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He said he’d be back. Though in fairness, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg has never really been gone for long. It’s the return of James Cameron that’s really the surprise. This year the Terminator returns with a new movie, and a story developed by James Cameron. The sixth Terminator film, which was announced in 2017, finally has a title, one so fittingly Cameron-esque that you can almost hear Brad Fiedel’s iconic score in the background.
Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller and written by Batman Begins’ David S. Goyer, will ignore the three previous films and only retain the original two Terminator movies as canon, while also bringing back Linda Hamilton as the iconic warrior woman, Sarah Connor. It’s a strategy that worked out well for Halloween (2018), and it might finally be the trick to set the franchise back on course for the future.
The past 16 years have not been particularly kind to the Terminator. Despite a well-received, though underwatched and short-lived, series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-09), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator: Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Genisys (2015) strayed increasingly far from the series’ roots. The main reason why the Terminator has acquired so much rust over the years is because Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) ended the story so perfectly. Before the need for every film franchise to be stretched out across trilogies, franchises or cinematic universes, James Cameron told the perfect two-part story with The Terminator (1984) and T2. Terminator: Dark Fate, which brings Cameron back to the franchise for the first time in 28 years, this time in the role of producer and story developer, may finally provide a fitting conclusion to Sarah Connor’s story while opening up new thematic possibilities.
“There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” That line, spoken by John Connor, formed the mantra for the second Terminator movie. And while the sequels eroded that conceit away with talk of destiny and increasingly convoluted time travel, the title Dark Fate seems to promise a return to that idea. Previously, the line was seen as a positive, a comforting notion that the apocalyptic Judgement Day was not set in stone. But Dark Fate doesn’t suggest anything positive. What it does suggest is humanity’s role in its own destruction. Should humanity’s fate be bright or dark, it’s one of our own making, at least going by the rules of T2.
Cameron has, of course, become increasingly invested in environmentalism over the years, and his Avatar films hinge on our relationship with nature. Avatar (2009) has a number of elements that make it a companion piece to Cameron’s Terminator films, albeit one focused on life rather than death and plant life as opposed to metal and wires. Terminator: Dark Fate could be an alternate route through which Cameron reflects on how humans’ reliance on war and technological weapons has sealed their fate.
Much of the plot for Terminator: Dark Fate remains a mystery, but notably absent is the presence of an adult John Connor, messianic leader of the resistance. It’s been confirmed that a younger version of the character made famous by Edward Furlong will appear in the film, presumably in a flashback. But the adult version who has been played by Nick Stahl, Christian Bale and Jason Clarke is conspicuously absent. The Terminator lore has hinged so heavily on John Connor and his rise as resistance leader, but Dark Fate is taking the series back to its female-focused roots with two new characters, Grace and Dani — portrayed by Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes, respectively — who will be trained by a battle-hardened Sarah Connor. The position these characters find themselves in may be a result of John Connor’s death, a death possibly caused by Sarah Connor’s choices. It would be a fitting choice to have John’s words, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves,” become the thing that haunts Sarah and reminds her that when we make our own fight, even seemingly unkillable heroes can die.
While the title is one of the only small bits of information we’ve been able to learn about the film, Terminator: Dark Fate has the blend of pulp and thematic resonance that fits Cameron’s purview beautifully. And yes, it’s a nice change from cheesy Rise of the Machines and the awkward Genisys. While it may be potentially hazardous to get one’s hopes up on a title alone, Terminator fans have been burned so many times there’s an immeasurable amount of comfort to be found in a project that sounds like Cameron.
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