Review: Terminator Salvation

May 21, 2009 at 11:02 pm Leave a comment

Hoping to bring the series back to its ‘darker roots’, director McG brings us Terminator Salvation, the fourth in the sci-fi series about humanity’s desperate fight against the supercomputer Skynet.  Picking up about 15 years after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Salvation features a more grizzled John Connor (Christian Bale) as he leads his team of resistance fighters, TechCom (sort of like a special forces group within the larger human resistance military), in the early years of the War Against the Machines.  With him are his wife and second-in-command Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard), brother-in-arms Barnes (Common), and pilot Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood).

Bryce Dallas Howard and Christian Bale

Connor spends most of the first act living up to his destiny as ‘leader of the resistance’, sending out radio addresses to all the small groups of resistance fighters spread throughout the world.  However, that destiny is put into question as Connor stumbles upon a Skynet plan to round up humans for experimentation.  Fearing a new breed of Terminator, Connor and the rest of the resistance work to stop Skynet’s latest plot.  Added to the mix are Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), an ex-con who can’t remember the past 15 years, and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), a teenager who lives in the ruins of Los Angeles.

Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin

Supporting the plot are some pretty inventive action scenes.  This movie has the most Terminators so far seen in a Terminator movie: water-bound Hydrobots, road-racing Moto Terminators, giant Harvesters, flying HK’s (Hunter-Killers), and hulking T-600’s.  All this variety lends itself to some great moments involving a thrilling escape as a Harvester rounds up survivors, and a highway chase with Reese and Marcus swinging a tow truck cable at Moto Terminators.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything as inventive as the truck chase scene from Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but for a summer movie, this will please action junkies.

That looks absolutely terrifying

That looks absolutely terrifying

Peppered throughout this movie are nods to the previous 3.  Famous lines like, “Come with me if you want to live” and the now-legendary “I’ll be back” make their returns.  Also, the previously-mentioned tow-truck chase is reminiscent of a similar chase from T3 and T2.  Many shots and camera angles are also obvious homages; watch the final battle in this movie and its easy to see T1 and T2 in it.  There’s even a moment that made me smile, which involved a certain Guns ‘N’ Roses song.  Fan will know what I’m talking about.  What I also appreciated is how the screenwriters didn’t completely ignore T3, a movie that wasn’t nearly as good as T2, but is still a decent action movie.  The character of Kate Brewster (played by Claire Danes in the previous movie) is given a bigger role other than complaining of being ‘kidnapped’; in Salvation, she is seen as an equal to John Connor, and not just Connor’s wife.  Her opinions also affect the decisions that Connor makes.

McG brings a little bit of visual flair to the story with some nice unbroken takes during action scenes, and generally keeping the visual palette to a bleak grey or sandy brown.  The editing is also tight and keeps the story moving.  What I was disappointed in was the music; it wasn’t nearly as strong as Terminator 2 and I heard the classic Terminator theme only a couple of times throughout the whole movie.

Also, there are some plot points that I just didn’t fully buy.  There’s a relationship that develops between Blair and Marcus which didn’t feel fully explored.  And there’s something about what the story focused on that didn’t sit right with me.  In the previous movies, they focused on stopping Skynet from killing someone.  Here, we stay in ‘the future’ and we get a better glimpse at the human resistance fighting the machines.  But, it keeps going back to this story that leaves out the larger global human resistance movement, something I wanted to see more of.  Yes, there are small scenes of survivors living in other parts of the world, but they were very quick and amounted to little more than a montage.

Bale and Worthington turn in the best performances of the flick.  Edward Furlong’s portrayal of John Connor in the second film was appropriate: a rebellious kid who just wants to goof off and ignore the responsibility his mother is bestowing upon him.  In T3, Nick Stahl’s Connor was a young adult who knows full well what his destiny is, and tries to run from it.  Here, Bale’s Connor is a man who has accepted his role as humanity’s savior, and now works to secure the planet’s future against the machines.  He is determined, relentless, and at times rebellious, going against authority to ensure that Skynet’s schemes fail.  Worthington is fine as a confused prisoner, and due to his amnesia, he sees the world as having gone to hell overnight.  He, too, has embraced his place in Connor’s destiny; my only issue is that he seems to have accepted it a little too quickly.  What happened to him is quite horrific, all things considered.  Worthington’s Marcus Wright does a quick turn around from “What the *&^$ is going on?!” to “I’m gonna go and kick everyone’s ass” in no time.

Terminator Salvation is a return to the series’ origins.  Action fans should be pleased as it provides more violence on a grand scale as opposed to X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Series fans should enjoy this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some that have serious issues with the story arc.  Still, it’s an entertaining action flick that brings attempts to do something new with the ground-breaking Terminator brand by telling the story from the future point-of-view.

8/10

Oh, and look (and listen!) for some cameos from some of the stars of the previous movies.

(images from Yahoo!)

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