The first panel in the massive Hall H at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was suitably huge, bringing the stars and creators of highly anticipated sequel-slash-reboot Terminator: Dark Fate to the stage. And there were some certified icons in the house, including Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, reunited for the first time since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Also in attendance: director Tim Miller and co-stars Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Diego Boneta, and Gabriel Luna. Not in San Diego: James Cameron, though he did introduce the panel via a livestreamed message from the Avatar set – and drop the news that Judgment Day’s Edward Furlong will be in Dark Fate, reprising the role of John Connor.
“In the Terminator universe there is only one timeline,” director Miller explained, noting that he’s a fan of Avengers: Endgame but that’s not what Dark Fate would be doing with its approach to time travel. Instead, Dark Fate – which is officially R-rated, because “the DNA of Terminator is an R-rated fuckin’ movie,” per Miller – will show Sarah Connor living with, and dealing with, the consequences of the end of Judgment Day and her decision to destroy Cyberdyne Systems.
“The richness of my life experience is only going to enhance the character I play,” Hamilton said, explaining why she finally decided to do the movie after taking a long time to decide. While Sarah Connor’s buff physique is a memorable part of Judgment Day, and by all accounts Hamilton definitely kicks ass in Dark Fate, the actor also explained that the most difficult part of her preparations this time around were more internal.
“The hard work I did was the deep exploration of a woman who’s an outsider whose life hasn’t worked out...I had to go to my deepest sorrows and places of deepest loss, and that’s what makes Sarah Connor, Sarah Connor.” Hamilton also called Miller “the most honest and true director I’ve ever worked with.”
Schwarzenegger (who’s appeared in other Terminator films since Judgment Day, of course, but those won’t factor into the plot of Dark Fate) had far less hesitation. “Of course I was going to come back. I’m addicted to Terminator,” he said.
The panel wrapped up with new footage, starting with a freeway chase that’s mostly a highway chase, Terminator-on-Terminator battle with Davis and Luna’s characters battling with pipes, tools, whatever they can find on the road. Davis (whose character says in a later clip “I am human, just enhanced!”) is a definite badass, but Luna’s character shows off all kinds of cyborg innovations that we’ve glimpsed in the trailers, including making a robot-skeleton duplicate of himself. He’s gaining the upper hand, trying to take out Davis to get to Reyes’ character, until another vehicle pulls up and Sarah pulls up, guns blazing, taking care of business, and making the famous line her own: “I’ll be back!” as she drops a grenade on the Terminator and walks away in slow motion.
A later, much quieter scene, shows Sarah explaining her life so far to Reyes and Davis’ characters. Basically, it boils down to “My name is Sarah Connor, I stopped Judgement Day with my son in 1997, and now I hunt Terminators.” She also says “You’re welcome” for saving three billion lives. We also get a tease of why she’s so intent on protecting Reyes’ character: “I was her and it sucks...when I was about her age a Terminator was sent to kill me.”
Speaking of, we also meet Schwarzenegger’s character, living what looks like a quiet life in a cabin in the woods. “Sarah Connor. I can see you’re very upset,” is how he greets his former nemesis. We also learn he’s got a new name now: Carl. “I’m never gonna fuckin call you Carl,” Sarah mutters. She also tells “Carl,” “when this is all over I am going to kill you,” to which he answers, “I understand.” But Sarah’s real ire is saved for Luna’s character; when he asks why she just won’t hand over Reyes’ character, her response is: “Because we’re not machines, you metal motherfucker.”
As you’d expect from Terminator, there are huge set pieces in Dark Fate. We caught a glimpse of a gunfight underwater. A scene off the back of some kind of jumbo jet, in which Carl unloads a machine gun on the new Terminator’s face. Something that almost looked like a huge prison break, as well flashbacks to Davis’ character in a war, just to name a few.
The footage ended with Davis’ character saying that “If you don’t make it, everyone dies.” So Reyes’ character is really some kind of new generation’s Sarah Conner. We’ll see how it all works out.