The future of war is already upon us. We deal with it on a daily basis in the Middle East. It’s composed mainly of a war against terrorism. They are the new villains we face. The weapons used are all state-of-the-art, but there’s a constant fear of falling behind in the arms race. Companies spend every waking moment developing newer technologies to help destroy its fellow man. No matter where we are in the present, the future is firmly in our grasp. However, at the moment, our wars are fought man versus man. The future depicted in Terminator Salvation is man versus machine, in which man fights all on the same side.
Throughout the Terminator franchise, the moment of “judgment day,” in which a nuclear holocaust wipes out the vast majority of human civilization, leaving Earth to be ruled by machines, has been seen only briefly. It’s mentioned in The Terminator, shown very briefly in a futuristic vision in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and is the backdrop for the end of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, as John Connor along with other important world leaders are stowed in a fallout shelter while the rest of the world endures nuclear annihilation. The future after judgment day has always been shown briefly throughout the series and with the present day storyline pretty much all visualized, the next logical step is to venture into that future when man is at war with the Skynet machines as humanity attempts to stay afloat.
In 2003, a man names Marcus Wright sits on death row. He’s a murderer and no longer redeemable to fit into society. Just before his execution, he’s met by Dr. Serena Kogan. Dr. Kogan requests that Marcus donates his organs after he’s killed. He signs a waiver and is executed via lethal injection. The film flash-forwards to 2018. Judgment day has occurred and left the planet a vast wasteland. Humans are scarce and only scattered throughout. Skynet machines have become self-aware and want to rule the planet for themselves. Their only course of action in order to do so is to eliminate the human race.
John Connor is the leader of the resistance. He is the prophesized individual to help the humans win the ongoing war with the machines. He is tasked with finding and saving his father who years later had traveled back in time to conceive him, Kyle Reese. Reese is only a teenager. He heads the “L.A. branch” of the resistance, which consists of him and a mute five-year-old girl. While performing his life’s work, battling machines, Reese comes across an individual resembling a human, but is not part of the resistance. He seems unaware of his being. He is Marcus Wright. Marcus is revealed to be a terminator, but is adamant he’s human. The question is whether he is friend or foe to the humans and is his objective to help or hurt them.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day used to be known as the action piece of the franchise. Indeed it is, as it’s one of the greatest pure action films ever made. What made it a great film though, is over and above the great set pieces, there was a rush of adrenaline with some substance to it. Terminator Salvation aims to give T2 a run for its money action-wise, but what it forgets is to make it mean something. Sure there are huge robots equipped with incendiary devices of all sorts blowing up what remains of the Earth in attempt to eradicate humans, but isn’t much beyond that and the subtle trust/mistrust of Marcus. The bleak, post-apocalyptic atmosphere created by director McG looks great, but the whole script is predicated upon making sure nothing really happens. The whole point of the film is to make sure it sets itself up for another sequel. It ultimately ends exactly where it began, like a non-serialized TV episode.
McG had to convince Christian Bale to take a chance on him. Take a chance the director of slick-looking fare like the Charlie’s Angels series could reinvent himself with a more gritty style. The look of it is certainly there and the action scenes are well-executed. For that, he should be commended, but most human interaction seems void of any real emotion. The script by John Brancato & Michael Ferris (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) just doesn’t go anywhere. The concept of the human/terminator, Marcus, is an interesting one, but doesn’t lead to any emotionally-relevant state. It’s a stagnant film with no real arc and it seems as if somebody involved in the production just wanted to tread water instead of diving in.
Christian Bale certainly has the intensity necessary as John Connor to carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, but it doesn’t seem to translate when he shares the screen with Aussie actor, Sam Worthington, as Marcus. They’re both worthy actors, but don’t generate the type of heat needed for the on-the-brink-of-extinction premise, especially if compared with the charisma of the Arnold Schwarzenegger-headlined parts of the franchise. Speaking of Schwarzenegger, his “cameo” as a CGI-face on the body of another actor as a T-800 model terminator is plainly awful. The CGI looks waxy and expressionless and the whole occurrence made no sense in the context of the film. It would have been far better if it were excised, especially since it happens during the climax of the film. Once Alfred Hitchcock became such a recognizable face, he continued to do cameo’s in his films, but only toward the beginning, as he knew the audience was waiting for his presence and he didn’t want it to overtake the narrative. This is a lesson Terminator Salvation should have learned.
It’s definitely a positive that the human existence hasn’t stared elimination in the face, even with the current rapid-rate production of WMD’s. It’d be nice if the state of the world can remain that way for while instead of facing mass takeover by the machines we’ve created, ala HAL 9000. Although it looks good and the action sequences are all visually stunning, there isn’t much glue holding this film together. It’s all fairly mindless. What makes matters more saddening is the knowledge that this isn’t the end. In fact, in shows no signs of stopping and sometimes you just need to know when to quit. It will entertain throughout its runtime, but when the credits roll you will have wished for something more.