“This is probably safe right?”
My expectations for Terminator Salvation have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride over the past year or so. They began quite low when the project was announced, as the prospect of an Arnold-less fourth entry in the franchise seemed like anything but a good idea. These expectations plummeted further when Charlie’s Angels duo-syllabic director McG was brought on board, who can executive produce one hell of an episode of The O.C., but a global war against machines seemed like a bit of stretch.
But things started looking up when Christian Bale joined the cast, and claimed that he “would only do the movie if it could be read on a stage with no special effects and still work.” And I really began to get my hopes up when the full length trailer debuted and made the whole idea seems surprisingly excellent and well executed. However, early buzz around the film has been terrible among critics and fans alike, and so, the only thing left to do was go see it.
So where did we land? I’d say about somewhere in the middle.
Forget all that “change the past, save the future” nonsense from the first three films. We’re in the future now, and guess what? It sucks. Skynet went ahead and nuked us all, despite the few year pushback of Judgement Day and the remnants of mankind have banded together worldwide to conduct guerrilla warfare on their machine overlords.
A rising star in the resistance is John Connor, who made it here despite Skynet’s best efforts. He’s got a pregnant wife and an almost cultlike following behind him, though he’s not yet the one completely in charge of the movement. That would be a group of ex-military boneheads down in a submarine who stubbornly refuse to heeds any of Connor’s warnings. Guess who’s right?
Nearby lurks a teenaged Kyle Reese, who has stumbled upon a man named Marcus Wright, who is confused about where and when he is, as the last thing he remembers is being executed fifteen years ago at a state prison. Connor learns that Reese, his future father, is being targeted by the machines, and does everything in his power to try and save him, while destroying Skynet at the same time.
An awkward father son moment.
What’s most striking about the film is that about halfway through the movie, you really that John Connor, the star of the show for the last two films, is really just a supporting character. This may have been done on purpose to cast more light on Wright and Reese, but I think the more likely answer is that the film didn’t really just know what to do with him.
He’s relegated to just shouting, and whether it be shouting orders to his troops, shouting at his stupid resistance higher-ups or shouting at the robots themselves, “dimensional” is not a word that comes to mind when describing him. Yes, he has a pregnant wife (which is never even discussed), but past that, he’s just a generic uber-soldier played by an actor who is able to give way more than what actually ends up being asked of the character.
So if Connor isn’t the star of the show, who is? The answer is Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright, and with him lies the film’s biggest crippling flaw.
In the excellent trailer, the highlight is a scene between Connor and Wright, when Wright looks down to discover that he is in fact a machine, despite truly believing himself to be human. However, as good of a hook as that was in the trailer, if that surprise had been saved for the actual film, it’s very possible the entire project might have been salvaged.
If Marcus had woken up in 2018, with no knowledge of how he got there or what was going on, and progressed through the first two thirds of the movie meeting up with resistance fighters and falling in love with fighter plane pilots, the revelation that he was actually a machine would have been quite stunning. Instead, we trudge through the film knowing this is the case, and just have to sit and wait for everyone else to figure it out.
“Yes, I’m in love with you and willing to turn my back on all of mankind, despite the fact we met six hours ago and I can see your metal ribcage poking through your flesh.”
This is where someone like J.J. Abrams or James Cameron could have worked wonders with this movie, but McG, who is admittedly very good at depicting apocalyptic mechanical warfare (it’s on par with Transformers action, sans the product placement), he has no idea how to tell a story, mashing pieces that really should fit together, into a broken, incohesive mess.
The fundamental plot of Salvation is a good one, and while I was questioning the robots’ sanity as the humans mounted a far-too-easy assault against them, the film pulled through and provided a decent explanation to make the whole thing make sense. The battle inside Skynet headquarters is pretty righteous, and everything was going great until…
Well, sort of. The T-800 does make an appearance, but Schwarzenegger only shows up as a horrific, mute CGI animation of his former character, who punches Connor once before all his skin is conveniently blown off by an explosive. It’s not a real cameo at all, and it’s sad that Arnold couldn’t take six hours out of his schedule to go and shoot a legitimate appearance reprising the role that got him elected governor in the first place. That fight scene would have been one for the ages, and all we get instead is a generic Terminator robo-brawl.
Behold, your Arnold cameo (pretty much).
I left with a slightly overall positive view of the film, because I feel that fundamentally Terminator Salvation has the all the right ideas in terms of a concept, plot and casting. But it’s one or mistakes that tear giant holes in film’s execution, and make it just a slightly better than average action movie rather than the true classic I really feel it could have been.
3 out of 5 stars