Ten years after destroying Cyberdyne Systems, John Connor (Nick Stahl) has been wandering through life after the death of his mother Sarah Connor. The war between man and machine predicted for 1997 has not happened. Skynet sends a new Terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken) to wipe out John’s future allies, including his wife-to-be Kate Brewster (Claire Danes).
The T-X locates John and Kate at an animal hospital, where Kate works. With the help of a T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back by future John to protect them, they escape. He takes them to Sarah’s mausoleum, which is filled with weapons. It seems Judgement Day was not averted, but only postponed. They need to go to Mexico, where they can survive the fallout.
Kate’s father, General Brewster (David Andrews) is supervising Skynet for Cyber Research Systems. He does not know that the virus he fears is Skynet itself. The T-X pursues our heroes relentlessly for the entire movie, using various vehicles. It wounds the General and re-programs the protective Terminator to kill John, though he manages to shut himself down.
John and Kate reach Crystal Peak, the T-X arriving soon by helicopter, and Arnie, rebooted, takes it out, destroying himself in the process, but John and Kate discover that Crystal Peak is not Skynet’s core as they were told, but a nuclear fallout shelter to keep them safe while Judgement Day continues. They are trapped inside, listening to the world’s end on the radio.
The Terminator films were owned outright by Gale Ann Herd because James Cameron sold them to her for a dollar, and his own interest was given to Linda Hamilton in a divorce settlement. Many wanted to do a third Terminator film. There were a lot of financial deals, bankruptcies, lawsuits, the usual crap. Cameron did not want to direct but told Schwarzenegger to do the film without him for a shitload of money, which he did. Ang Lee, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, and Roland Emmerich were considered, but Jonathan Mostow directed. Edward Furlong could not play John Connor because of substance abuse and was replaced by Nick Stahl. For a while, Gwyneth Paltrow was considered to play the Terminatrix. Kristanna Loken put on fifteen pounds of muscle and took mime lessons because she has so few lines. At 56, Schwarzenegger trained himself back to his original weight and muscle mass.
Linda Hamilton thought Sarah Connor went nowhere in the script and declined to play her, so they killed off Sarah Connor. In the end, they got a B-movie, fast-paced, loud, dumb and obvious. It was just one long relentless chase, however exciting. It probably does not deserve the most vitriolic attacks it received—It was called Heavy Metal Slapstick, with a morbid conclusion, and less human than its predecessors--but I seriously miss Sarah Connor, whom I consider the main character in the franchise. Also, the downbeat ending, with the world being destroyed anyway after all the struggles, rubs me the wrong way. I don’t even like that in SF novels. Arnie himself considered the next in the series, Terminator Genisys to be the third film in the trilogy. According to the story, James Cameron hated it, and his Terminator Dark Fate rendered it non-canonical, wiping the events out of existence.