After several polarising sequels, Terminator: Dark Fate reunites the core threesome of producer James Cameron and stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger to deliver a direct follow-up – and worthy successor – to The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day.
“The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
It’s a quote that Terminator fans know very well, and the sequels that followed James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) used this mantra to create new and alternate timelines that messed with the mythology and frustrated the faithful.
The new Terminator film might be called Dark Fate but it represents a ripping return to form for the franchise. Adopting the same approach as the recent Halloween, it ignores the post-T2 sequels and brings back the original’s big guns to create a direct follow-up to the Cameron classics.
Set in the same timeline as the first two movies and featuring the return of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their iconic roles, as well as James Cameron as producer, Terminator Dark Fate can be considered the first ‘legitimate’ Terminator sequel since 1991.
“Above anything else, we wanted to create a return to form with Dark Fate. Terminator 1 and 2 hold a very special place in cinematic history, and we wanted Dark Fate to be a continuation of Jim’s vision for the franchise,” explains producer David Ellison. “There was only one way we were going to do it – and that was if James Cameron was going to come back to the franchise.”
It’s been almost three decades since Terminator 2, so what enticed Cameron back to the Terminator universe? “Over the years I have continued to consult with people working at the forefront of the artificial intelligence world,” says the filmmaker. “They all believe there will be an AI equal to or greater than a human mind. They also say it’s not going to turn into Skynet, but how do we know that?”
That’s certainly a chilling prospect to contemplate, and Cameron promises that Terminator: Dark Fate will recapture the intensity and future shock of the original Terminator and its follow-up. “The first film was supposed to scare the crap out of you about a possible dark future and the survival of a girl that we come to care about. This film, like the others, deals with the threat of a human collision with artificial super-intelligence, which is a whole lot less science fiction today than it was in 1984 or 1991.
“We considered things like whether it should take place in the present, the past or the future. Should it focus on Sarah; should it be John? We all felt strongly that the film should be in some way a handoff to new characters, but we wanted to continue the structure of the ‘trinity’ consisting of hunters, protectors, and prey.”
Terminator: Dark Fate is set two decades after Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day and finds a young Mexico City factory worker, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), targeted for termination by a lethal new model of machine assassin, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). Her survival depends upon a future protector, super-soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis), the battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), and a rather familiar T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Cameron stresses his role was producer, not director, entrusting the film to Deadpool director Tim Miller, with whom he worked on the shooting script.
“I believe utterly in the sanctity of the director’s creative process with the actors, the cinematographer, the production designer and so on. My job was to tee this up, set it in motion and let them do their thing.”
As a fan of Deadpool, Ellison was supportive of the choice of Miller to direct. “I thought the action and world he created with that film was brilliant. Tim was able to craft a movie that reinvented not just the superhero genre, but the R-rated action genre as well, which is exactly the kind of director we needed for Terminator: Dark Fate,” he says.
Miller’s guiding principle was to stay true to the fundamentals of the Terminator franchise, while putting his own unique stamp on the film. “I never thought, ‘I’m going to make the movie just like Jim Cameron would,’” he says. “But I knew from his films that the secret to making a great Terminator film is character, character, character. Jim is particularly good at the details that make you feel you’re watching real people going through extraordinary events.”
The director adds that Cameron’s involvement from the very beginning was crucial to the process. “He knows the material like nobody else and he’s been thinking about it for years. Even though he had never planned to make this movie, his thoughts about AI have continued to evolve, and he never lost his connection to the story.”
Cameron believes that the initial goal to create a direct sequel to The Terminator and T2 has been accomplished, in both tone and narrative. “It’s gritty, it’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s linear. The whole story takes place in 36 hours and is a white-knuckle ride through a kind of techno-hell that arrives in our present day.”
Miller hopes his Terminator film will be a worthy successor to the first two movies. “It’s Linda Hamilton’s return, Arnold’s back, Jim’s here and we have a really great infusion of new ideas and new blood as well,” he says. “You care about every one of these characters. Each of them has moments that I hope will make the audience cry and cheer. There are amazing action set pieces that will get the blood pumping and a plot that will have the audience constantly wondering what happens next. Hopefully, it all adds up to a great time…
“With Dark Fate, I tried to honour what we all love about the original films,” he concludes. “My hope is that Terminator fans will feel the same way and that the film can introduce a new generation to the world and characters Jim created.”