I didn’t grow up in love with the Terminator series. I don’t have a vehement adoration for the characters. In fact, of the three I first sat through the third, which is regarded as significantly worse than the first two. It might not be as good, but the hate it gets from many people is a little unfounded. It wasn’t great, but it was an entertaining movie. Such is the case for Terminator Salvation, though perhaps it is a better film than its first predecessor.
The film opens in 2003, where a death-row inmate named Marcus (Sam Worthington) is approached by a doctor who works for Cyberdyne (Helena Bonham Carter), the company Terminator watchers will recognize as the creators of Skynet, the AI system that eventually takes over the world. Marcus signs for his body to be used for science experiments after his death, though it’s somewhat unclear what they will be, the doctor tells him it’s “a chance to live again.”
There’s a little typed up summary of the franchise history, and we come toe the year 2018 to see John Conner infiltrating a Skynet base, where he finds a horde of human prisoners. There’s an ambush on the base, a seen that looks like Saving Private Ryan meets Robocop, and eventually we see Marcus wake up, very confused after his 13 year coma.
Marcus is chased by a robot with a big-ass machine gun and saved by two young boys who humorously call them selves the “L.A. branch” of the resistance. One them is (dum dum dum) Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, who is having a huge summer, since he had a part in Star Trek as well) the known future father of John Conner and key to the entire resistance. It would be incredibly difficult to comprehend why this is the case if you haven’t seen the other movies, and the film does little to explain it. It hardly even mentions time travel, a key element in the first three, so newcomers might not understand the entire going-ons of the film.
Reese is taken prisoner and Marcus escapes, only to help a beautiful pilot Blaire Williams (played by Moon Bloodgood, whose topless scene in this movie was removed because director McG hates everybody). Marcus and Blaire trek back to resistance headquarters, and through certain circumstances involving magnetic minefields, it is revealed that Marcus is himself a cyborg. A machine with human organs, including a powerful heartbeat.
Which brings me to my first gripe. I really wish I would have had to warn you of a spoiler in that previous paragraph, but I don’t, because that little tidbit was part of every Salvation preview released. I watched the entire time knowing Marcus shared DNA of both humans and household appliances. But if I hadn’t known, it would have been a really kick-ass twist. Even though they told you before the movie was released, throughout the first half they act like they haven’t and put in really subtle clues that in a second viewing could have looked brilliant. For instance, when everybody else is eating, he doesn’t even touch the food. He falls from a speeding jet and skims across the water and appears unharmed. We would know something was going on with this guy, but with a different edit and with different previews it could have been a nice surprise. If I hadn’t known, I would have wondered why he was such a skilled fighter and why he could survive such ridiculous events, but the revelation would have been an “Ahhhh” moment.
However, this could all be because the early script for this movie was leaked to the public at large. Therefore, they might have thought the surprise was ruined since everybody knew Marcus was a cyborg, so why not put it in the previews? And believe me, I wouldn’t trade the loss of this surprise for the terrible, original ending they had planned. It involved John Conner dying, but his skin being put on Marcus’s skeletal body because his image was so important to the resistance. Oh my God that’s an awful idea. Thank goodness the leak occurred, because that is not the ending we have, thank goodness. Though I was told the ending would be controversial and divisive, and kind of a downer. I guess it wasn’t ecstatic per se, but it wasn’t near what I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it and it works, it just wasn’t as ballsy as I assumed. But if there version of ballsy is killing the main character, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing…
As for the main character, Christian Bale is, well, just okay. Conner is remarkably one-dimensional in this film, and doesn’t do much besides run, shoot, yell, and rasp. It’s all perhaps in the spirit of conveying intensity, but we don’t need to main character to rasp all of his lines to show that: the omnipresence of robots does it just fine. In original drafts, Conner was going to be a secondary character, an influence on the protagonist much like Christ influenced Ben Hur. I’m glad this idea was dropped, because Conner is a neat character, but he was in this movie less than I thought it would be. Marcus gets a pretty hefty share of the screen time.
Which is a good thing, because Marcus is the infinitely more interesting character. He’s first shown on essentially a crucifix on his death bed, right before they kill him and bring him back as a Metallo clone. He has a lot to do in this movie, and was really a high point for me. His ethical questioning, self-reflection/redemption/sacrifice all made for a resonating character. Also, he kicks a lot of ass, which is always fun to watch.
The cinematography in the movie is actually pretty awesome, I have to give direct McG credit (though I really hate that name). There’s a particularly fascinating shot of a helicopter crash, all seemingly one take, as it spirals out of the sky and crashes upside down. It was brilliantly crafted, and really brought you into the peril.
Despite the praise I’m giving, the movie is riddled with logical inconsistencies that somewhat drag it down. I’m not even referring to those involving time travel, because they make my head hurt. I’m looking for for these:
1. Why do the robots attack Marcus at first, but then later let him walk right into their base because he’s one of them?
2. How can John Conner jump from a plane into a stormy ocean and swim onto a submarine underwater? (Alright, so that isn’t a logical mistake, it’s just dumb writing).
3. How do gargantuan robots who can’t walk without causing earthquakes sneak up on people without making a sound?
4. Why is Skynet taking human hostages? It’s brought up but never explained, unless I missed it.
5. Why do these robots tend to attack so few at a time? This one is actually kind of strange to me. The greatness of the first film was the fact that it was one cyborg, stalking and trying to kill one person. It allowed an air of suspense to be breathed into the action film. It seems in order to replicate this, they wrote many instances into Salvation that pit one man against one robot, where that man would have to struggle immensely just to defeat it. Good for suspense, but it leaves you wondering why this A.I. system doesn’t just send 10,000 of these babies out at once. If one is that hard to defeat, more must be better. So why don’t they? Because there’d be no story. Alright, fair enough.
There are others, but I’m trying to keep spoilers to a minimum and make sure you enjoy the movie without having too much on your mind. It’s exactly what it looks like, so don’t expect much else, but it’s a good popcorn-flick and an interesting addition to the Terminator series that’s not like any of those that have come out before.
Also don’t go to the bathroom while Marcus is talking to the computer generated face, or you’ll miss a neat little cameo. Like I did.