Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Terminator: Dark Fate.
Terminator: Dark Fate reveals that the machines can never win in their war against humanity. James Cameron is attempting to relaunch the Terminator franchise, and hopes that Terminator: Dark Fate will be the beginning of a new trilogy. Unfortunately, that looks unlikely given the film's box office performance; Terminator: Dark Fate is currently on track to lose $120 million.
While Terminator: Dark Fate is arguably the best in the franchise since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it may well be simply too late. The last few sequels have been of diminishing quality, and as a result viewers just aren't interested in the time traveling robots anymore. Meanwhile, hardcore fans appear to be frustrated by a high-profile twist in the opening scenes, in which John Connor - the Messiah figure who was so central to the franchise - is killed off at speed.
The John Connor twist has been viewed as extremely controversial, but frankly that's a shame. While it's true this is an obvious plot device to allow the franchise to be passed on to new, diverse stars, it also carries some pretty exciting implications.
John Connor Isn't The Savior Of Mankind Anymore
Until Terminator: Dark Fate, the entire franchise had really been all about John Connor. Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor was first targeted by the Terminators because she was destined to give birth to the future resistance leader, a Messiah figure who would lead the last survivors of the human race in their war against the machines. Ironically, it turned out that John was conceived because Sarah slept with the very resistance agent who traveled back in time to protect her; Skynet had unwittingly created a time loop. Sarah devoted her life to giving John Connor the skills and abilities he'd need to take on the machines, until the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day led her to believe the timeline had been changed and her son was saved.
Tragically, Terminator: Dark Fate proved that she was wrong. The film started with the successful assassination of John Connor in 1998, by one last T-800 that had presumably been sent back in time before the timeline adjusted. What's more, though Sarah didn't know it, it looks as though human society has developed to the point where it's inevitable that someone will create an aggressive artificial intelligence. A new future has formed, one in which a rogue AI is destined to be developed by an unknown military as a cybersecurity system. Codenamed "Legion," its first strike brought the world to a standstill.
Fortunately, there is a new Messiah figure: a Mexican woman named Dani Ramos. Again, the AI decides the best solution is to change the timeline, erasing the resistance leader from history. Again Sarah Connor gets involved, and after some initial confusion she realizes just how important Dani is to the future. Terminator: Dark Fate ends with the Rev-9 Terminator destroyed, and Sarah Connor resolving to become Dani's mentor.
Terminator: Dark Fate Reframes The Entire Franchise
Terminator: Dark Fate borrows a trick from J.J. Abrams' relaunch of the Star Wars franchise in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In both cases, the movies are essentially a mirror of a classic film, bringing back the original cast in order to pass on the baton to new, more diverse stars. For Terminator: Dark Fate, most attention has focused on the new figures, particularly Natalie Reyes' Dani Ramos, but also Mackenzie Davis' Grace. There's been little discussion about how the passing of the torch affects the themes of the Terminator franchise as a whole.
In thematic terms, Terminator: Dark Fate implies that the real reason that John Connor was special is because he represented human nature itself. While the future war with the machines now seems inevitable, Terminator: Dark Fate suggests that there will always be another resistance leader to pull humanity out from the ashes. John Connor may be dead, but Dani Ramos can now fill his shoes; should some future Terminator succeed in murdering Dani, then it's reasonable to assume time will change and another leader will take her place. Both Skynet and Legion have made the same mistake, assuming that all they need to do in order to triumph is erase one variable from the timeline. But they're not really fighting against John Connor and Dani Ramos; they're fighting against human nature itself, resilient and unconquerable. Though the Messiah may fall, there will always be another.
The first Terminator film ended in a bleak and foreboding fashion, predicting the potential end of the human race itself. Terminator: Dark Fate mocks its own title by suggesting that the opposite is true; that the future is redolent with hope, because it does not really depend on any one man or woman.
Dark Fate Proves The Machines Can NEVER Win
But Terminator: Dark Fate goes further than that; it subtly suggests that the machines can never win. In both timelines, the human resistance movements put up enough of a fight that the AIs were forced to try to rewrite history. This is the nuclear option, as both Legion and Skynet would realize; it could potentially go wrong, just as it did in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A sophisticated artificial intelligence would only pursue such a dangerous course of action if it felt there were no other way it could win.
And this logically means that human nature is ultimately destined to triumph. Whether the resistance is led by John Connor, Dani Ramos, or someone completely new, it will push the machines back to the point that they can conceive no way to win in their present. That's all the more remarkable in the Legion timeline, given that particular AI was a military-grade weapon and would have begun its attacks in a far more sophisticated fashion. The outcome is exactly the same; an AI so desperate that it tries to change history, failing to understand that the Messiahs it kills will always be replaced. Thus, in a strange way, Terminator: Dark Fate doesn't end with a bleak cry of defeat; rather, it closes with a shout of hope.