Terminator Salvation

As my uncle and I were walking out of the theatre after seeing T4, I turned to him and said “That was a good movie. Not necessarily a good Terminator movie, but still pretty good.”  A guy walking past heard this brief exchange, and he turned to me and asked what movie we were discussing.  “The new Terminator,” I told him.  He paused, thought for a minute, and replied “Yeah, I think I’ll just rent it when it comes out on video.”

Terminator Salvation

My anticipation level for T4 in the months leading up to its release was nearly palpable.  I had watched the trailers many times, read all the pre-release interviews, checked out any pics and clips I could get my hands on, and re-watched the original three.  But when Terminator Salvation finally came out, and was met with mixed reviews, I didn’t quite get it.  I know trailers are rarely representative of the final product, but after everything I had seen and read I didn’t see how McG could screw this up.  I mean, sure, he had directed Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, but given the richness of the Terminator universe, and the amount of talent at his disposal, surely he would not disappoint here.  Unfortunately, I did not get to see T4 for a while, but in the meantime my wife and I did get the opportunity to watch We Are Marshall, a competently directed by-the-numbers inspirational sports movie, and my hopes for T4 remained high despite the somewhat negative criticism that was being leveled against it.

To be clear, this is not a movie about terminators–not in the classic sense that we all know them by now.  The first three films have followed an entertaining but predictable premise:  A gets sent back in time to kill B.  C gets sent back in time to protect B.  C is not as powerful as A.  Cue battles, explosions, and ruminations on the human condition.  Terminator Salvation has no time travel, and the entire movie takes place in the future after the infamous, but always impending, Judgement Day of the first three.  It’s more like Mad Max than Terminator, and herein lies the crux of the matter:  as long as you aren’t expecting another retread of James Cameron’s original premise, this is a very enjoyable action movie.

The many explosive action set pieces lend an epic sense to T4 that was sorely missing in T3, and the deserted wastelands of the western coast really give a sense that this is a world without hope, consisting of scattered bands of humans struggling to survive.  In fact, we see that humanity is not entirely united in its fight against the machines, and some groups are content to stay underground and exist in fear.  I rather enjoyed this larger take on our futuristic counterparts, as it shows some depth to the Terminator universe that I had previously not considered.  Much of the movie is about Marcus Wright, rather than the famous John Connor, and this is where things in the script department start to get a little derailed.

For years we have been hearing about the great leader John Connor.  Even before he was onscreen we heard about him in the original Terminator.  In T2 he was a petulant upstart with a whole lot of potential for channeling his angst into world-saving charisma.  T3 showed a JC who was more like the whiny Anakin Skywalker of Episode II, but ended with the seeds of humanity’s savior finally beginning to take root.  In T4, our fabled hero is nowhere to be found for much of the movie.  Instead we are treated to another petulant upstart, a survivalist woman who thinks she is in a Resident Evil movie, and a young girl who cannot talk (can anyone say Newt?).  Connor does get to bust some robotic heads near the end, but this movie takes so many departures on its way to the climax (which, in essence, leaves everyone no better off than they were at the beginning, and very little has actually changed or happened) that it’s somewhat of a letdown.  Sam Worthington’s performance as Marcus Wright is outstanding, and I wholeheartedly welcome him into the Terminator timeline.  Kudos also to Chckov Anton Yelchin who does a pretty darn good job as Kyle Reese.

Still, it has to be said that Terminator Salvation is exhilarating, entertaining, and a whole lot of fun to watch.  Just know that it’s not quite the T4 we were all expecting.

On a side note, any time a post-apocalyptic movie has a cast with gleaming white teeth and lip gloss, the immersive quality is immediately reduced to near-zero (see also:  Matrix 2 and 3).

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