The best thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is you don’t need to be a Terminator expert to enjoy it. Though the franchise is best known for its first and second installments, released in 1984 and 1991 respectively, Hollywood has made three subsequent sequels/reboots as well as a television show about the characters. With Terminator: Dark Fate though, nothing after T2 matters.
With franchise creator James Cameron back on board, and Tim Miller directing, Dark Fate is only a sequel to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. And frankly, having seen Dark Fate, you don’t really even need to know every little detail from both those movies. In case you’ve never seen them, or don’t have time to rewatch before heading to the theater, here are the basics of what you need to know to enjoy the new Terminator film.
The Terminator told the story of Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton, who returns in Dark Fate), a normal woman living in 1984 Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to Sarah, in the future year of 2029, an artificial intelligence called Skynet has sent a killer robot back through time to kill her. This robot is called a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also returns in Dark Fate) and while its skeleton is made out of metal, it is covered by a replication of human skin. We don’t see much of that future yet, but we hear a lot about it thanks to another person sent to 1984 from 2029, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, who does not return in Dark Fate, unfortunately). He’s a soldier fighting Skynet in the future who was sent back to protect Sarah from the Terminator.
Kyle explains to Sarah that Skynet wants her dead because her future son, John, will eventually become the leader of a human resistance that fights Skynet and the Terminators. John believes, and told Kyle to pass along to Sarah, the idea there’s “No fate but what we make for ourselves” and they can impact the future. During the film, Sarah and Kyle fall in love and we come to find out that Kyle is actually John’s dad. However, Kyle is killed while fighting the Terminator, which is ultimately defeated when Sarah crushes it in a hydraulic press.
The film ends with a pregnant Sarah setting off to learn skills she’ll need to teach John to become the leader she was told he’s meant to be. But it’s not so easy...there is a part two.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is set in 1995 and begins with two more entities being sent back in time. One is a T-800 model Terminator that looks exactly like the bad guy from the first time (of course played by Schwarzenegger) and the second is a T-1000 model, a liquid metal upgrade (played by Robert Patrick, who’s not in Dark Fate) that can form stabbing weapons with its body and conveniently change its appearance at will. The T-1000 Terminator has been sent back to kill John himself (who’s a young teen) while the T-800 has been reprogrammed by the resistance and sent to protect him.
John (Edward Furlong, who is in Dark Fate) lives with foster parents because, in her quest to raise him to become a great leader, society shunned Sarah and relegated her to a mental institution where she attempted to warn doctors about the coming danger but was, of course, not believed. She did, however, become an insanely capable badass along the way. After his foster parents are murdered by the T-1000, John is shocked to be saved by the T-800 and they both rescue Sarah from the hospital.
The T-800 explains why this is happening all over again. A company called Cyberdyne Systems found the pieces of the Terminator Sarah destroyed in the first film and began to reverse engineer them. The result of their research, let by a man named Miles Dyson, will become the creation of the evil AI Skynet and on August 29, 1997 it attacks and wipes out most of humanity. An event that will become known as Judgment Day.
Sarah, John, and the T-800 end up destroying Cyberdyne with the help of a newly-informed Miles and defeat the T-1000 after a significant battle. However, to make sure there is no way anyone can do what Cyberdyne did, John and Sarah begrudgingly lower the T-800, who they’ve become close with, into molten metal, fully destroying him and the remaining Terminator tech.
So it seems the reason Skynet sends a Terminator back is to ensure its own existence. It can only be created by simultaneously creating its own enemies in Sarah and John Connor. If it hadn’t sent back a Terminator in 1984, the blueprints for its birth in the ‘90s wouldn’t have existed. Which is kind of a mindfuck and really doesn’t make a ton of sense but, this is sci-fi and paradoxes are par for the course when it comes to time travel stories.
Finally, at the end of Terminator 2, we’re lead to believe Sarah and John have ended Judgment Day and defeated Skynet for good. And yet, there’s Dark Fate, a movie in which features Sarah Connor, John Connor, a T-800 Terminator, as well an impressive new model Terminator...and a new target. We’ll find out how it all came to pass on November 1 when Terminator Dark Fate hits theaters.
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