Here’s What You Need to Know About Terminator Before You See Dark Fate

Mackenzie Davis, the future soldier of our dreams. Photo: Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

In the decades since James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day premiered, the man behind the machines has been sitting back, watching as a trio of lackluster sequels failed to capture the imagination of audiences in the way the originals did. Salvation is probably best remembered for the leaked audio of Christian Bale yelling at someone on set, and if you’ve spent any time thinking about Genisys, it was likely to ponder that criminal use of a “y” in the word Genisys. But this weekend, the sixth Terminator arrives — naked and in a ball of electricity — to remind us all that this franchise is still kicking.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, Mackenzie Davis stars as a future soldier sent back in time to protect another key to humanity’s future rebel alliance against the machines. Her name is Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who eventually gets an explosive introduction to Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, and together, the three must fight to save everyone from obliteration by robots in the future. It all sounds a little familiar, but I assure you this sequel isn’t like the others. Dark Fate is actually a T2 follow-up, meaning it intends to wipe all the pieces off the board that have been placed since (and during) Rise of the Machines. What does that mean for Terminator continuity? Conveniently, that you can forget most of it! But just in case you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Here’s what you need to know about the Terminator franchise ahead of the sixth installment, Dark Fate:

So, how is James Cameron involved with this movie?
The franchise creator is returning to Terminator lore after nearly 30 years of no involvement; again, he didn’t have anything to do with the sequels that came after Judgment Day. But when the head of Skydance Media, David Ellison, pitched a 2019 revival that would retcon all the films that went on without Cameron, the filmmaker agreed to start breaking a new story alongside director Tim Miller and Ellison. Early on, they also decided they wanted Sarah Connor back, but only if Hamilton agreed to reprise the role. To help persuade her, Cameron (also a producer on the movie) wrote a “long, rambling” email begging for her participation. And it worked.

Tim Miller directed Dark Fate? Isn’t that the Deadpool guy?
It sure is!

Edward Furlong is back in this movie, too, so what does that mean for John Connor?
Do you want to watch the movie, or do you want the whole thing just spelled out for you ahead of time? You’ll see!

What do I need to know about John Connor?
That he is the son of Sarah Connor, and that historically he is the leader of the human Resistance fighting back against the machines. This is why Sarah has to keep running from and killing Terminators that get sent back in time to wipe out their opposition before it even starts: John is why Sarah is in the fight, but Sarah is why John lives to fight another day!

What do I need to know about Sarah Connor?
Pretty much the same answer as the John Connor question, but we’ll just add that: She’s been through absolute hell. Existing as one of the only people on Earth who knows about and is trying to prevent the apocalypse is a stressful way of living.

What do I need to know about Arnold’s Terminator?
Just that he tried to kill Sarah in the first movie, but he was defeated, and then the same model was sent back from the future to be John’s protector in the second Terminator film. T2 Arnold was melted to death in the end, and we’ll leave his new role up for your discovery in Dark Fate. You can just ignore whatever he did in the third and fifth movies.

Can you explain how time travel works in this universe?
We cannot and we will not. Just accept the energy bubbles and the nakedness. That’s the way it is.

Is this movie kinda gay? The trailers make it seem kinda gay.
It’s not really a sexual movie, unless the dramatic height difference between Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton does it for you, which it might! But Dark Fate is very butch, and that’s one of the absolute best things about it. File Davis swinging a sledgehammer under Scenes That Elicit “Step on My Neck” Levels of Thirst.

Is it as good as T1 and T2?
This is the worst way to think about Dark Fate, and as such I don’t even want to entertain the question.

What do I need to know about Skynet?
You need to know that it exists, but you don’t need to get in the weeds of the mythology. But here are the broad strokes anyway: Skynet is an artificially intelligent computer system that became the world’s first Automated Defense Network. As Skynet learned, it decided that humans were a threat to its existence (fair enough), and when it achieved self-awareness (i.e., reached the singularity) at 2:14 a.m. EST on August 29, 1997, system operators at its parent company, Cyberdyne, tried to shut it down. In self-defense, Skynet started a nuclear war, and since it could control everything with a Cyberdyne CPU — in other words, everything made by the world’s largest supplier of military computer systems — humanity was pretty well fucked. After Judgment Day, Skynet eventually started making Terminator robots to wipe out what remained of humanity. That is more information than you need to know, but if you’ve missed all the other Terminator movies and want to know the scope of the future devastation that Sarah Connor and company are fighting to stop, that’s the overview.

How similar is it to Terminator 2: Judgment Day?
I mean, how different are hero’s journeys in most huge-budget studio action films? This feels like a bad-faith question. Are you one of those people who is going to watch every minute of Dark Fate grading it against how a canonical action movie made you feel when you first watched it at a formative age? Does the existence of Halloween render all other slasher films poor knockoffs, or did a really good movie create a template for other filmmakers to build off of and succeed within a previously established structural framework?

Do I need to know anything about legacy characters like Kyle Reese or Miles Dyson?
Only if you like extra backstory. Kyle is John’s dad and Miles Dyson is hugely responsible for building Skynet. But that’s more for trivia. It won’t really factor into Dark Fate.

How many Terminators are there this time?
Technically there are two but functionally there are three. The new model from the future, the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), has a matte-black endoskeleton that looks similar to the classic T-800 (a.k.a. Cyberdyne Systems Model 101), but it has a liquid-metal skin like the T-1000 from Judgment Day. The two elements can separate and fight autonomously, which is rude. And then there’s Arnold, too.  

So, Mackenzie Davis’s character isn’t a Terminator?
She’s an enhanced human, and she’ll tell you what that means.

Do I need to know what happened in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, or Terminator: Genisys?
No. Dark Fate picks up after the events of Judgment Day’s timeline. But Kristanna Loken was a good Terminator in T3.

What about that show? Do I need to know anything about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles?
Only that it was a great show canceled too soon, and that Lena Headey was an excellent heiress to the Sarah Connor legacy.

If I don’t like Dark Fate does that make me anti-women?
That would be a sweeping generalization about the subjective experience of cinema. But obviously yes it does, and you should be ready to reckon with your internalized misogyny. Just kidding. Or am I? Have fun!

What Do I Need to Know About Terminators to See Dark Fate?