When most people have nightmares, they get a drink of water, go back to bed, and forget about it. James Cameron isn’t like most people. Using his nightmare as inspiration, he wrote a treatment for a film about a robot coming back from the future. Having only directed the cheesy B movie Piranha 2: The Spawning (a film which, during post-production Cameron allegedly had to sneak back into the editing room to complete), Cameron then sold The Terminator to Hemdale Film Corporation for one dollar on the condition that he could direct it. A few months later, he met Arnold Schwarzenegger (who Cameron was considering for the role of Kyle Reese), and the rest was history.
I’ve been a fan of Cameron and The Terminator for a very long time. Before seeing the first two movies, I was given a crash course on the franchise courtesy of a magazine article I was reading not long before Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released. I remember how far out it seemed to me, yet I couldn’t deny I was intrigued. A soldier coming back in time to protect the mother of the savior of mankind? As hokey as it sounded, when I watched the films and saw killer action and Schwarzenegger giving a star-making performance (if you don’t count Conan), I was sold. Knowing that the third installment was only a few weeks away, I couldn’t wait to see what the creative team was going to give us.
At first, however, I was unaware of the changes that were on the horizon for this new fandom I had just joined. I was dismayed to discover Cameron was not part of the production, but I was happy Arnold was still involved in the film (which, coincidentally, was his final lead performance before his gubernatorial run). I know a lot of people usually refer to this one as the beginning of the end for the franchise, but I really liked discovering who John Connor was without his mother, Sarah. In many ways, this was the beginning of what should have been a long-expected pivot. The first two films were really Sarah’s story (with the underrated TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles doubling down on this), with John Connor almost a myth. But with the death of Sarah, the onus was now on John (this time played by Nick Stahl) to fulfill his destiny without the expertise of his mother. When you add in the fact that the T-800 was sent back to protect not only John but also his future wife Kate Brewster (who just happens to know who John is, having gone to school with him in eighth grade), the dynamic of the film suddenly changes and also makes you see the mythology of John Connor in a whole new light. It’s something so simple, yet so easy to overlook; of course John would have met someone, and it’s great that she is also known as a hero to the resistance in her own right. And that final scene, where Skynet’s attack begins, is fantastic, in part because the promise of the future Kyle Reese spoke about in The Terminator was coming to fruition.
Following Terminator 3, I was excited to see Stahl and Kate Brewster actress Claire Danes back in the lead roles. But once again, the franchise was sold and new rights-holder The Halcyon Company revealed plans for a new trilogy, starting with Terminator: Salvation. This time, McG was announced as the director, with Christian Bale as John Connor, along with the announcement that the Batman actor had signed a three-picture deal. I was particularly happy about this because we would finally get a definitive take on this once mythical character. Bale even joked that he was hoping for a more “rotund” John Connor in the sequel so that he would have an excuse to eat pasta. As with the sequels to Terminator 3, though, this new trilogy would not come to pass due to poor box office and the subsequent sale of the Terminator rights once again. Throughout the production of the film, it was often reported that Cameron was getting the rights back in 2018 (coincidentally or not also the year in which Salvation was set). I was particularly enamored with this idea because I just didn’t believe Cameron would let another movie be produced, given what I thought seemed to be his apparent ambivalence towards recent films in the franchise. But when the rights landed with producer Megan Ellison and Terminator: Genisys (once again, the first of an intended trilogy) was about to be released, Cameron appeared in a video letting everyone know that he considered this a true sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Despite an overall better financial performance than Salvation and the return of Schwarzenegger to his iconic role, the film barely did well domestically and did not connect with critics. The two planned sequels (the first of which was scheduled for May 19, 2017, with a follow-up set for June 2018) were scrapped, and now the rights have returned to Cameron himself, and he’s producing Terminator: Dark Fate, with Deadpool’s Tim Miller directing.
Cameron’s first order of business: get Linda Hamilton back as Sarah Connor. Despite a voiceover in Terminator: Salvation, I didn’t think we would ever see Hamilton reprise the role, so I’m very excited to see her and Schwarzenegger reunite on screen. Add to that Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis, and I’m sold. While I know little about Natalia Reyes and Gabriel Luna (aside from the latter’s portrayal of Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD and the upcoming Ghost Rider series for Hulu), the recent trailer only raised my anticipation, and I’m excited to see what this new generation will bring to this beloved series. My one question in all of this is how much of a role John Connor (who will be portrayed via archival footage by Edward Furlong) will have in the film. Over the years, this character has become a post-apocalyptic Hamlet, with five different actors (the TV version’s Thomas Dekker having the longest run) playing the role; hopefully, this last trilogy will give us the definitive cinematic portrayal of the savior if he turns up in person.
Terminator: Dark Fate has come to us via the auspices fans had always hoped to see again. With James Cameron, Linda Hamilton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger back and Tim Miller at the helm, the sky is the limit for this once-beleaguered franchise. I can’t wait to see what Cameron and co. bring us when the film opens this November.