Terminator: Dark Fate is a new beginning for the franchise, in more than one way.
The embargo on Terminator: Dark Fate has lifted. Read our review here.
Terminator: Dark Fate is unique in the world of big budget, blockbuster film franchises--it's a sort of soft reboot that resets the series back 30 years, but not all the way to the beginning. Dark Fate serves as a direct sequel to 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and it pretends every other Terminator movie that's been released since then doesn't exist. It continues the story of Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor and the T-800 Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and introduces new characters played by Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna.
And if Terminator creator and Dark Fate producer James Cameron has his way, this movie will prove to be the beginning of a new chapter in the Terminator story.
Dark Fate is in fact the first Terminator movie since T2 with which Cameron is involved, and he helped develop the story from the beginning, the legendary producer told journalists during a recent interview in Los Angeles (Cameron video-chatted in from the set of his Avatar sequels in New Zealand). That story includes not just this movie, but multiple sequels--provided Dark Fate is well-received.
"I feel like one of my major motivations on coming back to the, hopefully, franchise was to explore the human relationship with artificial intelligence," Cameron said. "I don't feel we did that in Dark Fate. I feel that we set the stage or we set the table for that exploration, and that exploration would take place in a second film and a third film. And we know exactly where we're going to take that idea."
Dark Fate sees future-history repeating itself, despite Sarah Connor's success destroying Cyberdyne Systems and averting Judgment Day at the end of T2. In Dark Fate, a new kind of Terminator (Gabrielle Luna's REV-9) travels back to a new present to hunt down a different person (Natalia Reyes's Dani, being protected by Mackenzie Davis's future-soldier Grace). Clearly, Sarah Connor's future--and Grace's past--isn't all that changed after all.
"What we wanted to get in the first movie was this idea that it's just going to keep happening," Cameron explained. "The names will change, but the basic conflict is going to continue to take place until it gets resolved one way or the other. And so I believe we've set that table--and if, like I said, if we get the opportunity, we know where to take the story...I think you start simple and then you elaborate, and you can elaborate over a series of films. If they're made by the same people with the same intentions and the same philosophy, then there can be a kind of a story arc across multiple films."
The filmmaker clarified that he believes Dark Fate works well as a standalone film, but continued to emphasize that he and his collaborators (presumably including Dark Fate director Tim Miller, as well as the movie's several other credited writers) have an entire trilogy planned, with Dark Fate as the first entry.
"The story credits for the movie are a little weird, because you've also got [Charles] 'Chic' Eglee and Josh Friedman in the story credits, because we sat in the room and we broke story across three movies before we focused down onto the first of the proposed three, which is Dark Fate," Cameron revealed. "So there's really a plotline that runs all the way out through a third film, if we get to that stage. And the reason for that is you spend a couple of weeks to future-proof yourself so you don't paint yourself into a corner and you could still do the things that you want to do."
Cameron said the trilogy's "innate conflict" will involve stopping the rise of an "artificial super intelligence" once and for all--not a specific one, like T2's Skynet, but the general one that Dark Fate posits is humanity's ultimate foe.
"Sarah has had to adjust to the fact that there's probably a kind of inevitability, like a great kind of forcing factor that always tends to see the rise of an artificial super intelligence--that it's just the direction that the universe is heading. This is a collision that the human race is on," Cameron said. "What Sarah had done [in T2] was she kicked the can down the road, but she's just going to have the same fight again, and have it again, and have it again, until there's a resolution. So in our grand scheme, what we came up with is, there is a resolution. Kick the can as many times as you want, but there has to be a resolution."
What about Arnold Schwarzenegger's iconic, genre-defining character? Is this the Governator's final appearance in the franchise? Cameron suggested maybe not.
"It's an interesting point. I mean, I think that you could make a strong case that there was probably a rack of Arnold-based T-800s up in the Skynet version of the future, and some or all of them were dispersed through time to targeted places," he teased. "I wouldn't rule out ever seeing Arnold again in a Terminator movie. Look, if we make a s*** ton of money with this film and the cards say that they like Arnold, I think Arnold can come back. I'm a writer. I can think of scenarios. We don't have a plan for that right now, let me put it that way. I think what we're seeing is that there's a lot of goodwill for that character in the audience."
Based on the early reactions to Terminator: Dark Fate so far, it seems there's a decent chance these sequels might really happen. If that's the case, Terminator fans are in for a wild ride.
Terminator: Dark Fate hits theaters Friday, November 1. In related news, Cameron also explained why Schwarzenegger's T-800 appears to have aged like a human.