28 years after director James Cameron delivered what is arguably among the best sequels ever in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the Avatar and True Lies filmmaker is reteaming with his old Terminator crew, this time as a co-writer and producer, in order to help complete the story on his terms. Joined by original stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton – along with Deadpool director Tim Miller behind the camera – Cameron and co. are forgetting about those other big-screen Terminator sequels (Terminator: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation and Terminator Genisys) in favor of telling a story that directly follows the events of his seminal 1991 film.
“Jim [Cameron] didn't really have anything to do with guiding the story for those subsequent films, and so the journey that Sarah and John [Connor] took was, I think, as erratic as a story by several different filmmakers with several different visions could be,” Dark Fate director Tim Miller explained in an exclusive interview with Fandango. “And what we wanted to do is continue the vision that Jim had for those characters, and that meant just picking it up where the second movie ended and continuing to share his journey.”
That journey involves a new enemy with a familiar face. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) may have destroyed Skynet and prevented Judgment Day at the end of Terminator 2, but what we learn in Dark Fate is that her actions, while admirable, did not prevent the machines from taking over. In this film, Skynet has been replaced by a similar threat called Legion. The humans of the future are terrorized by Legion, but they’re adapting to fight back by using stolen Legion technology to create enhanced versions of themselves. It is one of those enhanced humans (played by Mackenzie Davis) that is sent back in time to protect a young girl from a new kind of Terminator threat (Gabriel Luna) that’s like a cross between a T-800 and a T-1000, and even scarier… he acts like he’s your new best friend.
With tickets now on sale for Terminator: Dark Fate here at Fandango, we sat down for an extended chat with Tim Miller about the sequel, its cast of new and returning characters, and why the final scene will almost certainly make you cry. (Also, scroll down to watch some brand new character featurettes, too.)
Fandango: The first two Terminator movies are about stopping the Connors. First, it's Sarah and then it's John. Is this one also about stopping the Connors? What can you say to that?
Tim Miller: Well, I would say that the first two movies were about stopping judgment day and the rise of the machines. And I would say that this movie is about stopping judgment day and the rise of the machines, because what you find is that at the end of T2 Sarah thought that her actions may have averted judgment day, but it didn't. And what we find in our movie is that the rise of AI is inevitable and judgment day is inevitable. She just kicked the can down the road.
Fandango: And so, what you’re saying is that responsibility has shifted away from the Connors to someone else? Is that accurate?
Tim Miller: I think this movie is about the responsibility shifting to someone else. When Sarah destroyed Cyberdyne at the end of the second movie, that changed the future. The change rolled forward through time and overrode what was there before and wrote a new future. It just so happens that that future is similar, and perhaps even darker than the one that had been there before she did that.
So, we're seeing the change of that, but it doesn't really make sense as far as any time travel stuff makes sense, but if you change something in the future, it's going to have a different result. New heroes would rise, new challenges would rise, and that future would be different from the one that had existed before. There's only one future.
Fandango: Fans of the series are excited to see it returning to its R-rated roots. Was that built in from the very beginning, or did you have to fight to make sure it was R-rated?
Tim Miller: Well, the decisions are always about economics, and I don't think I'm divulging any secrets when I say it was undecided, when we started, exactly how that was going to be handled. On the filmmaker's side of the equation, we all wanted R because that's the DNA of Terminator and the best version of the movie is an R-rated movie. But there's also the economic equation of you can certainly bisect the audience a bit by doing that. So how do you do it? And we hadn't come to a decision by the time we started shooting, so I covered myself.
I got language that would only belong in an R-rated film and I covered the action in such a way that we could go R-rated when the time came. And it came early enough that that decision was made that I could still switch to that sort of slightly different path. And much of that is how you handle the VFX anyway. If you have a guy with blade hands and he stabbed somebody, you can do that in PG-13 or R. Really, the difference is whether [the blade] comes out the back. And does it have a spurt of blood with it that differentiates R from PG-13? And lots of other little things, too, but the language was a big issue because you can't stop Linda Hamilton from saying, "Hey, motherf**ker." She likes to cuss.
Fandango: Speaking of Linda, what was said to her to convince her to return all of these years later? Was there something specific that really sold her?
