After making Terminator 2: Judgment Day my featured movie last week, Heather and I decided to go see the fourth movie in the franchise, Terminator Salvation, Saturday night. After the recent Terminator TV show was cancelled before it could really mine out some new territory, we were excited to see the direction that this new movie (reportedly the first in a new trilogy) took the Terminator story. The TV show had allayed my fears that a good Terminator movie couldn’t happen without Arnold, but I was still nervous about one of my least favorite directors (McG of Charlie’s Angels fame) taking on one of my famous franchises. In the end, McG proved capable, and the film was entertaining, but not even James Cameron could have elevated this script to anything beyond an mildly enjoyable popcorn movie.
The movie is the first in the franchise to take place in the future during mankind’s war with Skynet. Now and adult and a leader in the resistance, John Connor (Christian Bale) is viewed by some as a savior and some as an over-eager idealist. On a raid of a Skynet facility, he uncovers the revelation that Skynet has begun taking prisoners and experimenting on human tissue in preparation for the new T-800 Terminators. As he and the other resistance commanders plot their next move, a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), whose last memory is of being executed on death row, emerges from a destroyed Skynet lab. Seeking to figure out what has happened to the world and to him, he happens upon Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), a teenager surviving in now-desolate Los Angeles. Over the course of the film, these three cross paths and seek to take the fight to Skynet in hopes of making peace with their pasts or futures (and in Terminator mythology, aren’t they the same thing?).
I can say right off the bat that my biggest fear, McG’s directing ability, was put to rest. He actually proves himself capable, handling the film reasonably well, showing a great knack for how to stage an entertaining action scene, and even making some of the movie’s quieter moments (there aren’t many) effective. The problem with the movie lies with the script. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the end, the story doesn’t really go much of anywhere. Much has been made of the original ending, which was dropped after it was leaked online. I can’t say how it would have played onscreen, but as a concept at least it would have pushed the Terminator narrative somewhere. As it stands, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason to make this movie save to set up further sequels. It just couldn’t seem to find its identity. We don’t get much of a window into John Connor here, and his wife (Bryce Dallas-Howard) is pretty much a throwaway character, but Marcus is fascinating to watch. The supporting cast ranges from decent (Yelchin and Moon Bloodgood) to dull (Common), to why-are-you-in-this-movie (Jadagrace Berry), and I suspect that it’s not so much because of the ability of the actors as it is the material they have to work with. In the end, that seems to be the best summary of the movie – a cast and crew doing the best they can with a flimsy premise. I realize that my review has sounded pretty negative, and I’m actually going to surprise you by giving this a mild recommendation. I was never bored by it, it held my interest until its all-too-abrupt end, and it provided its fair share of exciting moments (including a cameo from you-know-who). As an action movie fan, I liked it. However, as a fan of the Terminator series, which has always been good sci-fi and more than just explosions and computer effects, I found it the weakest installment by far and a disappointment – and that sentiment grows the more that I think about it. - **1/2 (out of 4)
Terminator Salvation is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language.
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