Terminator Salvation begins in the year 2003, the year the last Terminator film came out. It concerns the execution of convict Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), and despite what the advertisement’s would have you believe, this film is more focused on his character then it is on John Connor (Christian Bale). The main plot of the film involves Connor trying to rescue his future father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) from the grasps of machine doom.
The movie is filled with idiotic decisions by characters and machines alike, but I guess because they both make the same mistakes, they both are evenly matched. For instance, the machine’s get their…hands…on Reese about halfway through the picture (not to spoil it for anyone) and instead of killing Reese right then and there, they wait to lure John Connor into a trap and kill two birds with one stone.
Yet don’t the machine’s realize that Kyle Reese is John’s father? And that he hasn’t placed his seed into Sarah Connor yet? So if they kill Reese immediately, they nullify how Connor came to be, and he would immediately cease to exist. But then you say, maybe the machines don’t realize who Kyle Reese is? Then I say they spend a damn good amount of time getting their machine claws on him, so if they don’t know who he is, then why do they think John would come after him?
Also, why would SkyNet build terminators that ride motorcycles? Why not build motorcycle terminators, so that characters can’t compromise the motorcycles and take it over themselves? It just seems silly when machines ride those things, when they should just be automatically piloted. And if you are a human escaping a small nuclear blast you are setting off, why would you set off this blast when your helicopter is still near ground zero? The shockwave would bring your helicopter down.
But I digress. My real problem with Salvation is the lack of interesting characters. When Connor asks the resistance to stand down from nuking a threatening place so he can rescue people, they simply do because the plot requires them to. Their is no emotional climax here, and what should be a resonant moment is simply a contrived element that was unnecessary to begin with.
Relationships exist but have no meaning here too. Connor and Kate Brewster (or Kate Connor now, played by wide-eyed Bryce Dallas Howard) are in love, and the movie doesn’t overplay their romance, it underplays it to the degree that their spare tender moments aren’t tender at all. And when it is found out that Marcus Wright is in fact a robot, he is rescued by a person who really has been given the lamest of reasons to rescue him. Characters are given weak motivations, and nothing gels or works. Except for Connor’s determination to rescue his father.
This all boils down to one element that I knew would be a big problem with this film from the get-go: director McG. This guy directed the two Charlie’s Angels films, and only knows how to direct barebones emotions without adding any meaning to what is going on. The film lacks a coherent arc from start to finish, so that when we reached the climax of the movie I felt like I had been cheated because nothing had lead me emotionally to this point. For much of the movie, I felt bored. Battling terminators sucks because they take so damn long to die, and you always know that when they are supposedly killed, they will rise from the ashes to continue plaguing you. It’s tired, and old, and needs to be rethunk.
By the time the movie ends, you realize all you’ve seen is a two-hour chronicle of how John Connor came to save and meet his father, at long last. This too should be a powerful moment, but neither Bale nor McG deliver any goods and so we have to wait another 5 – 10 years for part 5, when maybe this infernal war between the machines and humans will be ended.
The biggest problem for Terminator now is the drama is gone. We know from T3 that Connor will die in 2032 at the hands of the T-850 whatever machine. We know that Kyle Reese will survive because he has to go impregnate Sarah Connor. The only thing we don’t know is how this war will end. I think the franchise needs to be over soon. T3 was cheating anyway, as it is T2 but with a different ending.
For all it’s problems, there is a moment in Salvation that had me cheering. I shan’t spoil it for those who will still go to see the movie, but it was one that left me completely satisfied for about two minutes, until I remembered I was watching this movie.