Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has a very important job, but it's not a high profile one. In fact, he has to keep it low key, a secret from even his family who think he's a computer salesman: actually, Tasker is a spy for an agency of the United States Government, where he is sent on missions such as infiltrating a mansion ringed with guards where a function is being held, all so he can download the contents of a computer file to his assistants Gib (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov) outside in the van. While he is there, he happens to meet Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere), an expert in ancient architecture specialising in Persian art, and makes a mental note of her before he is compelled to make good his escape. It seems Juno might know something about certain bad guys...
Although one of the biggest movies in James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger's careers of very big movies indeed, they never thought to follow True Lies up with a sequel, and that might be something to do with its biggest influence. That wasn't the French movie of significantly smaller production it was based on, but an existing franchise that had been around since the nineteen-sixties, yet had not been seen on the screen for a good five years: when Goldeneye was announced, there were those who observed it would have to go some to beat this effort for spectacular effects. It would seem every action hero has a hankering to play James Bond, though not every one gets the chance; the likes of Jackie Chan and Jean-Paul Belmondo had given it a try, but Sylvester Stallone never did.
For Schwarzenegger, essaying the superspy role was a strange one for he was so physically distinctive, not to mention his accent, that it was difficult to believe he would ever be called upon to go undercover - the bad guys would cotton on immediately that something was afoot. However, we were in movieland, and that is a place where anything can happen even if in the action genre more or less the same thing happened, repeatedly: goodies versus baddies in physical and mental combat until the goodies saved the day, more often than not using that physical side of their arsenal. In this case we were asked to believe Ahnold had brains as well as brawn, so his outsmarting of a bunch of jihadists was as much as gaining the upper hand in a battle of wits.
That's right, this was Schwarzenegger versus extremist Muslims in a move that had both garnered the movie a cult of those who appreciated this choice of villainy for being "gloriously un-P.C." and a guarantee that after the real thing made its presence felt in the world no big studio would place such an antagonist in their blockbusters unless they wished unwanted attention, and not only from boycotters. Looking back, the description of True Lies terrorists as more psychopathic than their supposed allies rings very hollow, as you cannot imagine an Islamist cell effectively firing off a warning shot should they get their hands on a nuclear weapon or two, as they do in the plot of this. Nevertheless, watching Tasker get his own back on straw men who would be far more ruthlessly represented in the real world does give those who relish the idea a kick.
But there was another issue Cameron was accused of, and while the Muslims are cartoonish aside from Heslov's token nice guy, the women here were treated as if they were a bothersome intrusion on the boys with toys of the typical action flick. That the supposedly liberal Cameron, who had depicted some of the most iconic heroines of his era, would have that levelled against him was surprising at the time, and remains a point of curiosity, with the females frequently called "bitches" (even in Arabic!) and Carrere's role an excuse to see a beautiful woman slapped around since she is on the bad guys' side. But Jamie Lee Curtis as Tasker's wife Helen was abused as well for having the temerity for wanting her husband to pay more attention to her; you could see the whole subplot about Tasker punishing her for infidelity she didn't even carry out as a satire on his boorish, controlling attitudes, but that get out clause didn't really stick. The action - on horseback, in a helicopter, in a Harrier Jump Jet - was plentiful, and the reactionary qualities offered texture and tension, but still... Music by Brad Fiedel.
Canadian director and writer responsible for some of the most successful - and expensive - films of all time. Cameron, like many before him, began his career working for Roger Corman, for whom he made his directing debut in 1981 with the throwaway Piranha 2: Flying Killers. It was his second film, The Terminator, that revealed his talents as a director of intensely exciting action, making Arnold Schwarzenegger a movie star along the way. Aliens was that rare thing, a sequel as good as the original, while if The Abyss was an overambitious flop, then 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a superbly realised action epic featuring groundbreaking use of CGI.
Cameron teamed up with Schwarzenegger for a third time for the Bond-esque thriller True Lies, before releasing Titanic on the world in 1997, which despite a decidedly mixed critical reaction quickly became the biggest grossing film of all time. His TV venture Dark Angel wasn't wildly successful, but ever keen to push back the envelope of film technology, 2003's Ghost of the Abyss is a spectacular 3D documentary exploring the wreck of the Titanic, made for I-Max cinemas. After over a decade away from fiction, his sci-fi epic Avatar was such a success that it gave him two films in the top ten highest-grossing of all time list.