After the steep quality drop off of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” from “Terminator 2” you’d think I’d be all for quieting while you’re ahead. Like every other “Terminator” movie this fourth entry would take a few years before it would get released (why each sequel takes forever to come out I’ll never understand). “Terminator 3” though showed franchise fatigue being very by the numbers and generic with a lack of new ideas. With this newest film though “Terminator Salvation ” I had high hopes for because it would finally take place in the war of the future. The war we have heard about for 3 films which would also create some interesting narrative opportunities. When the movie ended upon my third re-watch (the most recent one when I was having a marathon through the series before “Genisys”) I sat there with my father watching the credits roll bye. After a few seconds of credits I just said aloud “well…..there is a good movie in there somewhere”.
“Salvation” constantly flashes us with its potential and pockets of great moments. Yet the dull and poor script drags the entire movie down with its lack of understanding of where it wants to go and contradiction of its own lore. The action does prove entertaining but some poor direction does hinder what should be a great movie.
“Terminator Salvation” picks up the story in 2018 (15 years after Judgment Day) we have arrived to the war that Sarah Connor was first told about in 1984 by the resistance fighter, Kyle Reese. John Connor helps lead a group of resistance soldiers against the machines. This future is somehow different then the one Connor was brought up being told about. On the eve of an assault on Skynet, a half man half robot lands on his front step, Marcus Wright. A man given a second chance but he doesn’t know what he is, and could prove to be either the ultimate weapon for Skynet or the greatest hope for the resistance.
I watch this movie and see a lot of potential in it. Not just potential in theory but potential being flashed on screen right before our eyes. There are a number of things wrong with this film but the biggest issue begins and dies with the script. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, say or do. From what I understand this film was rewritten a number of times, some early drafts had little to no John Connor in it and focused solely on the Marcus Wright character. It apparent because the movie doesn’t do a good job of picking it’s central character.
Moments it feels like Connor’s movie and others it feels like Wright’s movie. Marcus ends up becoming more developed than Connor who isn’t written with the most depth in the world. The story around the film feels very weak with it being mostly “a mission” movie . What I mean by that is this movie is about a military mission….we have to complete the mission…or all hope is lost. The mission here is taking out Skynet Central. Yet none of the characters (other than Marcus) are written with any dimension that was apparent in the other films. Even Connor feels stale and that’s the last thing that should happen in a Terminator movie. Plus the film contradicts lore set up in the films previous to this, and that is among the most frustrating. The script gets some of the little things right in terms of nodding the original films but gets some major plot points wrong (most of it concerning Kyle Reese).
A lot of people like to place a lot of blame on director McG for this movie and I’m not sure if he is really the issue. Other than the performance of one actor (which will be revealed later) the acting is good, the action is a nice step up from the forgettable “Terminator 3” action scenes; and the movie is beautifully shot with nice cinematography. It has a grit to it that I like. I don’t really like McG as a director but he does a much better job behind the camera (and appears to give some real effort) than Jonathan Mostow of “Terminator 3”. His storytelling ability might be a bit in question but I put that a lot of the sorely lacking script. There is a nice blend of practical and computer generated effects throughout the film, this is McG at his best (which does not say much at all). I think the trouble with him is there isn’t enough suspense to a film that should reek of it. The atmosphere could use improvement as well. In that regard McG is a bit hit or miss with this film but I’d say he’s like the 11th thing wrong with the film (I am speaking in hyperbole of course).
Taking on the titular role of John Conner is the superstar actor Christian Bale. Even before seeing the film I thought it was pitch perfect casting. Yet, this is the one performance in the entire film that I would seriously call into question to what direction McG was giving. Throughout the film you can see flashes of why Bale would be perfect as Connor but he exhibits no acting range in the film. The two temperatures he plays at is really soft spoken and yelling. There isn’t much in between of that. It’s not quite as extreme as say Eddie Redmayne in “Jupiter Ascending” but he isn’t hitting those medium ranges he should be.
Sam Worthington plays Marcus Wright to one of his best performances in his career. He carries a lot of this movie and adds a beating heart to it. While far from an amazing performance this is perhaps the best in the movie. Anton Yelchin takes on the iconic role of a young Kyle Reese and does a really job in the role. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Kate Connor (formerly Kate Brewster) and a lot like Claire Danes in “Terminator 3” a fine performance and fine actress but isn’t given enough to do (especially to a character that was deemed so important in “T3”).
This is perhaps the most frustrating of the all the “Terminators” films (well actually let’s wait till we get to “Terminator: Genisys” before I make that claim official). The potential is all over this film, the future war is something I was so excited to see. I was personally done with the plot lines we’ve been getting in previous films I was ready for the war. This movie even sports one of the best trailers ever cut together. So much potential if only they waited and wrote the script a little longer it would have gone a long way. I’d like to see more from this era of time in the mythology but sadly from the looks of it that’s not going to happen.