Tim Miller: I think if you knew Linda, you would see that she's not a woman who can be convinced of anything. I think that she believed that it was the right time to come back for a lot of reasons. I think Jim coming back was one of them. I think she liked the initial story that we pitched to her about what it would be.
But I think, really, the biggest thing is she thought it would be interesting to see what had happened to her character in the intervening years when she took this big step at the end of the second movie. How did that play out, and did that play out in an interesting way for her character? She's not a person who wants it to be an easy ride. She didn't want Sarah to walk an easy path. She likes it to be dark and interesting.
Fandango: The film is billed as "finishing Sarah Connor's story." What do you feel still needs to be resolved when it comes to that Sarah Connor character, post Terminator 2? What are some of the things that we're looking to complete when it comes to her journey?
Tim Miller: I always looked at it as examining the consequences of the choices she makes. And this movie has a time travel aspect, of course, but all of us kind of faced the same problem where you make decisions in your life that will have big consequences in the future based on the path you pick and the decisions you make, and sometimes you have to make those decisions without a complete understanding of the implications of those decisions. And it's something, I think, that everybody can relate to, and often, as I'm sure we've all experienced, sometimes those decisions don't work out well. So I think that this movie was about Sarah examining the implications of those decisions.
And it's almost like Jim set it up for a sequel, even though you didn't feel like you were waiting for a sequel at the end of Terminator 2. When Sarah says, "I don't know what the future holds, but for the first time I've faced it with hope." Turns out she was wrong. But it does feel like there needs to be a further explanation of it because she said, "I did some shit here and I don't know what happens next." That’s where we come in and say, "Well, this is what happens next."
Fandango: You also have Eddie Furlong returning as John Connor. What did he think when you went to him and pitched him on coming back?
Tim Miller: I think Eddie's role is an interesting one and I can't really talk about it.
Fandango: Okay, but he’s in the film, though, right?
Tim Miller: Yeah. Eddie is in it. Yes.
Fandango: We'll leave it at that. Arnold is, of course, back. In the first film, he's the villain; the second film, he's a hero. How would you describe his character in this film?
Tim Miller: I think that he fulfills both of those roles in this film. Depending on what point you come into the movie, he could be both, which is why I think it's really interesting. And people love Arnold so much that they're just so happy when he shows up, hero or villain. They just love seeing him on the screen, which was quite shocking for us because you construct scenes a certain way and you think, in your secret little arrogant filmmaker heart, that you're manipulating the audience to feel one way or another. But sometimes the audience has their own agenda and with Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's almost always, "Holy f**k, that's Arnold. Yay!" It's kind of crazy.
Some additional context on Arnold's role in the film: The actor returns as T-800, but he is not the same Terminator from T1 & T2 – he is a completely different Terminator with a completely different past that will be explored in the film.
Fandango: T2 has some big leaps in technology. What's the big technological leap that were able to do with this one? How does this film push tech forward, or does it?
Tim Miller: It's hard to say that we broke any new ground when you compare it to films like Avengers: Endgame or Infinity War, or all the great things that you might find in a blockbuster these days. But I'll just say that I know that the roots of Terminator are in cutting VFX, but also very practical, and I tried to adhere to that ethos.
We have a lot of practical effects where we're on location with real shit, doing real things with the actors in real locations and with shit [being] blown up around them. But I'm not afraid of digital technology, and we have quite a lot of that because I knew that the action had to be big and we didn't hold back on that, and that requires some understanding and comfort with VFX on a larger scale to tell a bigger story. I think, unlike the first two movies, which are fantastic action films, the scale of this action is a bit bigger than those two.
Fandango: Mackenzie Davis is a hybrid cyborg human in this film. What can you say about her character and this new enhanced-human aspect of the Terminator mythology?
Tim Miller: Well, there's always this trinity in Jim's Terminator movies, where there's the prey, the protector and the hunter. So if you're going to fulfill that trinity, Kyle Reese was the protector in the first Terminator film and Sarah and the T-800 kind of fulfilled that role in the second one.
