The Terminator (1984) vs Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) vs Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) vs Terminator Salvation (2009)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
TERMINATOR RT Critics Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)
TERMINATOR 2 RT Critics Rating: 9.8/10
TERMINATOR 3 RT Critics Rating: 7.1/10
TERMINATOR SALVATION RT Critics Rating: 3.3/10

TERMINATOR Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10
TERMINATOR 2 Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)
TERMINATOR 3 Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10
TERMINATOR SALVATION Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 6/10

THE TERMINATOR (1984) - James Cameron
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) - James Cameron
TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003) - Jonathan Mostow

"In the Year of Darkness, 2029, the rulers of this planet devised the ultimate plan. They would reshape the Future by changing the Past. The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created 'THE TERMINATOR'"

The Terminator universe revolves around the "war against the machines." The computer which controlled the machines, Skynet, sends a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), mother of John Connor, the leader of the human resistance, to prevent him from existing. In response, the human resistance sends a human warrior, Kyle Reese (Michael Beihn), to 1984 to protect Sarah.

The film as a whole keeps the audience guessing as to how the Terminator can ever be stopped. Bullets can't stop it, fire can't burn it. Bearing a film noir style, The Terminator unites terrific cinematography and great pacing to its action sequences. Its plot is as simple as it can get, able to raise the stakes as high as possible as it progresses. Despite the film bearing the tone of a horror film for its dread, The Terminatorwas a tad too dark as in lighting, as if a dark shadow is cast over the entire setting.

Schwarzenegger is the perfect assassin, his face as straight as a statue, a stone cold killer with no feelings whatsoever. With his classic line, "I'll be back," and a spectacular design, the Terminator is one of the most iconic villains in cinema. The Terminator bears a similar quality to real human muscle and skin, an organic flesh-covering an endoskeleton. From the words of Kyle Reese, the Terminator is, "an infiltration unit, part man-part machine. Underneath it is a hyperalloy combat chassis, microprocessor controlled, fully armored, very tough. But outside it's living human tissue. Flesh, skin, hair, blood, grown for the cyborgs." What remains underneath is the actual machine, described by Cameron as, "a chrome skeleton, like death rendered in steel." The way the endoskeleton moves may look fake today, but it holds a form of realism, stiff and robotic like it should be. In a way, this makes the Terminator appear even more terrifying in its endoskeleton form. With its classic red eyes, the cyborg displays nothing but death through its face.

Even though its main central character is the robotic killer, the film is more of a showcase for Michael Beihn and Linda Hamilton's talents, most notably Michael Beihn, who holds a strong contrast with the Terminator. The Terminator will stop at nothing to destroy Sarah Connor, while Kyle Reese will stop at nothing to protect her. However, here we can see the determination and hard-headed emotions that Beihn puts through, a proving sign that he is the most human character, the antithesis of the antagonist. Linda Hamilton plays a great Sarah Connor, portraying the average innocent woman who lives her life doing her job and easing her way onwards. She is a standard ordinary character who suddenly finds herself trapped in an extraordinary conflict. We can feel her confusion as well as fear, although at some times the performance is a bit contrived. Soon enough, the chemistry of the two human characters assist the narrative's pacing.

In the end when Sarah Connor crushes the Terminator with a hydraulic press, the feeling of tranquility finally comes back, similar to Ellen Ripley blowing the Alien into space. The terror is over. However, since it reached for Sarah's face, The Terminator's arm remained intact. In the next film, the CPU and arm had been recovered by Cyberdyne Systems, the defense firm responsible for creating Skynet.

Due to the success of the first film, James Cameron moved on to direct one of the greatest sequels of all time: Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This time, the film follows Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and her ten-year old son John (Edward Furlong) as they are pursued by a new, more advanced Terminator, the liquid metal shapeshifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick), sent back in time again, this time to kill John himself to stop him from becoming the leader of the human resistance. In response, the human resistance this time sends back a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect John. This time, it is terminator versus terminator.

