Even if the eyes of all posterity/That wear this world out to the ending doom/So, till the judgment that yourself arise/You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.
If this quatrain from Shakespeare's "Sonnet 55" is meant to tell us that a lover may once again live when the world ends, and that until then, he will remain alive through the words of a poem, then maybe there's not very much difference between the Bard and, um, Skynet. OK, that's a reach, right? But the Terminator movies do simultaneously take us to the edge of the end of the world and keep the tale of one John Connor front and center in our popular culture.
It all started back in 1984 (with The Terminator) when a hulking cybernetic organism was sent back from the future by Skynet, an artificial intelligence computer network that started thinking for itself and decided it needed to eradicate mankind with nuclear bombs and killer bots.
Skynet sent its muscle-bound T-800 killing machine to stop the future leader of the human resistance, John Connor, from ever being born. But Connor (of the future) got wind of the plan and sent his own guy, Kyle Reese, back to give them all a fighting chance. In the process, Reese fell in love with John's mom and fathered a child with her. You guessed it—a child named John.
How's that for an enigmatically paradoxical—and poetic—beginning?
Add in two more movies (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), a TV show (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and assorted novels, comic books and games that delve into John's adolescence and young adulthood—peppered with death threats from new and improved cyborg executioners—and we're ready to jump to Terminator Salvation.The year is 2018, a dark time just after the big bomb-dropping Judgment Day when machines roam the ravaged landscape gathering up people and tossing them into death camps. The humans left standing organize as best they can and begin battling back. And there, amidst the small groups of bunker-bound resistance fighters, is John Connor.
It is he who first realizes that Skynet is performing dastardly experiments on its human captives.
Although Skynet hasn't yet created its first T-800 (the proficient metal-and-flesh hit men that look like a certain well-known California governor) it has taken a former murderer named Marcus, remade him as half-human, half-machine and set him loose among the human populace.
While Connor is gearing up to confront this new twist, he learns that a teenage Kyle Reese has been captured by the Skynet monstrosities. And, of course, if a teen Reese goes down before an adult Reese goes back to 1984, then John Connor ceases to exist.
One-dimensionally serious and dour, John Connor is a man on a world-saving mission. He's been preparing all his life to be mankind's future hero. So when he finds out that people are being held captive by Skynet, he sets out to free them. He's not the only fearless knight in white, though. Almost all of the folks we meet are ready to fight and give of themselves for one another.
Marcus, on the other hand, is a convicted murderer from 2004, put to death (by lethal injection) for his crimes, then mechanically reanimated by Skynet in the war-torn future. He had given up on himself as a lost and corrupt soul, but as he sees the selfless sacrifice going on around him he struggles to hold on to his humanity. He asks if a person deserves a redemptive second chance. Connor says yes. And though the movie never explores spiritual answers to that question, it shows Marcus repeatedly putting his life on the line to save others.
When captured, Reese tells fellow prisoners that they must stay alive "in here (pointing to his head) and in here (pointing to heart)." The young Reese also takes on the responsibility of caring for a 9-year-old girl rendered mute by the trauma of war.
During Marcus' execution, a pastor recites Psalm 23.
As Skynet's first flesh-covered T-800 steps out of its confinement, the camera slowly travels up its naked and muscular form. (The cyborg's genitals—if it has any—are obscured by shadow and steam.) The machine then battles with Connor, camera angles avoiding explicit full frontal or rear nudity.
Marcus stumbles naked onto a battlefield, but is covered head to toe with mud.
Blair, a downed resistance pilot, wears a low-cut, formfitting T-shirt and reveals quite a bit of cleavage while examining a wound on her shoulder. Three men beat her to the ground and are about to attack her sexually ...
... when Marcus fights them off with a plank. He moves in to finish off a cowering rapist, but before he can, Blair shoots the man in the crotch.
Indeed, as is the norm with Terminator fare, there's loads of hand-to-hand combat, explosive action and high-powered destruction on display here. Several scenes depict very realistic battlefield fire between men and machines. Early on, for example, dead men are strewn across an attack area as Connor tries to fly a helicopter in pursuit of an enemy. He's shot out of the air and smashes back to the earth in a fierce crash. As he staggers out of the downed airship, he's immediately attacked by a legless metal monstrosity that claws at him and rips at his clothing.
In another drawn-out battle, Connor and Marcus fight off a huge T-800. During the body-flinging, explosive-detonating skirmish, the behemoth breaks Connor's bones and stops Marcus' heart with a punch to the chest. (Connor must shock his newfound compatriot back to life with bared electrical wires.)
Other violence consists of gunshot wounds, bloody circuitry ripped from the back of a man's head, claw-like metal fingers scraping someone's face and a metal stake jammed through a man's chest. Shots of a battle-torn upper body reveal a metallic ribcage beneath tattered flesh.
One of the more unexpected and shocking moments entails building-sized bots called Harvesters snatching people off the ground like so many kernels of popcorn and dropping them into waiting cages.
Crude or Profane Language
The s-word is spit out three times along with about a dozen other profanities ("d‑‑n," "son of a b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "a‑‑," "p‑‑‑," "h‑‑‑"). God’s name is misused a handful of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Injections are given for medical purposes and an execution.
Other Negative Elements
On death row, Marcus trades his body (to be used for scientific experimentation after he's dead) for a kiss from a dying woman. "So that's what death tastes like," he says after she complies.
A number of things have changed in the Terminator universe. For one, the forewarned doomsday future that John Connor and Co. have been struggling to avoid is now the present.
"We're telling the story of the world after Judgment Day," says director McG. "This is the story of the becoming of John Connor, the becoming of Kyle Reese, the strengthening of Skynet, and where our humanity ultimately lies. This is the moment when mankind takes a stand against the machines."
And, so, the summer blockbuster, Terminator Salvation, shifts gears. Unlike the other franchise films, the focus is no longer on hulking cybernetic bad guys (or sometimes even cybernetic good guys) getting riddled with bucketfuls of bullets while rampaging pell-mell through our cities' streets, taking out innocent civilians in graphic fashion. Those pics are, in essence, high intensity, catch-me-if-you-can, sci-fi horror films.
The new tack is much closer to a traditional war story. And that change in genre carries a whole new set of dramatic questions. It's no longer simply a matter of what you would steal, destroy or kill to survive a deadly berserker. Now, in the midst of a battlefield of swirling, mechanical killers, the human characters are asking themselves how much they're willing to give up for the sake of the guy next to them. Or what risks they'll take to cling to their humanity in the face of extreme challenges. And to the movie's credit, they all fight for the high ground. "If we behave like machines, what's the point of winning?" Connor exclaims.
There are plenty of heroes to cheer for, then, and lots of CGI-filled action to whisk viewers on to the climactic conclusion.
But I'll also add that in spite of the heroic actions and new PG-13 rating, there's still plenty here to be wary of. As with any war story, a lot of people die in explosive battles. In fact, there's nearly $200 million worth of pyrotechnic mayhem splashed up on the screen. A man walks around with huge chunks of his chest ripped away. A woman is beaten to the ground. Torsos are impaled. A heart is stopped. And the seven-foot-tall, blazing-eyed, skull-faced Terminators are the stuff of childhood nightmare.
To misappropriate the words of another famous poet, Thomas Moore, "With heart never changing, and brow never cold/Love on through all ills, and love on till they die!" In other words, some things never change, especially, it seems, when it comes to the Terminator.