Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the focal point in Terminator: Salvation is no reason to fret and sign the death certificate on an impressive movie franchise. The final product, while very different from the three previous installments, still packs plenty of punch in both the alternate reality and ass-kicking action fronts.
The main differentiator here (aside from the absence of the California governor) is the film is primarily set in the future — 2018 to be exact — after the Skynet induced Judgement Day has been waged to wipe all of humanity from the Earth. It’s now about the actual fight between the cold and calculating machines and the puny, but surprisingly, resourceful humans. A battle, as we soon find out, that could sway in favor of the carbon-based life forms as they believe they now possess a way to defeat their metal adversaries.
Thankfully, this is a realm where director McG could thrive, as it doesn’t pit him against having to tell the same old “terminator comes to the past to kill Sarah or John Connor” story that’s been told by an infinitely better storyteller, James Cameron. Hell, McG doesn’t have to tell much of a story at all, since after all, we know how the story begins, or err, how it ends. Unfortunately, the story he does direct is so full of plot inconsistencies that it is nearly impossible to shrug them off in the name of telling a good action flick.
John Connor (now played by Christian Bale) is, as you know by now, still the guy slated to lead the resistance to victory against the machines (hence the reason Skynet has been trying to kill him and/or his pre-pregnant mother and/or father). He’s a loose cannon and from what I perceived, not a very likable fellow. Of course Christian Bale, only seems to know one way to act anymore (i.e., Batman) so I should have expected Connor to be nothing more than a gruff, emotionless cog. But, interestingly enough, the movie isn’t really about John Connor as it is more about an unknown figure — Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). At the beginning of Terminator: Salvation he’s asked to donate his body to an experimental cause by a Cyberdyne doctor (Helena Bonham Carter), and 15 years later he’s back trying to make sense of the post apocalyptic nightmare he finds himself in.
Unwittingly helping Marcus from the outset, is a whiny, baby-faced Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who doesn’t yet realize his importance to the chronology of things, and a mute kid Star (Jadagrace) who doesn’t play much of role in the proceedings. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out Marcus’ role, and while it adds a relatively interesting storyline to the movie, it is rather messy and raises more questions that didn’t need to be asked.
Likewise, I certainly expected Skynet to be smarter and more ruthless, especially since it is:
- the smartest computer ever built
- is hell bent on the destruction of humans
- has one kick ass arsenal at its disposal
The T600 terminators (the prelude to Schwarzenegger’s T800), the massive Harvesters that shed Moto-Terminators from its hulking frame, the snake-like Hydrobots, and various flying Hunter-Killers are all vicious (and spectacularly menacing to the view) in their own right, but the self-aware supercomputer doesn’t employ them in a logical fashion. The humans are visibly aware of this too, as they light fires and hang about in poorly concealed hideouts. Also, while I’m not going to give the ending away (its easily deduced), a more prepared Skynet would have made computational sense, certainly from a probabilistic standpoint.
Ultimately, what McG offers up in Terminator: Salvation doesn’t hurt the storied franchise as much as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines did but it isn’t the full featured reboot it needed either. When you wipe away the blockbuster visual effects, there isn’t much left to keep one riveted in place so as to learn of the outcome of John Connor and the human race (which as I mentioned before, we already know).