The T-1000 is the crux of Judgment Day both as a visual effect eye candy and as an actual villain. Judgment Day won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects and is known to this day as one of the milestones of visual effects, alongside Spielberg's Jurassic Park. The film introduced the breakthrough technology of applying visual effects onto the body of an actor. Plot-wise, the T-1000's design uses this breakthrough completely. Its feet bonds with the ground and its arms shape-shift into metal knives. Simply put, the T-1000 is a far superior design over Schwarzenegger's. However, what is much more ironic here is that Schwarzenegger is now a hero rather than a villain. Despite the size ratio between Patrick and Schwarzenegger, Patrick's physique being much smaller, it is a clever device to intrigue the audience as to what the T-1000 has to offer. Even though the physical body of Schwarzenegger is superior, the terminator design of Patrick's is superior, a complete reversal of their appearances. In addition, the T-1000 from the very beginning takes the shape of a police officer, exhibiting signs of authority and dominance.

Judgment Day, surprisingly, is a far superior movie than its predecessor. What makes the movie triumph here is the character chemistry among Schwarzenegger, Furlong, and Hamilton. Sarah Connor's personality becomes clear and fully fleshed out in this film. What we saw before was just one side of her scope. Now, we fully understand her as a character. This is a stage where the characters we followed and loved move on and progress, also in a way "mature." That is the greatest necessity of a sequel, taking the familiar elements from before and bringing it up a notch. Schwarzenegger's Terminator, this time, begins as the usual robotic entry. However, after encountering John Connor, it starts to grow a sense of humanity, learning catch phrases and slang that humans use in their daily lives. Progressively, this chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Furlong becomes similar to father and son, a symbolic representation of Kyle Reese and John Connor in which John never saw his father before. John Connor grew up living his life in the "ghetto," playing video games all day, worry-free, and hacking through security accounts. He grew up without a father, and Schwarzenegger's character slowly becomes his first and only father.

The first Terminator needed to be simple and straightforward, but this offers the sequel much more room to take what was seen before and enhance it to another stage. James Cameron surprisingly has already done this with Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien. Here in Judgment Day, Cameron is just as successful. In fact, in this critic's opinion, Judgment Day and Aliens are the two greatest movie sequels ever made.

Twelve years later, director Jonathan Mostow came along to deliver the third Terminator film, Rise of the Machines. First off, making a film after Judgment Day is extremely difficult and, dare I say, trivial. Unfortunately, the plot for Rise of the Machines is very familiar once again. John Connor (Nick Stahl) is now in his twenties, living in isolation. Unable to track Connor, Skynet sends another Terminator back in time to kill his future lieutenants as well as his future wife, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). The antagonist Terminator this time is known as the T-X (Kristanna Loken), a composite of the T-800 and T-1000, solid endoskeleton covered with liquid metal, designed to control other machines. In addition to terminating human targets, the T-X is also designed to terminator rogue Terminators reprogrammed by the Resistance, an "anti-terminator Terminator." Again, the Resistance sends a reprogrammed T-850 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to protect the T-X's targets, mostly John and Kate.

The first illogical element for Rise of the Machines is that in Judgment Day, the characters have already prevented Judgment Day from ever happening by destroying Cyberdyne Systems. How come Judgment Day still exists? Of course, Judgment Day was not stopped, but rather postponed. Judgment Day is inevitable. Now it makes perfect sense.

The true originality of Rise of the Machines is watching the transitional stage of Skynet becoming self-aware. The film nicely displays the element of panic and havoc as the machines slowly become rogue. Unfortunately, this plot-line is not the crux of the film in its entirety. The main narrative still follows the original idea of a Terminator sent back to kill the human. This is the main problem with Rise of the Machines, the originality is barely there. However, if leaned away from, the film still delivers entertaining explosions, chases, and fight scenes, not to mention more visual effects.

