After hearing mixed reviews about Terminator Salvation, and harbouring a healthy dose of scepticism for the idea of a new Terminator trilogy, I went to see the movie last night.
‘Salvation’ jumps right into the middle of the war between humans and SkyNet, giving us Christian Bale as a grown-up John Connor. Connor is more than aware of his own legend. He still listens to those old tapes his mother made for him. He still carries around that old photo of Sarah taken by a kid in a Mexican gas station in 1984. In a nice piece of continuity with T-3, he’s married to Kate, presumably Catherine Brewster as the Terminator in the last movie predicted.
The plot revolves around a Death Row inmate called Marcus Wright, who signed his body over to Cyberdyne Systems. The body was later used to create a prototype Terminator infiltration unit that was a hybrid of human and robot. Unlike other Terminator units, Marcus retained his name and his memories, and until captured by Connor’s unit, believes that he’s human.
After escaping from a destroyed SkyNet base, Wright stumbles across a teenaged Kyle Reese. Along with another child, they travel across country in search of John Connor, who makes regular I Am Legend style radio broadcasts out to the remaining humans. Reese gets captured, and Wright makes it his mission to rescue him, finding Connor and helping infiltrate SkyNet to release the prisoners including Reese.
Inside the SkyNet base, Wright discovers that he is the dupe of the machines and was programmed to find John Connor and bring him in. We tip our hats at the cunning of the machines – the ultimate infiltration unit is one that doesn’t know it’s an infiltration unit!
Why Terminator Salvation is worth watching?
- Fairly successfully, Salvation imagines a post-apocalyptic world where the humans are fighting tooth and nail for survival. It’s not quite the grim night-world of the original movie, but the threat of hunter-killers and transport ships is well realised, showing that SkyNet is an always-present threat (insert Microsoft jokes about 99.9% uptime here!)
- The movie breaks with the first trilogy’s obsession with ‘upgrades’ – sleeker, sexier Terminators with enhanced abilities. If anything, Salvation reverts to a time before the T-800 model was released. The Terminators are cruder, their terrifying endoskeletons are exposed.
- You do get to see new tech though – the enormous destroyer that pulls apart a gas station is fast, accurate and extremely well armed. There are eel-like machines that patrol the waters looking for humans to destroy. The computer interface at SkyNet which Marcus hooks into is very slick, although one wonders whether in a world ruled by robots if a graphical user interface is superfluous design?
- Though can you imagine that all those machines – even the killer robot motorbikes – have USB slots? I wonder if it’s USB 3?
- We demanded references to classic Terminator lore. We got them. Connor gets to utter the immortal “I’ll be back” line, and even a CGI Arnie makes an appearance as the original T-800, a scene which really made me gasp with awe. Even the final battle between Connor and the Terminator echoes the injured Kyle Reese fending off Arnie’s T-800 in the first movie, as the Terminator’s metallic feet scale the stairs.
- The SkyNet masterstroke of tricking the resistance with a ‘control frequency’ was a brilliant manouevre.
- The concept of Marcus Wright was well-reasoned, although by the end of the movie I was wishing the original ending had been used: Connor dead, and his skin transplanted to Wright’s endoskeleton. I liked Bale as Connor, but he was difficult to connect with – something Sam Worthington’s tortured Terminator didn’t suffer from.
- Did anyone else expect Connor to be the leader of the resistance, not a lieutenant? Although I suppose with the rest of the command wiped out, I suppose that puts him in charge now…
- The final battle starts well with the Arnie terminator beating seven shades of shit out of Connor, but becomes a bit formulaic in the style of the original movies. I was waiting for one of those false death/reroute auxiliary power/real death sequences to happen, but they avoided that ol’ chestnut.
- I thought Bryce Dallas Howard was pretty but almost pointless, and Moon Bloodgood’s scenes with Wright were too short. I loved it when she slide down that chain to help him escape. Thought I have to remark on the similarity between Bloodgood and Summer Glau’s character in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Shame her character wasn’t called Allison, isn’t it? That could have been fun.
Overall though, Terminator Salvation was not the dead loss I’d expected it to be, and McG delivered a movie that adds to the Terminator legacy (unlike Rise Of The Machines) with a destroyed planet. McG’s signature is slick, punchy action sequences, and Salvation delivered that in spades while leaving us wondering what’s next in the battle against SkyNet.
(Special kudos to Anton Yelchin, who looked as close to a young Michael Biehn as possible and did an admirable job as the teenage Kyle Reese).