In the kickoff panel for Terminator: Dark Fate at San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H Thursday, James Cameron, the writer-director of the first two Terminator movies and producer of Dark Fate, beamed in via livestream. While everyone else was in sunny Southern California, he was on a set somewhere filming Avatar 2 through 4, but he took time out to explain how he personally persuaded Linda Hamilton — whom he divorced in 1999 — to return to her iconic character, Sarah Connor.
“We kept circling back,” Cameron said. “Do we want to bring Sarah back? There’s no Sarah without Linda. How do we talk Linda into being in this movie? I sent her a long, rambling email with a lot of reasons why she should do the movie but also a lot of reasons she shouldn’t. We won the Super Bowl twice. Why do we want to go back? But I said, ‘People love you as this character. The fans want to know what she’s like now. What’s she been doing in the meantime? Is she still fighting the machines? What’s her mind state?’ And we built the story around that.”
In Dark Fate, we discover Hamilton’s character has never stopped hunting Terminators. And that after blowing up Cyberdine Systems in a bid to rid the future of genocidal robots — and failing — in T2, the mom of humanity’s savior John Connor (Edward Furlong, who Cameron says also appears in Dark Fate) has become something of a deadly killing machine herself. In an extended clip from the film shown to the appreciative Comic-Con crowd, she is shown taking on the added responsibility of protecting a mysterious teenage character named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), with an arsenal of heavy artillery and bazookas. After blasting a Terminator off a bridge, she drops a hand grenade on it and tells Dani — who is being protected by a Terminator-esque cyborg named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) — “I’ll be back.”
“Who is that?” Dani says.
“I don’t know!” is Grace’s incredulous reply.
Also in the clip, we see Terminator 7.0’s heightened ability to morph and self-replicate, as well as his gargantuan vertical leap and lightning speed. In the sequence, the Terminator (played by Gabriel Luna) chases a janky pickup truck down a desert road while Grace hurls pieces of rebar like javelins at his 18-wheeler. One sticks in the robot’s chest. But rather than kill or slow the machine, his body turns into a tar-like substance that oozes out onto his truck’s hood. Suddenly he is two distinct Terminators: one appearing as the scary metallic shell seen in previous franchise installments, while the other is quickly reconstituted into human form.
In another scene from the sizzle reel, Sarah’s world-weary bitterness becomes apparent. “In August 1991, my son and I changed the future, we saved 3 billion lives. You’re welcome,” the character grimly intones. “Since then, I hunt Terminators. Is that résumé enough for you?” Asked why she wants to protect Dani from the Terminator — who apparently perceives the teenage girl as an existential threat to robots à la Edward Furlong’s John Connor in T2 — she doesn’t mince words. “Why does it matter?” Sarah says. “I was her and it sucked. When I was her age, a Terminator was sent to kill me.”
Later they travel to a secluded cabin where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s retired Terminator character is holed up — and discover that he calls himself “Carl” now. “I’m never going to call you that,” Sarah tells him. Adding: “When this is all over, I’m going to kill you.”
“I understand,” Carl says.
During the panel discussion, Schwarzenegger was asked why he came back to the franchise. “I’m addicted to Terminator,” he said. “It’s the movie that launched my career. From that moment on, everything changed in my life.” He added: “I feel very indebted to Jim. I’m so happy he’s part of this one, that he brought everyone together, that Linda came back.”
Hamilton, who has acted sporadically since her last appearance in Terminator 2, was asked the same question. “I really gave it careful consideration. I felt the first two were very intact. You want to retire a champion,” she said. “The hard work I did was an exploration of a woman who is an outsider, whose life hasn’t worked well, who has lost so much. To explore her interior landscape was to explore my deepest places of loss.”