Movie Review: Terminator Sal(i)vation
By Crash Davis
Terminator Salvation, the fourth installment of the Terminator franchise and the first not to feature Ah-nold (too busy Governating, presumably), attempts to muscle the franchise into a more Transformer-ish direction. Gone is the character-driven focus of the first three installments, that of a future savior of mankind against the machines, here reduced to backstory. In its place we are left with a hulking, noisy CGI-extravaganza that ups the wow factor but leaves you exiting the theater feeling like you just ate a double cheeseburger or slept with an ex — enjoyable at the time but ultimately leaving you with a knot in your stomach.
Instead of picking up where the third installment left off (savior John Connor and his wife-to-be taking control of the human resistance in the grossly underrated Terminator III), Terminator Salvation starts off in the year 2018, fifteen years later. The War against the Machines is well underway and John Connor (Christian Bale, playing Batman’s weirdly intense twin), instead of functioning as fearless leader and all-around savior, is relegated to military middle management. The high command of the human resistance is overseen by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside, in a completely unironic redo of his fascist sergeant from Starship Troopers), who views Connor as an upstart phony. The high command has its own designs on how to defeat the machines, and Connor’s blathering on about fate and destiny and morality only serves to distract from the cold reality of War = Hell.
The primary focus of the movie, however, is Marcus Wright (a serviceable Sam Worthington), a murderer seemingly killed by lethal injection in the present-day beginning of the movie, who mysteriously reappears in 2018 in the aftermath of a skirmish between Connor, his battalion and some terminators. Marcus does not know how he is still alive, and wanders off aimlessly but earnestly in an effort to unravel his second chance at life (several groan-inducing allusions to the movie’s title and theme ensue). Along the way, he bumps into Kyle Reece (Anton Yeltsin, Star Trek’s Chekov), who happens to be John Connor’s father and future second-in-command by virtue of a time-traveling conundrum set up in the first Terminator that would make Einstein convulse. Kyle ends up getting kidnapped by the machines, and the rest of the movie follows Wright, Connor, their respective one-dimensional love interests (Moon Bloodgood, exuding numerous sexist female stereotypes, and a wasted Bryce Dallas Howard) as they buck the military establishment to rescue Kyle.
Don’t get me wrong, though, Terminator Salvation is a tasty treat going down. The effects are glorious, the new terminator machines are awe-inspiring and Director McG serves up a bleak and grainy post-apocalyptic future controlled by machines that is realistic enough that you want to unplug your toaster. Halfway through, however, you realize you’re eating empty calories. The characters are all plot-driven, with none of the emotional heft that James Cameron gave them in the first two Terminator installments (and Director What’s-His-Name gave them in the third). The story drags once the storyline is established. The final third of the movie ends up in a battle royale at the machines’ USA headquarters in San Francisco, and the resulting plot developments become so preposterous that the concept of time travel seems the most innocuous of the storylines. (And is it just me, or do Salvation, Wolverine and Watchmen follow roughly the same plot?). In a nutshell, go for the eye candy and the loud, noisy robots, but don’t be surprised when your brain gets indigestion. 6.5 out of 10