“Terminator” director James Cameron wants you to know that what happens to savior of the future John Connor in the new sequel “Terminator: Dark Fate” was his idea.
“Oh, that was my idea!” said Cameron, phoning from the New Zealand set of “Avatar 2" and “Avatar 3.” “That was my idea.”
It was his idea, the guy who literally dreamed up the SkyNet future and directed the first two “Terminator” films, both verifiable sci-fi action classics. It. Was. His. Idea. OK? Don’t blame the messenger.
[Spoilers for “Terminator: Dark Fate” follow. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.]
After directing 1984’s “The Terminator” and 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Cameron returns to the franchise as producer of the sixth entry in the series. Original “Terminator” stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are also back in this weekend’s “Dark Fate,” which chooses to ignore the last three sequels.
Instead, “Dark Fate” directly picks up after the events of “T2,” at the end of which Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and her young son John (Eddie Furlong) stopped Judgment Day from happening in the year 1997.
In its opening prologue set one year later, “Dark Fate” reveals Sarah and John hanging out happily beachside in Guatemala — where a rogue T-800 appears and kills the once-future savior of humanity in front of Sarah’s eyes before stalking off, its mission complete.
Sarah is left in shock, as many “Terminator” fans will surely be. But the tragedy sets her on a new path toward a different fate as a grizzled, traumatized Terminator-hunting warrior, and opens the door for new heroes Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) and Grace, a cyber-augmented soldier (Mackenzie Davis) to step up for humanity’s future.
It’s a twist Cameron purposefully suggested to jar audience expectations. “I said, ‘Let’s take him out in the first 30 seconds,’” said Cameron of John Connor’s new tragic fate. “They’re sitting in a pizzeria, a Terminator walks in and blows him away. You’re one minute into the movie.’ Everybody went, ‘Really? You want to do this?’”
“I said, yes!” said Cameron, who co-wrote the first “Terminator” with Gale Ann Hurd and “T2" with William Wisher. Amusement danced in his voice. “You pull the rug out from underneath the entire construct that’s been going on for the last three decades.”
According to Miller, early creative discussions about the idea ended in “pretty much universal agreement that it was the thing to do.”
“I love the idiom of, put your characters in a place they’d least want to be,” he said. “And I love the idea of shocking the audience and doing the unexpected.”
Why? Because of where it repositions Sarah. When she and John made their own fate at the end of “T2,” their futures and humanity’s timeline also changed. Now in SkyNet’s place there exists an entity known as “Legion” wreaking havoc in the future that Grace comes from.
“First and foremost, Sarah Connor is not a happy, content kind of character,” said Miller. “A character like that is at her best when she has tragedy to overcome or something to fight, and you need that rocket fuel for her to be in this dark place— and what better rocket fuel than that she made this decision and it led to the death of her son?”
“It’s a pretty good way to start a character arc,” he said.
Even Hamilton says she was “a bit” shocked to learn what would become of John Connor in “Dark Fate,” which used VFX to film the scene with younger likenesses of actors Hamilton, Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong.
“But I want the story to evolve and change all the time,” she said, “just like the characters.”
Besides, the last three sequels (which did not creatively involve Cameron) gave plenty of shine to John Connor, said Miller. All three revolved around different iterations of the John Connor character, with disappointing critical and commercial results.
John Connor’s moment in time has passed, Miller said. “He was supposed to be the savior of mankind. Sarah changed the future, so now he’s a man that history passed by. And who wants to see a Congressman John Connor, or an accountant John Connor, or a John who died from diphtheria as a missionary?”
“There’s only so much room on this page. If you want to have these new characters walk on and have prominent roles then you’ve got to clear some room,” he said. “And servicing the myth of John wouldn’t have left room.”
Still, Cameron can predict how such a jolt will sit with some fans.
“People will always go, ‘Oh, it’s predictable. Oh, it’s a retread. Oh, we’ve seen it all before,’” he said. “You’ve not! Because there are five movies based on the idea of John Connor so far. There are five movies based on the idea of this guy, and the mythology of this guy — and we shwack him in the first minute of the movie. So don’t tell me it’s a frickin’ retread!”