Everyone's favorite killer robot from the future. Has a habit of coming back.
The Terminator is a model of cyborg known as Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, constructed of synthetic flesh and skin over a robotic skeleton. It is an infiltrator and an assassin, designed to resemble a human and able to mimic voices accurately in order to bypass enemy defences.
The technology behind the Terminators was originally developed for battlefield use, but in the future they became tools of the artificial intelligence Skynet in its war against humanity. Three different (but outwardly identical) Terminators were sent back in time to interfere in the lives of future resistance leader John Connor and his mother Sarah.
Skynet sends a T-800 Terminator back to 1984 to assassinate Sarah Connor before John's birth, striking a decisive blow against the human resistance. The resistance sends soldier Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah in response.
(This is perhaps cinema's most well known example of an ontological paradox or closed temporal loop. The fact that the Terminator is sent to kill Sarah to prevent John's birth also causes John to be born in the first place - had it not been for the Terminator's mission, Kyle would not have been sent back in time to stop it, and so would not have met Sarah and fathered John...)
After 'acquiring' clothes and weaponry, the Terminator begins tracking down and killing each Sarah Connor listed in the phone book, but Reese is able to rescue the actual target and damge the T-800 sufficiently that it is forced to hole up and repair itself.
The machine tracks Sarah and Kyle to a police station and mounts a single-handed assault on the building, killing multiple cops, but the target manages to escape again. Undeterred, the Terminator locates its targets once more and chases them relentlessly, first on a motorbike and then in a truck, although it sustains heavy damage from explosives during the pursuit.
With its human flesh burned away, the machine follows Kyle and Sarah into a factory. Kyle uses a pipe bomb to destroy the T-800's lower body in a suicidal attack, but its torso remains functional and continues to pursue its target. Ultimately the Terminator is trapped and destroyed by Sarah, crushed in a pneumatic press.
Skynet sends another inhuman assassin to the past - this time to 1995, to kill the young John Connor. Its agent this time is the T-1000, a more advanced unit composed of 'liquid metal' able to reshape itself to take the form of anything it touched. A T-800 Terminator, reprogrammed by John Connor, is dispatched to the same time period on a mission to save young John.
The Terminator is able to save John from the T-1000 after a skirmish in a shopping mall, and John then orders it to rescue his mother before the T-1000 can get to her. The Terminator breaks Sarah out of a mental institution, fending off the T-1000 in the process.
The Terminator tells John and Sarah about the chain of events leading to Skynet's creation and accompanies them as they confront Miles Dyson and then break into a Cyberdyne Systems facility to destroy his research. They are located by the T-1000, leading to a frantic chase and a one-on-one battle between the two machines. The more advanced T-1000 wins and deactivates the Terminator, but the Terminator is able to reactivate itself and ultimately defeat the T-1000 by blasting it with a grenade launcher, casting it into a pit of molten steel, where it cannot reform.
The Terminator then volunteers to be destroyed in the same molten metal, to prevent its technology being used to create Skynet.
A third Terminator is sent to 2004 to protect John yet again, as well as his future wife Kate Brewster. This is a T-850, an slightly-improved unit which sports twin hydrogen fuel cells, allowing the cyborg to continue fighting in the event that one is damaged. Its adversary this time is the T-X, sent back in time by Skynet to terminate people destined to become John's lieutenants.
The Terminator tracks down John and Kate in time to save them from the T-X's first attack, but they learn that the development of Skynet has continued as a military project and that time is running out to prevent Judgment Day.
During the race against time to halt Skynet's activation, the Terminator is infected with nanites by the T-X and loses control of its own systems; it shuts itself down rather than harm John. It manages to reboot itself and regain control in time to save John and Kate from another attack by the T-X.
Although out-classed and out-gunned by the formidable T-X, the Terminator manages to detain it long enough for the humans to escape, then destroys itself and the T-X by detonating its last power core.
Far more durable than any human being, the Terminators are shown surviving incredible damage - including having their skin burned away, losing limbs or even the lower half of their body - and still attempting to carry out their missions. They are machines designed to do precisely two things - locate targets and kill them.
The T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day demonstrates some emotional traits, learned from John during their journey. At first it responds awkwardly as John tries to teach it to smile and behave more like a human being. Before sacrificing itself, though, it hugs John and shakes Sarah's hand.
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