Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, are a constant in any top sci-fi list. Both movies were revolutionary, and have lost none of their magic over time. To understand Terminator Salvation a recap of the convoluted Terminator lore is in order.
For those unfamiliar with the series (do such people exist?): in the near future humans develop an artificial intelligence called “Skynet” which grows self aware, rebels and initiates a nuclear holocaust of mankind. A war ensues, with the remaining human “Resistance” fighting against Skynet and bringing it and its machines to the brink of defeat. In a last ditch effort to change the outcome it sends a Terminator (a cyborg assassin, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the woman that was to give birth to the future leader of the Resistance (John Connor). It fails its task, and is destroyed. The second movie saw Skynet attempting to kill a teenage John, with a newer and tougher Terminator, but only to fail once again. The research that should lead to Skynet’s creation was presumably destroyed in the climax of T2 thus rendering the apocalyptic future void. The third installment showed that the outcome of the future wasn’t changed – only postponed. Research continued and Skynet was created. The prophesized “Judgment Day” in which it seizes control of the US nuclear arsenal and annihilates the human race comes to pass.
Starring Christian Bale as the warrior/messiah John Connor and Sam Worthington as the awakened convict Marcus Wright, Terminator 4 portrays the events following “Judgment Day”– the war of the “Resistance” against the machines. Other notable names in the cast are Anton Yelchin playing Kyle Reese – Connor’s future father (yes, it’s complicated) and Helena Bonham Carter, having the small but important role of Dr. Serena Kogan.
Plot was never the strong suit of the Terminator series but it was compensated with great suspense, exciting action and characters you could cheer for. The plot of Salvation is so lacking however, or to be more precise – nonexistent that it seriously affects suspension of disbelief. In the introduction we are shown Marcus, a convict cop-killer awaiting execution. In what’s perhaps the best scene in the movie he signs off his body to Dr. Kogan’s cancer research. Then he’s executed. Years later, in the post apocalyptic world – he awakens. What is going on inside his mind? How does he cope with the fact that he died, got resurrected and the world he once knew is now dust? He doesn’t. As far as Marcus is concerned, it’s no big deal. His main role is to wander around the wasteland, pick up a plot thread (Kyle Reese) and twiddle his thumbs until it’s time to jump in and conclude the film (there is however, a revelation concerning Marcus but it would constitute a major spoiler).
Meanwhile Connor is waging all out war on Skynet. The first of many action sequences shows a large scale US army attack on a Skynet compound with guns blazing and CGI galore. Somebody would ask what is keeping the huge infrastructure needed to wage a modern war going when the resistance is apparently made up of grimy rebel types. But they do have Bale on their side, whose permanently fixed stern look and growling voice is probably a weapon unto itself. He can also accomplish feats such as: destroy the compound (and be the only one who survives the attack), then get on a plane, fly in a storm, jump from it into a turbulent sea, only to appear inside the rebel stronghold – a submarine, where he is almost killed for insubordination by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside). He never gets a scratch and his facial muscles never twitch. Perhaps in the inevitable sequel it will be revealed that he’s a Terminator which would explain his wooden act and seeming immortality.
As for the Terminators, Skynet is apparently given a box of LEGO’s at some point and devises a whole cornucopia of them. So we get a motorcycle Terminator, an eel Terminator, a small flying Terminator, a big flying Terminator and a gigantic walker Terminator all tasked with killing off and capturing the remaining humans for reasons unknown. They take part in the innumerable (and ludicrous) chase scenes the rest of the movie is made up of. The entire final act tries to cram in is as many references as possible to the first two films with a factory scene, molten metal, a Terminator freezing – even an Arnie cameo (actually its CGI). To fix this mess the script writer resorts to a nuclear blast, probably because nothing else would work at that point.
I’ll refrain from criticizing the acting, because essentially it would be a waste of time. No actors could save what was flawed from the onset. I will however give some credit where it’s due: namely Worthington and Carter. Worthington tries very hard to make his underdeveloped character work, and is genuinely interesting to watch. Carter, even with a minor role manages to be very convincing. She really is a great actress and it’s a shame we don’t see more of her.
As for the rest: the special effects, much like the action scenes are an exercise in overindulgence. Terminator Salvation follows the Hollywood trend of abandoning substance for the sake of needless eye candy and like many recent Sci-Fi films forgets the purpose of special effects – to add flavor to an already functional movie. Not, as is attempted here – to make the movie function. Its hard to identify where the ultimate blame lies in a product so flawed: the weak dialog, the implausible story or the exaggerated action, but in the end – does it matter?
Linda Hamilton(who played the memorable Sarah Connor in T1 & T2) summed it up best. When asked what she thought about Salvation she said: “[the series] was perfect with two films … But there will always be those who will try to milk the cow”. That’s essentially correct. It also brings to mind the word that best describes Terminator Salvation: unnecessary.