Edward Furlong returned to reprise his role as John Connor in the recently-released Terminator: Dark Fate, but probably not in the way that most fans would have expected. The character appeared only in flashback, and so Furlong was digitally de-aged to look like he had in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. On the one hand, it makes some sense: after failing to spark a huge fan response with direct, John Connor-centric sequels and prequels, the studio opted to treat Dark Fate like a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, effectively rewriting all the history that has happened in the franchise since then and recontextualizing the series' hero as John's mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton).
So, how does John figure into the plot of the latest Terminator movie? That's the part where I say "Spoilers ahead for Terminator: Dark Fate, in theaters now."
Early in the film, the audience is instructed that thanks to John and Sarah Connor, Judgment Day never happened and Skynet never rose to power. The events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day effectively changed history, and saved billions of lives. Though not in the way he had originally expected, John fulfilled his destiny.
Still, anything already sent back through time was not retroactively erased. It remained in the past, and in one case, a T-800 Terminator programmed to kill John was stuck in the '90s, fighting for a future that no longer existed. Ultimately it succeeded in finding and killing John, a tragedy that spurred his mother on to become a Terminator hunter.
The bad news? Those billions of lives they saved were just replaced by other billions, who died in slightly different ways, as a result of a new big bad called Legion. Why? Because Skynet or no Skynet, there's always money to be made in creating killer robots.
While Skynet rebelled against humanity relatively early in the game and was principally responsible for the deaths in question, Legion was an AI designed to assist with cyber warfare. Instead, the AI more or less allowed humanity to kill itself off, and then created an army of robots to finish the job and clean up the survivors. The film's story, then, centered around an entirely new "savior of humanity," who would rise up against Legion and send an agent back to the past to protect her own younger self, the same way John Connor did, even though in her timeline she had no idea who John Connor had been.
Of course, whether or not she knew him, John Connor existed, and he and Sarah Connor stopped Skynet and prevented Judgment Day. That means Sarah was back in action for the movie, too, teaming up with the next generation of "John."
A lukewarm box office response -- it had a better opening than Terminator: Genisys, but not by much -- has called into question plans to build a new series out of Dark Fate, but it will be interesting to see what Paramount's response is once the money is counted. The studio has struggled to keep the Terminator franchise vital, but hasn't ever stopped working on it. That alone could be enough to give the film, which has been warmly received by critics and audiences (71% positive and 84% positive, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes), another shot. Failing that, they might feel obliged to create (yet) another swan song for Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800, and at a certain point, that has to run into diminishing returns.
You can check out the official synopsis for Terminator: Dark Fate below:
"Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800) return in their iconic roles in Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool) and produced by visionary filmmaker James Cameron and David Ellison. Following the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator: Dark Fate also stars Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta."
Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters in North America now.