By this, the fourth film in a franchise that was just two fantastic bookended action films to begin with, the Terminator series is beleaguered by the last two films' curiously opposing thematic overtones and what they stood for. While T2 had the humans taking free will in their hands and shaping an uncertain future with their actions, the 3rd film
just slapped everyone on the face and told them that Judgement Day cannot be avoided, no matter what they do.
The problem with such a troubled series, then, is that the latest film that takes everything forward does not know what to do - should it show humans eventually win over the dastardly machines or does it maintain that the impending future cannot be changed? Top it with the fact that the film was never meant to be John Connor's story. Christian Bale was contacted to do the role Sam Worthington portrays, and he was more interested in being Connor, which meant months of rewrites and a film that never finds its emotional core.
Of course, the writing would have still been questionable, given the quality seen here. Strained and ham-fisted humour with cheesy dialogue and a plot that threatens to unravel at the touch of a trigger all compound the miseries of this poor film. I never thought I'd say this, but the only thing that stops this movie from being utterly trash is McG, the much maligned director and ender of franchises past.
While his film struggles to find its emotional core and dramatic tone throughout, McG is thoroughly adept at mounting his action sequences. He puts in equal amount of derring and do in his action, and the way he sets each piece up, he is treating it like a proper adventure film with one fantastic action set piece after another, buckling a lot of swashes in the process.
His eye for thrilling action permeates his shot selection in the quiet moments, too - despite looking all brown and murky, the movie often looks stunning. The imagination at work here is immensely gratifying for any long time fan, with some fantastic machine design that lends itself to innovative action. Clean, clear-cut and well-defined, Terminator Salvation basks in the brilliance of the action direction McG employs. McG also never uses the same trope twice, creating a kinetic, always changing battlefield and action palette.
Starting with a prologue in 2003, the film tells of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a prisoner about to be executed who agrees to let his body be used for â€œscience". (While on this topic, what the hell is Helena Bonham Carter doing in the doctor's role? Isn't she bigger than this?) Skip forward to 2018, and the Skynet system of computers and fighting machines have become self-aware and violent, while mankind has now banded together to fight them in guerilla undertakings under John Connor, come to known as the man who will one day win the war.
After a bravura action sequence, we see Marcus emerge from the debris, now the latest in Terminator technology, the model that will eventually become Arnold Schwarzenegger and go back in time to be the Governor of California.
Marcus eventually meets the local militia, including Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), a young man who will also go back in time by John Connor to save John's mother, and as a result father John. (Heh, I know. Let it be.) Eventually Connor's mission also becomes to find and save Kyle, a name he only knows from the audio cassettes his mother left him.
So yeah, the plot isn't the strong point of the film. The actors do what they can with the limiting scope of the writing on offer here. Anton Yelchin delivers a real character in the small screen time he has, and so does Sam Worthington. Bale, tasked by being the emotional anchor of the film and the motivational lead, needs better lines than he has to be convincing, and as a result the film takes a major hit.
With such terrible writing and muddled mythology as this movie, it is no surprise that they ended up making less of a sequel to the earlier films, and more of a James Bond type flick, with frequent nods and winks to the source material and enough friendly names, but nothing else to do with the actual franchise. Sure, it's got machines and cyborgs and guns, but this ain't Terminator, not really.
Still, it is a half-decent actioner, and McG shows enough variety and imagination in his direction to make it interesting to watch. Outside of Bale and the other side roles (like the clueless Bryce Dallas Howard), the acting is also better than I would have expected. This is actually what I would say of Terminator Salvation - it's remarkably better than I expected, but not as good as to satisfy us as action film buffs.