The T-X, despite its design being the most advanced of all Terminators, lacks true intimidation here. The only fear factor to the villain here is that the T-X is the only villain in the film. We are convinced to be afraid of the T-X simply because it is out to get the main character. That is it. The disguising factor and the ambiguous anxiety that the T-1000 had in the previous film is much more powerful. It was more than just a villain, but rather a fully designed killing machine. Judgment Day follows the T-1000's thinking patterns and movements a lot more, making it a more important factor to the overall piece. Here in Rise of the Machines, the T-X was only seen fighting Schwarzenegger and chasing the human targets.

Nick Stahl plays a mediocre John Connor. If Edward Furlong came back, the film would have been much better. The script in Rise of the Machines stressed on the action too much, and leaned away from characterization. Again, Judgment Day handled this aspect perfectly. Here, the chemistry among the three protagonists is not only weaker, but also less interesting. The entire characterization progression bears the "Been there, done that" tone, something that a good sequel should not have.

In conclusion, Rise of the Machines on its own is a very entertaining popcorn movie, but when compared to its predecessors, it is a shameful and cliche disgrace, suffering from formula and a script less paid attention to.

Six years later, McG decided to continue the storyline of Rise of the Machines and present the conflict of the war against the machines, the battle after Judgment Day. Unlike the previous installments, which used time traveling as a key plot element, Terminator Salvation, the fourth film, is set in 2018. Christian Bale portrays adult John Connor, now only a Resistance fighter, while the film introduces Sam Worthington as a cyborg named Marcus Wright. In addition, Terminator Salvation features a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) as well as the origin of the T-800 Terminator.

At its conceptual stage, Salvation has a greater advantage of being a decent sequel over Rise of the Machines. With new originality and a new setting to follow, Salvation is an attempt to revive the franchise. Did it? Yes, and no.

The setting of the film is brilliant, bearing similar set designs as World War II films. The building wreckages and the element of life missing are all present here. Many of the settings were actually hand-built. The overall color is grey, making the atmosphere dull and depressing, an excellent method to immerse the audience into the world that remained after Judgment Day. The visual effects are impressive as usual, and the machines themselves have not only intriguing designs, but also an exquisite texture on them, making them appear more realistic.

The biggest problem with Terminator Salvation is the characterization. It appears in this film that John Connor is not the protagonist, but rather the cyborg Marcus Wright. Instead of following Connor's experience in battling machines, we are forced to follow a brand-new character who was never fully fleshed out before. This film was not an attempt to make an improvement over its predecessors, but rather a showcase for Sam Worthington's talent, which in this film is good but not great. As a consequence, John Connor's character suddenly becomes lost and loses its value. We somehow no longer care for him. In addition, Bale butchered Connor with his "Batman voice," making his own character just as robotic as the machines themselves. Despite the visual effects that Salvation presented a lot of, the film did not just lack characterization, but it barely had any. Surprisingly, this flaw in Salvation was worse than the previous, like pouring oil onto an open fire.

All in all, Terminator Salvation still bears its entertaining factor and the art direction is much stronger here than any of its predecessors, but its script and characterization is just as frail as it was before in Rise of the Machines.

In the course of 25 years, four Terminator films have been made. Boiling down to the crux of this review, the answer to the question over which movie is better is Judgment Day. In easy words, Terminator was good,Judgment Day was excellent, Rise of the Machines was decent but disappointing, and Salvation was pure noisy entertainment. It all comes back down to the story, the characters, and the script. The only films in this franchise that are highly recommended are the first and the second. They both complete the character arcs fluently, a nice Part 1 and Part 2 combination, similar to Alien and Aliens. If looked at the movie industry point of view, Rise of the Machines and Salvation were just made for money. However, this does not make the third and fourth film completely worthless. They still have their own value when observed on their own. But if compared to the two films by James Cameron, they have no foundation to stand on and nothing to compete with. In this critic's opinion, the greatest thing that can happen now to the Terminator franchise is bringing back James Cameron to direct a fifth entry. Hopefully, the franchise will "be back."

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