Directed by Joseph "McG" McGinty Nichol and starring gritty, post apocalyptic warriors, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation, is a fine way to start off Summer 2009’s rollercoaster of action films. Now right from the start I thought that The Terminator was scary and amazing. Then along came the even more satisfying and hair raising Terminator 2: Judgment Day followed by the somewhat forgettable Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. However, Terminator Salvation opens up a whole new dystopic Terminator future world of man-munching special effects determined to obliterate human kind.
Terminator Salvation starts out calmly enough in 2003 when death row inmate, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), signs over his pre-lethal-injection body to dying-of-cancer Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), who promises Wright that, “You will live again!” but doesn’t go into details. Fast forward 15 crazy years and it’s now the fried and crispy critter post-nuclear world of 2018 run by that Deux-et-machina wannabe, the self-aware Skynet, doing its level best to make sure that what few surviving humans are left go completely carbon neutral before their time.
Enter Resistance leader, the adult John Connor (Christian Bale), in an attack on the very same Skynet base where Marcus Wright is stashed in suspended animation among the cadavers used for living tissue Terminator robot prototypes. Connor thinks he is the only survivor when a nuclear blast destroys the site and is unaware that Wright, who got the jolt that he needed to reenter the land of the living, is now free and making his way to what’s left of L.A., where he meets up with Connor’s future father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and his silent partner, Star (Jadagrace Berry).
Connor is desperately trying to find Reese, Wright loses Reese, Wright is brought to Connor and Wright gets blown up by a landmine thereby exposing his true cyber structure. Connor imprisons Wright, changes his mind, works with Wright to attack Skynet HQ in San Francisco and finds Reese. Connor & Wright then team up to fight the newly-minted Governator but Connor takes it in the chest so Wright, appalled that he is actually a machine with a man’s skin, gives up his last human organ, his heart, to save Connor.
And somewhere in all this is the successful destruction of the Skynet HQ using specially coded memory sticks that scrambles & freezes Skynet’s self-awareness like one too many advertising pop-ups on my home PC.
Whew! The cinematography is well done even though Terminator Salvation is pretty much monochromatic if you don’t count the blood and the robots’ eyes. Christian Bale as John Connor is hard-as-nails focused. Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright has a bit of Hamlet about him; he killed in 2003 but his heart wasn’t in it. Maybe that was why he so readily gave up his real heart to save Connor in 2018. Twenty-year old Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese is far more believable as a raw-boned young man than he was as the freckled, uber-brilliant, Pavel Chekov, teenage navigator of the Starship Enterprise in the current prequel Star Trek movie. Jadagrace Berry as Star at least has expressive eyes and Helena Bonham Carter’s Alpha and Omega performances as Dr. Kogan prove that before you sign on the dotted line, read the small print!
Now the real stars of the Terminator movies have always been the machines. So, you want your standard T-600 Terminator? You got ‘em! Massively clawed, multi-story, harvester robots complete with screamin’ meemee killer motorcycles and laser canons? Coming right up! How about some mini flying saucers just right for blowing out the brains of people driving cars? They’re right beside you! There are nasty hydrobots infesting the rivers and the Mobius Strip introduction of the T-800 Model 101 Terminator robot, Governator style with Ahnold’s face super-imposed over a modestly shaded body double is almost seamless but not quite. I mean, Schwarzenegger does have some miles on him and here he’s supposed to be hot off the presses. I suppose no one thought to check his odometer.
However, the nastiest thing in the entire movie was a tiny bit of dialogue blurted out at the end. Marcus Wright philosophizes something along the lines of, “…taking a chip doesn’t make us less-than-human.” Uh, no, Bunky, that’s precisely what it does mean because when you take the Mark of the Beast, you descend to the level of a beast to those who control those chips. I notice you ripped that chip out of the base of your skull towards the end so don’t give me that softening-up jive about RFID chips being an acceptable part of humanity’s future.
I don’t know where it’s carved in stone that if you see the first film in a series, then you have to go and see every one. I’m guessing that secular commandment originated somewhere in Hollywood but in the case of Terminator Salvation, it’s actually a fun way to spend an idle afternoon. Just make sure, though, that you go with your main squeeze because it’s always wise to have someone to hold on to when something pops up on the screen and scares the bejeepers out of you.