WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate, in theaters now.
Terminator: Dark Fate promises to begin a new trilogy for the Terminator series by shaping Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) as the new face of the Resistance. With Judgement Day being stopped, the film also changes the villain that rises up in 2042, with Skynet being replaced by the cybersecurity A.I. known as Legion.
However, even with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) returning to prep Dani for the inevitable war to come, director Tim Miller kills off a major player to create this new future and in the process, he erases the bad memories of Terminator 2: Judgement Day's sequels that this latest movie totally ignores.
This character is none other than Sarah's son, John Connor, the focus of the movies that began with 1991's Terminator 2. Now, in the first film, it was his father, Kyle Reese, protecting his mom from Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800, with T2 then having a teenage John (Edward Furlong) on the run with her and the T-1000 as his bodyguards. 2003's Terminator: Rise of the Machines then had an adult John (Nick Stahl) hiding out from the T-X, only for Judgement Day to finally occur and push him towards his first steps as a rebel against the machines.
As for Terminator: Salvation, we saw Christian Bale's John in the future fighting Skynet's armies. In Terminator: Genisys, Jason Clarke's John was then altered from a Resistance leader into a nanocyte pawn of Skynet, becoming a villain trying to pave the way for the machines. As you can see, no matter whether it's saving the future or dooming it, John was always at the center to anchor these stories, which is why it's a total shocker Miller kills off John in the opening scene and tosses the property into brand new territory.
After Sarah avoids Judgement Day in 1997, a year later when they're in Guatemala, a T-800 that landed and stayed off the grid tracks her and the boy down. (CGI was applied to recreate Edward Furlong's facial likeness from the '90s.) It punches Sarah away, pumping John full of shotgun shells and killing him off in a brutal first act. Sure, the CPU that gave rise to Skynet was gone, but with this murder, the T-800 had the last laugh.
Without John, the future drastically changes because Legion takes over and a new Resistance forms with Dani at the helm, but what this bold move does is shift the franchise away from the very thing that crippled it. John's destiny acted as a crutch and honestly, it became so redundant and boring that fans and critics were turned off from the direction the franchise was heading down. There are only so many movies you can have in the past with folks trying to save the same messiah over and over again, or with John growing into a leader.
With all these different depictions of John over the last two decades, this series badly needed to be freshened up, but without really revamping the essence of the story to the point it got lost.
After all, you've still got a new John in the shape of Dani, but by taking him off the board, Miller also smartly reboots Sarah's purpose. She became a drunk when he died, but despite this, she still kept killing Terminators lost in the time-stream who arrived on Earth. Her warrior's fate means she's the one destined to train Dani as a daughter that she wants to survive in order to fight Legion when it rises up. And as Miller makes clear: it will. There's no stopping it.
We also get Sarah crafting an offspring-like figure as a military protege, which we didn't really see with her and John except in bits and pieces. In short, as much as John was important, he's no longer bogging down the franchise and allows more leaders and hopeful soldiers to arise, not to mention more hunters like Sarah. In fact, this molds the fate of the world as a more expansive adventure with several other potential messiahs becoming focal points, freeing the series from the repetitiveness and monotony of old.
Directed by Tim Miller and produced by James Cameron, Terminator: Dark Fatestars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes and Diego Boneta, in theatres now.