It’s fair to say that the Terminator franchise has a pretty twisted timeline, with many of its various sequels – including Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys – all being ignored as the series reboots and returns to its roots again and again.
But upcoming movie Terminator: Dark Fate has us scratching our heads more than ever. Set after 1992’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the film catches up with an older Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as she teams up with a cyborg (Mackenzie Davis) to save a young woman from another Terminator – but clearly, something strange has happened since we last saw this version of the character.
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In the first Terminator movie, Sarah was hunted by a killer robot from the future (Arnold Schwarzenegger), as her unborn son John was set to lead the human resistance against the machines many years later. In Terminator 2, a reprogrammed T-800 (the same model used to attack Sarah) is sent back to protect the young John (Edward Furlong) some time later, as a more advanced Terminator goes back to try and assassinate John himself.
The film ends with the “bad” Terminator (the T-1000) destroyed, John still alive and ready to save the human race as an adult and – tragically – Arnie’s T-800 dead as well, opting to be melted in molten steel to avoid his technology falling into the wrong hands.
As Sarah Connor drives away with her son at the end of T2, expressing her new hope that if “a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too,” things looked bright. But by the time of Dark Fate, something has changed.
While we know that Edward Furlong is returning as John Connor, we don’t actually know in what capacity. Rumour has it, he might be providing facial capture for a digitally de-aged version in flashbacks – certainly, he doesn’t seem to be around in the present day, and is conspicuously absent in every trailer thus far. Earth hasn’t fallen to the machines – yet – but John Connor isn’t around. Does this mean that, finally, another Terminator got to him?
Well, one clue comes later in the most recent trailer for Dark Fate (above), when Sarah comes face-to-face with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator once more – and immediately tries to blow his head off. Later, while accepting they need to team up, she promises to kill him once their alliance is over, a far cry from the guarded acceptance she’d reached with the T-800 in Terminator 2.
From all this, we’re left with three mysteries. How is there an Arnie-edition Terminator kicking around if the last one was melted down? Where is John Connor? And why does Sarah so instinctively want to kill this edition?
To all of these there may be an answer – John Connor is dead. Another Terminator, perhaps in the form of this Arnold Schwarzenegger version, finally got to him, and ended the human resistance before it started. After all, who better to get past his and Sarah’s defences than the image of the friendly robot they’d previously teamed up with in T2?
This, too, would explain Sarah’s antipathy to the familiar Terminator – the last time she saw it, perhaps it killed her son – even if this particular model isn’t the one that pulled the trigger.
And if John Connor is dead, it also raises an interesting light on the storyline for Dark Fate, which sees Sarah, the ageing T-800 and Davis’ cyborg Grace team up to protect a woman called Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from a new Terminator (Gabriel Luna). Maybe, just maybe, John Connor wasn’t irreplaceable after all. Maybe, in his absence, another human would rise to lead a resistance against the machines – and maybe that’s either Dani, or a future child of her own.
In other words, maybe the Terminators’ plan to take John Connor off the board via time travel was doomed from the start – because even if one specific man wasn’t there to lead a rebellion, there’s no reason someone else couldn’t take their place.
Until the film is released this autumn we won’t know for sure, and given the franchise’s history we wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an even weirder, more complicated reason for the odd inconsistencies we’ve spotted.
But at the moment, we’re not holding out too much hope for John Connor. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll never be back.
Terminator: Dark Fate is released in UK cinemas on the 23rd October