TERMINATOR SALVATION – Flawed but SATISFYING
Knowing that there was a wildly split reaction (more negative than positive on RottenTomatoes) for this fourth entry in the Terminator franchise, I waited a few days before seeing it because I didn’t want to be swayed one way or the other. While I certainly acknowledge that Salvation was badly in need of a script rewrite, the film still worked for the most part and, while not great, is a good entry in the overall canon.
After an opening scene that introduced us to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate in the year 2003 who goes on to play a prominent role in the story, the film carries us to the year 2018 where machines now rule earth nine years after judgment day has taken place. John Conner (Christian Bale) at this point in the Terminator timeline is a foot soldier/prophet in the human resistance movement who is trying to find the character of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the teenage version of his father. The villainous Skynet has targeted Reese for death in order to stop him from eventually going back in time and impregnating Sarah Conner – thus stopping the existence of future resistance leader John Conner. Yes, you have to love the time-travel paradox. If nothing else it’s certainly thought provoking – if not mind-boggling.
The script from the writers of T3 focuses primarily on three main characters: the mysterious Marcus Wright, who really emerges as the heart of the story (in more ways than one); Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn in the first film), very well played in a highly likeable performance by Yelchin, and; John Conner, played by Bale. While Bale is a solid presence, his take on Conner is somewhat stiff and not really the way I envisioned Edward Furlong (T2) or Nick Stahl’s (T3) Conner growing up to be like. The growling Batman voice was a bit much. Worthington, whose Marcus character raises the question of what it means to be human, is a find here. He has a charisma that should make him a name in the business and his storyline is the film’s most compelling. I was actually moved by his actions at the film’s conclusion. Considering he’s the star of James Cameron’s highly anticipated upcoming sci-fi epic “Avatar”, predicting a bright future for him is not much of a leap.
The film also does a great job maintaining its post-apocalyptic feel throughout, as earth has been turned into a barren wasteland with unending grey skies. This is the future Sarah Conner tried to avoid. This future is as bleak as it gets. It’s man vs. machines and the machines are winning. Director McG (We Are Marshall), who was severely scrutinized by the internet fanboy crowd when he signed on to direct, stages some very exciting action pieces, one involving a giant Harvester robot that ejects two terminator motorcycles out of its leg, enabling them to chase their intended target. That was a true WOW moment and proved that he can shoot action very effectively.
The much talked about Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo, in which his face is CGI’d on a T-800 terminator in the film’s last act, is very cool and the audience I saw the film with really loved it as much as I did. I have to admit I was grinning from ear to ear. Terminator Salvation is an example of a film that is obviously flawed but it has more than its share of good stuff to elevate it into a solid film well worth seeing if you’re a fan of this franchise. Worthington, Yelchin, and the marvelously well executed effects (everything involving machines was great) are enough juice to give this fourth installment in the 25-year-old series reason to see it. I can’t say it left me foaming at the mouth for a fifth installment but I can honestly say I was satisfied by what McG delivered. Let’s be honest – James Cameron is truly one of a kind!
While Cameron’s first two Terminator films are pretty much universally loved (with good reason), I’m somewhat perplexed by the fan-boy hatred of Terminator: Rise of the Machines (with a 70% positive rating on RottenTomatoes) as it was a very respectable effort in the overall series.
My overall ratings for the Terminator series:
Terminator -1984 – 5 out of 5
Terminator 2: Judgment Day – 1991 – 4.75 out of 5
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – 2003 – 3.75 out of 5
Terminator Salvation – 2009 – 3.5 out of 5
I was also a fan of the Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles TV series which lasted two seasons before Fox pulled the plug because of low ratings. I’ve watched every episode and consider it a nice fit between the 2nd and 3rd entries in the film series.
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