After the fun-yet-disappointing Terminator 3, I had extremely high hopes for Warner Bros. Pictures’ new trilogy that kicks off this May with Terminator Salvation. Being a rabid fan that grew up on the franchise created by James Cameron, the idea of McG getting behind the camera for this sequel was slightly nauseating, and yet, by some miracle, the fourth film in the franchise is (barely) passable.
The film takes place after Skynet has destroyed much of humanity in the apparently unavoidable nuclear holocaust, as a group of survivors, led by John Connor (Christian Bale), struggle to keep the machines from finishing the job (by killing a young Kyle Reese).
The most impressive aspect of Salvation is that it wasn’t anything I thought it would be. From the trailers and footage I was led to believe McG was going to deliver some Michael Bay non-stop action version of Terminator, only the uncredited (on IMDB) rewrites by Jonathan Nolan have brought a much-needed heavy dose of character development to the table (even though it still wasn’t enough). While there is solid story structure and (some) quality character development, there are odd holes stringing through the entire feature. For some reason, Salvation takes zero time to delve into the past of Kyle Reese or really illustrate Connor’s hinted-at romantic relationship. It also fails to reference time travel at all (I guess it wasn’t developed yet?) and skims over what exactly Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is and more importantly when the machines decided to make him what he is. The screenplay gives the machines more logic and humanity than I was willing to believe; it was my observation that they were cold, calculating and omnipotent – almost God-like. Furthermore, my brain almost exploded as I tried to understand why the machines were after Kyle Reese. John Connor was an important figure in the war; hence their need to destroy him, but Reese is just a nomad running through the ashes of Los Angeles with his little friend. If time travel wasn’t invented yet, how would the machines even know what Reese was destined to do? They couldn’t. I can only hope that the next two films in the new trilogy address these glaring plot holes and missteps and bring it all together in the end.
Still, the fact that so much time and energy was put into the story as opposed to the action was refreshing. But don’t get me wrong – there is plenty of action that takes to the sky, the highway and even to the water as we are introduced to an array of new robots from bikes and planes to underwater robo-snakes.
And yet, even with all of these “new” robots, one inherent issue is that while this is a sequel, technically the robots themselves are younger than any that have ever graced the big screen before. So while the definition of a sequel should read “bigger and better”, Salvation doesn’t have a choice but to go backwards and be “lesser than.” Only at the end of the film to we get to see the T-800 in action, and while it’s overwhelming to John Connor, we’ve been there, done that.
Speaking of the T-800, super fans get ready to geek out as the big battle at the end features John Connor doing hand-to-hand combat with the first of the Arnie-T-800-bots. For the idiots who bitch about the CG face smacked onto the body of another actor, think about this logically as this would be the Terminator featured in the 1984 movie (making Arnold Schwarzenegger 25 years younger).
While some of the situations were underdeveloped (like the fact that Connor knows Reese is his dad, but Reese has no clue; this could – and should – have been an increasingly uncomfortable situation), the new Terminator film is just passable, maybe even a little lackluster. I think the best way to look at Salvation is as a plot builder for the first two films. Maybe when it’s all said and done it can be watched in the same order as the Star Wars films (starting at 4 and ending at 3 – maybe even including the TV series?). The only majorly disappointing aspect of McG’s effort is that it really, really, reallllly feels like a one time see and I don’t think I’ll be revisiting it until at least the next one hits theaters.