Film Review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation

With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Terminator SalvationIt’s more than 25 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger first uttered the words “I’ll be back” in Terminator (1984) and in that time there have been three further instalments about the rise of the machines under Skynet and of the mother and her son (Sarah and John Connor) that would become pivotal to mankind’s ultimate victory in the end. While the first three Terminator films dealt with time travel and Skynet’s attempts to kill John Connor, McG’s Terminator Salvation is set during the war that we have only previously had glimpses of.

Terminator Salvation begins in 2003 where Dr Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces a Death Row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) to donate his body to science. Wright duly obliges and after being given a lethal injection his remains are at the mercy of Dr Kogan. The devastating Judgement Day occurs the following year in 2004 when Skynet is activated and perceives mankind as a threat, opting to wage a horrific war on the world. Our focus quickly switches to 2018 where John Connor (Christian Bale) is part of the Resistance against the machines but is not yet the leader we are familiar with from the prophetic visions in the other films. Connor is revered by many as a future saviour and treated with utmost respect while others question the validity of these claims. Connor’s problems in the war mount when the Resistance learns that Skynet are planning to assassinate specific members of the Resistance within a week. While Connor is second on the list, another Resistance member, Kyle Reece (Anton Yelchin) is the primary target, being the one later chosen to go back in time to protect Sarah Connor in the 1980s but also to become John Connor’s father during that mission. Meanwhile Marcus Wright emerges in 2018 and begins searching for Dr Kogan but along the way he meets Kyle Reece and they join forces. Following Reece’s capture by Skynet, Wright heads for a meeting with John Connor to enlist the help of the Resistance in a daring rescue mission. Connor, eager to prevent Reece’s death and therefore his own, also volunteers to test a new radio frequency the Resistance believes can shutdown Skynet and its machines and lead to the end of the war.

As with the other Terminator films there is potentially the path to some head scratching as the protagonists look to ensure not only John Connor’s survival but more importantly that of Kyle Reece. It was interesting having John Connor as just another member of the Resistance and during the film he has the chance to demonstrate his potential as a leader. Connor is somewhat stubborn, abhorrent of the authority and orders of the Resistance leaders whose scepticism of him as mankind’s saviour mean they are happy to forsake Kyle Reece once he’s been captured by Skynet, despite Connor’s pleas. In the end victory is all that matters, but with Connor having been through encounters with Terminators prior to Judgement Day he knows how crucial both he and Kyle are. In an interesting twist Kyle is a young rookie in Terminator Salvation, already adept in combat but not yet the battle-hardened soldier he was in Terminator.

This is the first time we have been fully immersed into the war between mankind and the machines and inevitably it’s effects galore throughout. Only released in 2009 I somehow expected some of these effects to be better and I felt there was too much emphasis on them to carry the film. I can’t blame McG too much for this. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was so groundbreaking with its effects that anyone trying to do similar with future incarnations will inevitably struggle. The historical context of the film sees Skynet only just developing the T-800 Terminator that featured so memorably in the first film. Instead we have older models that are still reminiscent of the terminators with a metal skeleton infrastructure but they don’t have the same fear factor. While some Terminators patrol the barren wasteland looking for human prey, others burn rubber on motorbikes while Skynet’s machines scour the world from the sky and even send giant robots to capture humans and take them back to the main headquarters. As fascinating as it was to see the war in detail I was left lamenting the loss of the mystery built up in the first films with those teasing glimpses. Brief shots of Terminators crushing skulls beneath their mechanical feet and opening fire on the Resistance stayed with you long after the film, but Terminator Salvation has undone all that. The original films always seemed to depict the future war to be conducted beneath dark skies which seemed to emphasise the bleakness of the struggle. Terminator Salvation veers between day and night but is most effective during the twilight exchanges. The addition of dialogue used in the previous films and even the odd image just made me nostalgic for the other instalments.

While John Connor fights continuous battles against both the machines and his superiors we have the story of Marcus Wright unfolding. After Kyle Reece is captured, Wright befriends a Resistance member Blair (Moon Bloodgood) in what is a weak romance plot. Blair leads Wright to Connor but even before stepping on a mine and revealing the truth of what science has done to him it’s already pretty obvious what Marcus Wright’s secret is. Both Connor and Wright join forces to storm Skynet and rescue Reece and we do get a welcome introduction from the newly developed T-800 models and in one instance a familiar face returns! In the end an average plot is resolved with a very corny ending as Connor and Wright put their differences aside with one making the ultimate sacrifice for the future. Terminator 3 was quite good but had it not been made I wouldn’t have minded, while Terminator Salvation is nearly two hours of a very thin storyline, elaborately decorated with glossy effects.

As interesting as it was to see the war between mankind and the machines Terminator Salvation offers very little that is engaging. The absence of Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot be ignored and though Bale and Worthington do try they sadly cannot fill Arnie’s shoes. I’m sure I read three Terminator films were planned depicting the future war so one can only hope Arnie, conveniently stepping down as Governor of California, will return in some capacity, otherwise I will approach any further films in this series with some dread.

Verdict: 5/10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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