Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate.
It has been 28 years since Sarah and John Connor prevented Judgment Day, but unlike a certain Jaeger commander, they were never truly able to cancel the apocalypse. The Terminator franchise has attempted three sequels/resets since the release of James Cameron’s 1991 action classic — four if you count the best of the bunch, the underrated TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles — only to see each of the post-T2 projects fail to scale the creative and commercial heights of the first two Terminator films.
Now here comes Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth movie Terminator overall and the first installment that can boast to having Cameron’s semi-direct involvement since T2. The Avatar mastermind executive produced the Tim Miller-directed movie, which reunites Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, while also wiping the slate clean of every other post-Judgment Day story. Rise of the Machines? Terminated. Salvation? Terminated. Genisys? Terminated… with extreme prejudice.
Instead, Dark Fate picks up over two decades after the events of T2 in 2020, and finds Hamilton’s veteran warrior Sarah Connor teaming up with cybernetically enhanced time traveler Grace (Mackenzie Davis) for a mission to protect a young Mexican woman, Daniella (Natalia Reyes), from assassination by a new, improved Terminator, the shape-shifting Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). The choice to essentially start over from scratch simplifies franchise’s head-scratching continuity, and makes it more complicated at the same time. With that in mind, here’s our answers to all the burning questions you’ll have before and after seeing Dark Fate.
I haven’t seen John Connor in any of the trailers — does he appear in the movie?
Along with Cameron, Hamilton hasn’t had anything to do with the Terminator franchise since 1991, so the feature film sequels have sought to move the story forward with John rather than his mother. (Genisys is the exception, but even though she gave it the old college try, Emilia Clarke couldn’t replace Hamilton.) Dark Fate has been trumpeting the return of the O.G. Sarah Connor since production started, but John’s presence has largely gone unaddressed, although Cameron did tell San Diego Comic-Con audiences that Judgment Day star Edward Furlong would be reprising the role he originated, and which was later inherited by Nick Stahl, Christian Bale and Jason Clarke.
Cameron told the truth… kind of. Thanks to the magic of CGI, Furlong’s youthful face appears in Dark Fate’s prologue, which is set in 1998, one year after the Judgment Day that never was. He and Sarah — who has also been digitally de-aged back to her ’90s appearance — are enjoying a beachside vacation, when a stray T-800 (played by the “young” Schwarzenegger) arrives and accomplishes what his predecessors failed to do: terminate John Connor. Its mission complete, the killer robot walks away, leaving Sarah crying over the body of her dead son and the one-time savior of the future.
So wait: if John’s dead now, doesn’t that mean Skynet wins?
No, this is a case of too little, too late. As Sarah explains/retcons, Skynet sent another T-800 back to the past, but by the time it caught up with them, she and John had successfully changed the future by blowing up Cyberdyne and watching the T-1000 and the “good” T-800 drown in molten steel. So even as John’s eventual executioner was still following his Skynet-installed code, Skynet as an entity had ceased to be when he pulled the trigger.
Humanity being humanity, though, we can’t help but become the eventual architects of our own destruction. While John and Sarah stopped Skynet, in the distant future that Grace hails from — 2042 to be exact — Judgment Day was caused by an A.I. called Legion. Created to fight on the side of mankind in cyberwars, Legion inevitably rebelled and blew the world to smithereens, before creating its own army of robot soldiers to wipe out any straggling survivors. “Those a******s never learn,” Sarah sighs when she learns that another group of morons destroyed the planet with the same technology they assumed would save it. Preach, Ms. Connor!
Who’s gonna step up and save us now?
