Terminator Salvation is out in theaters today. Following up on a poor third movie and from what I hear a decent enough series that was relegated to probably the least prime time of prime time slots out there, Salvation serves to show us what has been talked about and shown in brief glimpses: the battle between humanity and Skynet. How does that fair? well enought but not outstanding.
Let’s start off with the basics. This is not your typical Terminator plot as seen in Terminator 1-3 or even The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Gone is the unstoppable robot from the future and the outclassed protector sent to stop it from killing its target. Instead, this is your standard war tale of small resistance versus evil and unrelenting tyranny. This is what I like most about Salvation. Terminator was a good movie. T2 was a more polished and tweaked ite. T3 was a failed iteration. They’re all the same movie. Here, the good guy forces can actually put up a fight, albeit not much, against the Terminators. There are similarities, sure, such as making sure Skynet doesn’t kill someone, and a warrior misplaced from his time coming to the rescue (opposite direction this time though), but it’s different enough to not feel like a simple rehash.
With that said, it really is a standard war tale. The plot is fairly basic and kind of clichéd. Most of the plot is predictible, and you can pretty much guess correctly how each scene will play out well enough in advance. In the end, there is no real huge change in the battle between humanity and Skynet.
The most average movie goer with basic knowledge of the previous films could likely find as many holes in the continuity as in swiss cheese. That tends to happen when time travel is thrown into the mix. I tend to glaze them over. Until we actually discover time travel, we won’t know how it actually affects time, so let’s not worry about those too much. Salvation does throw us some nods to the previous movies though. We get some short lines you may have heard before and a familiar face or two.
If you’re looking for deep characterization, this movie isn’t for you. The film’s two main characters are John Connor (Christian Bale) and Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). For Connor, we finally get to see him in the role prophisized about for 20 years, except not quite. He’s not the all-out leader of the resistance, but instead is a commanding officer with superiors to begrudgingly answer to. We do see the inspiration Connor is supposed to bring to humanity in his own little fireside chats around the radios. Bale’s performance accomplishes the task of making Connor be a rugged yet brooding leader-type, and that’s about it. It’s basically a toned-down Batman without the gravely voice. Not particularly deep or groundbreaking, so if you expected more out of the long-promised John Connor, sorry.
Marcus Wright instead receives more of the character focus. He is the human-Terminator hybrid given the second chance he’s not sure he deserves or even wants. Wright gives Connor a run for his money in the brooding catagory with the sins of his past, the loss of everything he knows and the whole not fully human thing. Worthington does this brooding well enough to fill the plot, with maybe one or two too many “NOOOOOOOO”s.
We also see Kyle Reese, John Connor’s eventual father, as a young man in the resistance. He’s played by Anton Yelchin, and if you recognize him, that’s because he’s Chekov in Star Trek. He also probably seems the most human, with some actual signs of fear at the beginning but still able to keep his cool. No Russian accent though. Maybe that would have fooled Skynet.
The score for the movie is fairly forgettable, aside from the standard Terminator theme and a couple of boom box scenes serving nothing more than to rile up Terminators to tell humans to keep the music down, with a little force of course. Seems like Danny Elfman took it easy with this paycheck. Personally though, I don’t mind as I like to occasionally hear what is actually happening in high-action scenes, of which there are plenty, but to each his own.
Speaking of high-action scenes, they are here in force. After all, where would a Terminator movie be without a big car chase or trying to fight off a constantly-advancing Terminator? Added to the mix are gun fights, fist fights and even jet and helicopter fights. Some of the scenes are repetitive (two helicopter crash scenes?) or long, which mostly seem to fill 2-hour running time that summer blockbusters these days seem to set as a minimum.
To wrap this up, Terminator Salvation is a fair summer blockbuster. It’s got action and explosions and franchise references to warrant a viewing or two and please some fans. However, it has a clichéd and predictible plot and lacks strong characterization. Plus a re-edit could help, and maybe a better scoring. It works as a popcorn flick and for washing out the bad taste T3 left in our mouths. However, it does nothing to dethrone Star Trek as this summer’s reigning champion thus far.