For the first time in decades, the franchise has a feeling of forward momentum.
She’s back. Thursday morning, Paramount Pictures released the first trailer for Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth Terminator film, but one that removes the third, fourth and fifth entries from continuity and instead directly follows The Terminator (1984) and T2: Judgement Day (1991). Directed by Tim Miller, Dark Fate touts the return of creator James Cameron, now in the role of producer. In a behind-the-scenes video promoting the film, Cameron says Dark Fate “has recaptured the tone of those first two films. It’s gritty, it’s fast. It’s intense.”
As exciting as it is to have Cameron on board and give his seal of approval, a significant part in recapturing the thrill of those first two films is the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Her reprisal of the character after 27 years is what truly seals the deal in convincing fans that this Terminator sequel will be different, and better, than the last few. The fate of the Terminator franchise has been a pretty bleak spot for the past decade, but Dark Fate may be the bright spot audiences have been clamoring for.
Despite the film’s close ties to the first two films, there’s no denying that Dark Fate looks unique from what’s come before. For starters, there’s no John Connor, not even a mention of the would-be savior whose existence drove the previous films. Instead, we’re introduced to Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who’s under the protection of Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a human-Terminator hybrid. While the trailer doesn’t reveal a lot about the film’s characters, it seems as though Dani may be the future’s best hope. Were the prophecies surrounding John Connor wrong? Or did the prevention of Judgement Day in T2 create a different robot apocalypse? Either way, for a franchise founded on badass women, it seems like a logical next step that the future no longer just be beholden to a man. There’s also the fact that the cast is largely Hispanic and Latino, and the film appears to be set in and around Mexico. There’s a feeling that Cameron, who’s never been one to shy away from social allegories in his films, definitely has something to say about borders, immigration and where our best chance at a future stems from. As much as the cerebral nature of these films is centered on time travel and fighting robots, the heart comes from the focus placed on saving people and allowing them to mature into their best selves.
Grace adds another wrinkle to the Terminator mythos. While we’ve seen a human-Terminator hybrid before — Marcus (Sam Worthington) in Terminator Salvation (2009), Grace seems fully aware of her origins. Her role to protect Dani seems like an amalgamation of the roles the T-800 and Sarah Connor played in T2. What’s interesting about the trailer is that it positions us in the middle of a new story with new characters, one that crosses paths with Sarah Connor’s story but isn’t reliant on nostalgia or retreading beats we’ve seen before, despite a number of parallels. Even with some of these characters sharing traits with previous characters, this looks like the first effort in the franchise since 1991 to carve out a new path. Even Schwarzenegger’s appearance isn’t played for novelty. Instead his role, be it as T-model or human, suggests something more mysterious and interesting than familiar one-liners — a role worthy of his immense presence, and fittingly secondary to Hamilton’s return as Connor.
And then there’s Gabriel Luna’s new advanced Terminator, who looks a combination of T2’s T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and Terminator Genisys’ (2015) T-3000 (Jason Clarke). Luna’s Terminator is eerily unassuming, and less physically imposing than the T-800. There’s a fast efficiency to his movements, highlighted in the brief action scenes. If there’s one thing that Terminator sequels did post T2, it was introduce some cool-looking new models. Luna’s Terminator looks to take the best of what’s come before, but add a new presence and personality to the robotic killer that will hopefully create a memorable adversary worthy of Sarah’s battle-hardened expertise, and Grace’s hybrid efficiency.
The Terminator sequels following T2 have always felt in the shadow of Cameron’s movies, introducing some cool concepts, but never able to push the narrative forward in a way that felt natural or memorable. Dark Fate has the opportunity to do that, to get beyond that shadow and continue traveling down the highway on which T2 ended, toward an unknown future that we can face with a sense of hope.