Terminator: Salvation: The War Between Apocalyptic Grit and Shameless Popcorn Silliness
Let me start right off the bat by saying I enjoyed Terminator: Salvation. It may be the worst of the four, but if you go in with your popcorn and soda and fail to have any fun, I feel sorry for whatever you might be going through. It’s chock full of special effects, explosions, convincing action sequences, and surprisingly good cinematography (considering the hubbub about Bale chewing out the director of photography for being unprofessional, I was far more impressed with the visuals than with Bale’s performance). The fun shifts, however, as the finale approaches and guilt seeps in about the smile on your face. The laughs aren’t intentional, the product placements are deplorable, the intelligence has entirely disappeared. The question I want to pose is– is the fun that’s being had worth lessening the overall integrity of the franchise? I haven’t fully answered the question myself yet.
John Connor has grown from Edward Furlong’s annoying child to Nick Stahl’s torn 20-something to Christian Bale’s gruff messianic militaristic leader of humanity. He commands a troop and sends out radio broadcasts to small patches of the resistance everywhere (all who seem to be gathered around radios when the time comes for his transmission). They have invented a machine that effectively shuts machines down from their orders from Skynet, which is good, since Skynet’s #1 priority is to kill Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), eventual father of John Connor. Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is a man from the past who gives his body to Cyberdyne before death… and he awakens after Judgement Day in 2018, feeling great. Any guesses as to why he is this way? It’s not long before Marcus and John meet and devise a plan to save Reese from the robots– a plan that seems pretty simple when it comes down to it.
But why am I complaining? Odds are crowds will be pleased. Stuff blowing up? Good God, yes. If there’s one thing McG (the vowelless director of Charlie’s Angels) does very well, it is blowing stuff up. There are actually a few legitimately impressive scenes, especially an early one where Christian Bale emerges, fights some robots, takes a helicopter into the air, crashes it, and emerges from the wreckage all in one extended shot. Speaking of the robots, there is a wide variety, and the film never looks overly sleek with their machine design– these machines rust, they’re built on assembly lines, and they look very industrial in nature. The tempo of the film is quick and ceaseless, and the tone of the film is intense from the opening moments. Even the opening credits are filled with badass names! Moon Bloodgood! Michael Ironside! Even multiple one named actors like Common and Jadagrace!
The bad thing about the actors is that they’re given so little to do. Occasionally a few interesting ideas pop up, but they’re quickly swept under the rug in order to progress the plot along. Bale barks orders. Common has two lines about wanting to avenge his brother. Bloodgood looks hot and like Marcus Wright. Bryce Dallas Howard stands around and looks pregnant. Two actors inject some humanity into their performances– Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright and Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. Yelchin in particular tries to inject some humor into an otherwise unamused film. I get it, the apocalypse isn’t rife with laughter, but all three other films had legitimately funny moments amidst the fear and chaos.
It’s not the actors’ fault, it’s the script’s fault (okay, maybe Common’s performance is his fault– I can think of at least ten black actors with shaved heads who could have been more interesting with a two-line role than Common). Every now and then, an interesting ethical dilemma is presented to the characters… and they resolve them all at lightning speed, never looking back. The end is also so unabashedly silly that I literally laughed out loud at a Sony handheld device that would override any machine upon simply being plugged in and having John Connor type in “OVERRIDE.” God, give me one night with that machine in an abandoned BMW dealership and see what I could do. Also, wouldn’t the machines notify the main machine that it’s being hacked? How dumb and distractable is Skynet that they would allow Sony robots to construct this device? The final scene is also far too tidy, ending so that despite nothing being resolved and room being left for another sequel, it still feels sickeningly neat for a series that ended its last film with Doomsday.
Perhaps I gripe too much. Perhaps the past Terminator films were silly as well, with giant plotholes and shameless self-references (some of the references here were overboard… but they made so many references, could they not have brought back Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman for a fourth time?). They never felt so dumb though, especially not so humorless and dumb– and as the recent Angels and Demons proved, that’s an awful combination. This film is much better than either Angels and Demons or the dumb, failed humor-filled Wolverine… but is that reason to settle for less? I had a good deal of fun watching this film, and it’s totally worth your money. However, maybe I’ve just been taken over by the influence of the all-powerful Hollywood machine, which prefers to present you with pretty pictures to distract you from the lack of intelligence or real effort that went into ending this sequel. One can only hope our savior will come and gruffly say, “If you are listening to this, you are the resistance,” and moviegoers will fight for Hollywood machinations to leave films and be replaced by humanity in its plot and characters. Until then… did you see that helicopter crash shot? Totally awesome!