In 2003, Doctor Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces death-row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) to sign over his body for medical research following his execution, but not long after, Skynet is activated and starts a nuclear holocaust to eradicate the troublesome human race. In 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale) attacks Skynet base, where he discovers prisoners being used to create a new type of Terminator, the T-800. Marcus emerges from the base after its explosion and walks toward Los Angeles.

John returns to the Resistance base aboard a nuclear submarine and is briefed by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside, of course), who tells him they may have a way to shut down Skynet’s machines. They decide to launch an attack in San Francisco in four days because they have discovered a kill-list to be implemented about then. John is second on the list after Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).

In the ruins of Los Angeles, Marcus finds Kyle and a mute child named Star (Jadagrace Berry) during a skirmish with the machines. Kyle and Star are abducted by Skynet. With Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), a pilot shot down from an A-10 plane, he makes his way to John’s base, where Marcus is wounded by a land-mine. He is discovered to be a cyborg, but insists he is human. John and his wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) think he is trying to kill them, but Blair helps him escape, during which he saves John’s life. John agrees to let him live if he will help him rescue Kyle and the other prisoners.

General Ashdown will not delay the offensive to allow for this and relieves John of his command. But the Resistance follows John. Marcus enters the base, connects with the computer, and disables the defenses. He learns from Skynet that he was created to lure John to the base, which he is doing. Meanwhile, Skynet is destroying the Resistance submarine.

Marcus tears out the hardware linking him to Skynet and goes to help John. He helps Kyle and Star to escape by attacking a T-800 while John rigs a bomb. Marcus is losing the battle when John comes to his aid and is stabbed. Marcus tears off the T-800’s head and they are all airlifted out. The Skynet base is destroyed in the explosion, including the T-800s. Marcus offers his heart to transplant into John.

The movie was directed by McG. It is both a sequel to Terminator 3 and a prequel to the original Terminator film of 1984. It follows scenes set up in the Sarah Connor Chronicles episodes. It is of course, supposed to be the first of a trilogy, but the Halcyon Company filed for bankruptcy and the other films were cancelled.

Christian Bale was in talks about the film while he was doing The Dark Knight. Worthington was recommended by James Cameron, having worked with him on Avatar. He did his own stunts despite injuries. Daniel Day-Lewis and Josh Brolin passed on the role of Marcus. Tilda Swinton was considered for Helena Bonham Carter’s role of Doctor Kogan. The T-800 villain was played by Roland Kickinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s double, with Arnie’s CGI face. He was busy being Governor of California at the time. Linda Hamilton’s voice appeared on tapes of Sarah Connor, dead of cancer.

Director McG thought of Mad Max 2, Children of Men, and The Road as models of the post-apocalyptic world. Industrial Light and Magic did the effects, and this was the last film of Stan Winston, who died as it was being filmed. It was dedicated to him. Unable to get Hans Zimmer, they hired Danny Elfman for the music. Reviews were not great. Bale was criticized for losing his temper on the set and there were lawsuits by sundry groups. A car-crash killed four members of Helena Bonham Carter’s family and filming was halted for a time. Kyle Reese eats a post-apocalyptic Twinkie. The movie was released on the 25th anniversary of the original Terminator.