His menace is severely undercut by his sheer lack of vulnerability until the film’s final moments when, of course, he suddenly becomes extremely vulnerable for somewhat eye-rolling reasons.

While it starts out promising enough, the latest Terminator runs out of steam too early on to make it to the end fully intact. If you’re looking for special features, however, you’ll find them in spades here. Several deleted and extended scenes are on offer, as well as several very interesting behind-the-scenes looks at how the VFX were created for many of the film’s most eye-catching moments.

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