We knew we wanted that same thing to be true in ours. We wanted someone to come back from the future to tell us what it was like and what had happened there and to come back to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) from the threat that is coming from the future. And so, we pitched a lot of different things, but Grace was this character that was pitched and it's like 'what if, in the future, they used stolen Legion technology to enhance these humans to be machine fighters, and they're sort of the frontline troops and they can stand against Legion?' Not for long, but long enough to let other people escape. They're sort of the shock troops, or I like to think of them as the forlorn hope because they die early and quickly. They're strong and fast and vicious, but nobody can stand against the forces of Legion for long, just hopefully long enough to save everybody else.
Grace comes from this sort of ethos of self-sacrifice, and she, over the course of the film — you realize who she is and why she undertook this mission and what she means to Dani, and I think it’s pretty amazing. These new Terminators are fast and strong and lethal, but the augments are faster still. They're combat trained, but they're very fast. They're durable but not invincible. And with the right weapons in the future, they could hold their own against Terminators quite well, at least for a short time. But here in the past, she doesn't have any of that future weaponry — so, really, all she has is her wits and her hands. But she's still formidable, and that's what you see. And Mackenzie Davis just f**king killed it. She's just fantastic.
Fandango: Speaking of that Terminator played by Gabriel Luna, we see that he can split into two Terminators, which is new. What else can he do?
Tim Miller: Well, I think that you can see now where artificial intelligence is heading and its primary goal, at least in the short term, is to be more and more human. So, the idea of an advanced AI that wasn't at least capable of pretending to be human quite effectively just didn't seem plausible to me.
The first thing you'll notice is that Gabe is not some cold machine that has a limited personality like Arnold was. He is a fully featured character. He's more human than human, and if it's easier to charm his way past an obstacle versus kill it, stab it or break it down, he'll do that. And he has that ability. And then the second thing is, you want a Terminator who is lethal and capable, but not so lethal that our heroes don't stand a chance to fight against him.
You want to have some limits and you don't want him to have plasma weapons, or ones that explode like a nuclear bomb, which would mean the movie will be over quickly. So, we came up with this, basically, the best of the T-800 Terminators with the solid endoskeleton and the best of the T-1000 Terminators, which is liquid metal skin, and kind of combined it in one which gives you a f**k-ton of opportunities for new action, but also gives them a bunch of new capabilities in terms of hunting. It's much easier to divide and conquer in a lot of instances, and we kind of do that in many of the action scenes just to showcase just how effective he can be by splitting. He's stronger together, but there's certain strategic value to being able to split and fight separately. And they each have their own little personalities, too.
Fandango: Oh, that's neat. Of course, I have to ask whether audiences should stay through the credits for this film?
Tim Miller: I love it, but I think it’s a uniquely Marvel thing. So, no.
Fandango: I’ve also heard rumors about this film being a badass action movie, but also very emotional. Would you agree that there may be some tears shed?
Tim Miller: Oh, I think it's hugely emotional, and I'm not making this up when I tell you I just watched the ending again this morning because I was showing someone, and I cried. I still cry almost every time. It's really powerful at the end and I think it's a testament to the story, but also what the actors brought to it.
All of them are fantastic. We don't have any bad performances. These actors really brought it, and it shows on screen, and you have a lot of compassion and you believe, and you care about them when the shit starts blowing up because, otherwise, what's the f**king point, really?
Fandango: Lastly, you've said that there's enough story in this film for two films. James Cameron has said that this could begin another trilogy. Does Dark Fate open up a whole new wealth of storylines, even though it is sort of concluding some existing storylines?
Tim Miller: I think so. If you look at Terminator 2 from a slightly different angle, it opened up a lot of storylines because Sarah says, "I don't know what happens next." I think its hubris to say that we were trying to establish a new trilogy and that's what we set out to do. But on the other hand, you certainly don't want to get caught flat-footed if the movie is successful, and you want to have some idea of where the story could go. And we certainly do open a lot of doors, but I don't feel like the movie ends in an unsatisfactory way, unless you thought Terminator 2 ended in an unsatisfactory way.
In addition to the above interview, we have a brand new official synopsis to share for the film, too. Check it out below.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE – Official Synopsis
More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother (Diego Boneta) and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator – a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani's survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from Sarah’s past that may be their last best hope.