Cool effects? Check again.
A break out performance by a young actor we’re guaranteed to hear from again? Triple check.
That’s almost everything you need to know about Terminator: Salvation, in theaters today. If you’re looking for any or all of the above, I doubt you’ll be disappointed with the fourth film in the franchise that began 25 years ago and helped turn an aspiring Austrian thespian into a box office king. Give it a few years and we could be saying the same thing about Sam Worthington, the Australian star that arguably upstages Christian Bale in almost every scene they’re in together.
Ok, quick plot summary of Terminator: Salvation before we get to the goods. Judgement Day has happened. Skynet rules the world, controlling all the machines while pockets of resistance strive to fight back. Among them is John Connor (Bale), son of Sarah Connor and the perceived chosen one that will help save the human race. As war rages, Connor meets Marcus Wright (Worthington), a convicted criminal from 2003 who donated his body to science before being sentenced to death for murder. What brings him back to life 20 years later? Well, that’s part of the mystery. That is, unless you’ve seen the frankin trailers that give the whole thing away! That’s not me though. You don’t know, I’m not going to be the one to give it up.
If you surf around a bit, you’ll find that Terminator: Salvation is getting savaged by a lot of the hardcore fans, devotees of the first two films and who feel that the new one pales in comparison (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines seems to get a pass most times, with many claiming even it is superior to the latest film). While I’m not hardcore, to a certain extent I can see where they’re coming from. Both Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day were directed by James Cameron, one of the most groundbreaking filmmakers of the past 30 years. Terminator: Salvation director McG is not. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the goods to make a solid action film, which is exactly what Terminator: Salvation is. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s a stellar action film. It kicks off in high gear and rarely lets up. A whole new series of robots and machines are introduced throughout the film, and McG makes sure you feel their actual size and the threat of them. Unlike a certain other film franchise with robots, Terminator: Salvation doesn’t rely on quick edits to imply grandiose machines; McG let’s you see their every movement. His robots aren’t in disguise.
Also in the win column for Terminator: Salvation: the amazing sense of desolation that runs throughout. Me, I’m a huge fan of apocalyptic storytelling, and the movie delivers “bleak” in a way I can’t recall seeing before in a mainstream summer blockbuster, thanks in part to the sepia colour tones it was shot in (at least it feels like it was shot that way; I’m no film major). Think of The Road Warrior, both in feel and in action sequences.
Performance wise, the movie is a mixed bag. Christian Bale is solid but not spectacular as John Connor, but as I stated above, his presence is totally diminished when Sam Worthington is onscreen. If John Connor is the soul of the Terminator series, as he tries to live up to his mother’s hopes and dreams, Worthington’s Marcus Wright is this film’s heart. Literally. Get ready for more of this actor (specifically in James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar and the remake of Clash Of The Titans, currently shooting). Also worth a mention is Anton Yelchin, who is two for two this blockbuster seasons, with strong performances as Chekhov in Star Trek and as Kyle Reese, John Connor’s would-be father, in Terminator: Salvation. Yelchin has the ability to recall yet not mimic Michael Biehn, who previously played Reese.
Of course, there are flaws. What big blockbuster doesn’t have them? Bryce Dallas Howard is totally wasted in her role as Kate Connor and deserved far more screen time than what she was given. There’s also the token kid that so many films seem to want to throw in for no good reason. However, the biggest flaw, the one that almost was a deal breaker, comes from a judgement call made by one of the lead characters mid-way through the film. It will leave you scratching your head and asking “what the hell was she thinking?” But I’ll let you discover that for yourself. I imagine there’s a deleted scene someplace that will make said characters decision making process clearer than what wound up in the final product.
Die hard Terminator fans claim that there’s a lot of depth to the series. It’s not that I don’t see it – obviously the mother/son relationship was a huge piece of what made T2 so successful. But for me, the franchise is simply a fun and entertaining sci-fi story with killer robots. With that criteria in mind, Terminator: Salvation delivers the goods and left me eager to see where the next film goes.
Or, to put it another way, “I’ll be back”.
I heard you groan.