Synopsis: In 2018, a mysterious new weapon in the war against the machines, half-human and half-machine, comes to John Connor on the eve of a resistance attack on Skynet. But whose side is he on, and can he be trusted? (From IMDb)
Review: My brothers are all dedicated fans of the original Terminator films. So I have been compelled to watch them all at various points in my life. After the third viewing, I decided the films had some redeeming value and enjoyed parts of the narrative. Though I would not call myself a die-hard fan of the franchise. But I would not say no if I was asked to watch the films again. When Terminator Salvation came out, I was intrigued. The trailer looked exciting and it starred Batman himself, Christian Bale. And Sam Worthington, but Avatar had not come out yet so he was still a relatively unknown actor. Anyways, the trailer made the movie look like a sleek action adventure with some decent character development. The trailer lied. For the most part, the film lives up to the action adventure hype but completely fails in the character development category. I mostly enjoyed the mindlessness up until the ending, it was a horrible way to close out the narrative.
Terminator Salvation is set in a post-nuclear future where humanity is being hunted down by a sentient computer program. The landscape has been destroyed and all that remains is smoky wreckage, CGI rendered urban decay, decimated bridges, and bugged buildings. This post-apocalyptic world resembles the one hinted at in the original 1984 Terminator film and the one seen on TNT’s Falling Skies, minus the aliens of course. Christian Bale plays the role of John Conner, the leader of the human resistance fighting against robotic tyranny. Conner is the hero of all the Terminator films and SkyNet keeps trying to kill him by sending a machine back in time (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the originals) to kill his mom. On the plus side, humanity has perfected artificial intelligence. Conner’s resistance needs all the help they can muster because SkyNet has created a human-looking nearly indestructible new Terminator. Meanwhile, Marcus Wright (Worthington) joins the resistance. Early on in the film Wright pledged his body to science, so it is not hard to guess his tragic secret. Inevitably, the film falls for the over-used trope of the “nice” Terminator who only wants to help the resistance defeat SkyNet. So who is the hero here: Conner or Wright? Fundamentally the two characters cancel each other. But the movie misses a bet by not delving more deeply into this paradox.
The film poses some interesting questions about the boundaries between man and machine. But the narrative never dives deep into the questions and never takes a stand on the issue. It is as if the screenwriters attempted to be philosophical and gave up half way through. One of my main problems with this film is that other than being made of steel, the robots are not well distinguished from the humans. Both sides fight with their fists and learned to shoot at the same place that trained the Storm Troopers from Star Wars. A lot of bullets are fired but no one ever seems to hit something. Unless the narrative calls for a dramatic and touching scene, then everyone magically becomes ace sharp shooters. About 90 percent of the film is devoted to showcasing the apocalyptic showdown between man and machine. While all the action scenes are well executed, they are hardly innovative. There the requisite chases, motorcycle shenanigans, helicopter scenes, fighter-plane scenarios, fistfights, and intimidating androids. All in all, just all the other Terminator, robotic science-fiction, and action films ever made.
Aesthetic wise, the Terminators look remarkably generic. They do not appear creepy by themselves. Only a terrifying showdown with humanity makes them look like domineering and cruel robotic overlords. Also, all the Terminators are supposed to be these deadly and highly accurate fighters. Yet they all have an unsurprisingly convenient defect: if they are stabbed in the back of the neck, they go all limp and floppy for a while. I would have expected a super-intelligent and sentient computer overlord to have corrected this problem years ago. But I guess SkyNet has yet to implement evolutionary measures into their Terminator Program. And the screenwriters decided to add in a digitally created version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character. The result is an obviously fake looking render and a half-hearted action sequence. Also, the render is so ridiculous looking that it fails to be intimidating and creepy. That whole sequences just felt out-of-place and contrived to pacify diehard fans.
Acting wise, the majority of the cast seemed to just phone in their performances. Bale seemed to be trying to go in the complete opposite direction of Batman. But the result was a rather boring and flat performance. Worthington shows some glimmers of acting ability but he was hampered by horrible character development. His lines toward the end of the film are nauseatingly sentimental and faintly ridiculous. I laughed during the end and it was supposed to be this poignant scene. But the tone was ruined by hackneyed dialogue and poor character development. Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard seem to only be in the film to confirm that women exist in this supposedly terrifying world. Bloodgood utters a few sentimental lines and has some well-choreographed fight scenes. And that is about it. Howard spends most of her screen time calming down Bale’s character and getting wet. The lack of development in the female characters is hardly surprising, this movie is about Conner and Wright. Everyone else merely exists to add tension and drama. Overall, this is a wasted opportunity. Terminator Salvation is a solid mindless popcorn action flick. All the action sequences are excellent. But the screenwriters dropped the ball on character development. The franchise is being rebooted once again with the release of Terminator: Genisys on July 1, 2015.