Spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate follow below.
Audiences who checked out Terminator: Dark Fate this weekend were in for a bit of a shock mere minutes into the film, as it opens with a prologue that dispatches with one of the franchise’s key heroes. Indeed, the opening moments of the new movie—which is a direct sequel to Terminator 2—find Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and John Connor (Edward Furlong) relaxing on a beach directly after the events of T2, having saved the world from judgment day. The actors reprise the roles via digital technology, but the scene doesn’t last long as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 sneaks up on John and shoots him twice in the chest with a shotgun, killing him. Thus begins the aptly named Terminator: Dark Fate.
John Connor’s death is a key piece of the Dark Fate puzzle, as it sets the stage for Hamilton’s reprisal as Sarah Connor now living a life of solitude on the run, hunting Terminators for a living, full of anger and resentment and regret.
Director Tim Miller explained his decision to kill John Connor in the opening moments of the movie in an interview with THR, noting that when they were deciding who the new savior of the film should be—filling the John Connor role—they pretty quickly knew they wanted someone different:
“You’d think it [killing John off] was probably a controversial decision, but it really wasn’t. There was a lot of talk at the really early stages of should this new savior be someone who was connected to the Connors? Should it be John’s daughter or something like that? Which I was always against, because I’m just not a fan of the Chosen One sort of movie as much as I am of a hero sort of rising to meet adversity, who could be an everyman or an everywoman. I identify with those people much more than I do with Neo in The Matrix or King Arthur or something like that. So I was all for this being some new person that wasn’t connected to the Connors and had been chosen by the hand of fate.”
Indeed, comparisons to Star Wars: The Force Awakens seem rather apt at this point, as that film also introduced a new hero disconnected to the Skywalker legacy. Or so we think…
Miller continued by revealing that John Connor’s death was meant to fuel Sarah Connor’s arc for the film:
“We all knew a couple of things. One: Sarah Connor is not a happy character. She is best when she is driven and tragic and you need some rocket fuel for that. You can’t have John be a 36-year-old accountant somewhere. And really, when you think about it, he could be sort of a pathetic figure as a man who had missed his moment in history and was relegated to this banal, ordinary existence, when in fact had Sarah not chosen to destroy Cyberdyne, he would be the leader of humanity. Nobody wants to see that. Secondly, [John’s death], that’s rocket fuel for Sarah. And lastly, you need to clear the stage for these new characters. They are not going to be able to have their moment, or come into their moment, with John hanging around. There’s just no good way to do that.”
And with that, Miller and producer James Cameron and the film’s team of screenwriters set about crafting a scene in which John Connor gets shot to death in the opening scene of the movie:
“Everybody was in pretty strong agreement, and the way to start it, was really, you want to have this dramatic impact. You want to slap the audience in the face and say, ‘Wake up. This is going to be different.’ I feel like that accomplished that. I hate the violence of it. I hate the idea of a kid being shot, but the dramatic fuel that it gives the story is kind of undeniable.”
It certainly makes an impression, I’ll say that much. Although Collider’s Matt Goldberg argues that the opening scene damages the legacy of T2 by never following up on the trauma that Sarah encounters by watching her only son die.
Regardless, it was a bold move in a film that finally serves as a worthwhile sequel to the first two movies. Unfortunately, its box office bust likely means the franchise is toast for the time-being, despite Cameron and the writers crafting out a story for future sequels. RIP John Connor. Until he’s resurrected for yet another reboot in 5-7 years…