Since future-history is repeating itself, Sarah assumes that Grace has been sent back in time to protect Daniella as she’s going to give birth to the one person that can defeat Legion. But it turns out that Dani isn’t the next Sarah Connor — she’s the next John Connor. Grace was still a young girl when Legion initiated Judgment Day, and she remembers feeling weak and helpless in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse. That is, until she crossed paths with Dani, who became her adopted mother and trained her to fight Terminators instead of running from them. Severely wounded following one firefight, Grace voluntarily underwent cybernetic-enhancement and then also volunteered to make a one-way trip to the past to spoil Legion’s assassination plot.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, Dark Fate is keenly aware of the larger sociopolitical statement its making by revealing that humanity’s future rests on the fate of a woman from Mexico City. Midway though the film, Sarah, Grace and Dani have to make an illegal crossing into the U.S. and run into Border Patrol agents, who proceed to lock them up in cages along with other immigrants. Those agents are then the first casualties when the Rev-9 shows up and re-enacts the police station sequence from the original Terminator. “It would feel disingenuous if you were going to do a movie that crossed the Mexican-American border with a Mexican national and didn’t [do that] in some way,” Miller told Inverse recently. “When I first walked into that set and you see the extras in the cages, it was a very emotional moment for me. I got on the microphone and apologized to everyone. It was such a really s****y chapter in world history. I felt terrible about. But it has a drama that I felt was appropriate for the story.”
How does Ah-nuld factor into all this?
You’ve heard of The Last of the Mohicans? Well, an alternate title for Dark Fate could be The Last of the T-800s. Erasing Skynet from the timeline also implies that the T-800 line as we knew it was never created, making John’s executioner the final model from a never-opened factory. In the ensuing decades, Sarah has disposed of other time-traveling assassins courtesy of a mysterious benefactor who regularly texts her with details, signing off each message with the words: “For John.” The boy’s actual killer, though, has remained elusive… until now. Thanks to Grace’s efforts, they’ve been able to trace those messages back to their source — a small cabin in rural Texas. After escaping the detention center and the Rev-9, the trio make its way to that location, knock on the door and the T-800 opens it.
He doesn’t introduce himself as “the T-800,” of course. He’s acquired another name since Sarah saw him last: Carl. Not only that, but he also has a whole life that includes a job (professional drapery installer), a family (a wife and an adopted son), and a new moral code. Bereft of purpose or direction after killing John, Carl had plenty of time to study humanity and found himself caring for the people he was created to kill. It was that new directive that motivated him to become Sarah’s “For John” texter. And now that they’re on his doorstep, he’s ready to be called back into action for the last time. “I won’t be back,” he tells his family and, by extension, the audience. (More on that in a minute.)
Watch: Gabriel Luna on watching Arnold Schwarzenegger improvise and quote himself:
The Terminator got married? And his wife seriously didn’t realize she was married to a robot for 20 years?
Carl claims that across those two decades of wedded bliss, his wife didn’t expect or want a physical relationship with him. We’ll just leave that subject there.
Who makes it out of Dark Fate alive?
Not Carl! Despite being outmatched by the more nimble Rev-9, the sturdy T-800 keeps on ticking and punching through an aerial battle followed by an exhausting brawl at the Hoover Dam. Terminating the Legion-made robot for good requires a double sacrifice. Having determined that an EMP-level attack is the only way to stop the Rev-9 — and having lost their own EMP — Grace reaches into her chest and pulls out the battery that keeps her cyborg parts pumping. Dani takes her future daughter’s “heart” and plunges it into the Rev-9’s chest, just as Carl grabs him and both Terminators take a fatal plunge. Grace dies moments later, secure in the knowledge that the future will still have Dani in it.
The last scene of the movie takes place sometime later, with Sarah and Dani watching Grace’s childhood self running around a playground — one that looks strikingly similar to the one where Sarah watched Los Angeles burn in her Judgment Day nightmare. Before driving off together, Dani pledges to find a way for Grace to avoid taking her fatal trip through time. Good thing she has an experienced future fighter to help with that.
Is there a post-credits scene?
Nope — feel free to bail once the credits roll.
Will there be a sequel?
While the Rev-9 is so much scrap metal, Legion hasn’t gone down in defeat like Skynet. That leaves the door open for the dynamic duo of Sarah and Dani to locate the A.I.’s inventors and shut the program down, all while battling yet another robot from the future. Whether we’ll see any more of this revised timeline depends largely on Dark Fate’s box-office fate. But even if it’s a domestic and/or international hit, there’s a chance the rights to the franchise could be up for grabs again in 2020. In other words, if Sarah and Dani fail to terminate Legion, copyright law could.
Terminator: Dark Fate is playing in theaters now
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