Terminator Salvation

Terminator SalvationSynopsis: In the aftermath of Judgment Day and the takeover by the machines, John Connor (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight), the destined leader of the human resistance, must counter Skynet’s devastating plan to terminate mankind. As Connor rallies his underground street fighters for a last, desperate battle, he realizes that to save the future he must rescue his own father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek). But the most shocking discovery comes with the arrival of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, Avatar), a mysterious loner from the past who challenges Connor with an impossible choice that will determine the future of the human race – leading them both on a brutal journey into the very heart of the enemy.

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Terminator Salvation 7.0

eyelights: Moon Bloodglow. Arnie’s likeness!!!
eyesores: Bale’s tough guy voice. the CGI. Danny Elfman’s interpretation of the Terminator themes.

“I knew it. I knew it was coming. But this is not the future my mother warned me about. And in this future, I don’t know if we can win this war.”

‘Terminator Salvation’ has a long, pained history. After 2003’s ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines‘, which itself suffered from a lengthy gestation period, the series was held in stasis for a while as the rights to it changed hands, various directors and cast were attached to it and multiple writers took a stab at a coherent follow-up.

It didn’t help that Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Governor of California, couldn’t be in the picture or that James Cameron wouldn’t be involved; this would be a film orphaned from its two parents (it’s Cameron’s baby, but let’s be honest: the series wouldn’t have had legs without Arnie in it). Now everyone involved was new to the series.

It didn’t bode well.

Then came the fans’ vitriolic reactions to McG being hired as director. McG, whose name lends him no credibility, has had more success in Hollywood than ‘T3’s director Jonathan Mostow. But fanboys were tearing him a new one even though he considered the first two films some of his all-time favourites and wanted to do right by them.

Even star Christian Bale took a chunk out of him, apparently, telling him he simply wasn’t equipped to make a movie like this one. Of course, Bale also had his infamous (audio recordings went viral and they   made headlines for weeks) meltdown on the set of the picture, so perhaps he simply was going through a bellicose period of his life.

Frankly, even though I was one of his early champions (thanks to his phenomenal performance in ‘American Psycho‘), I was starting to tire of him. So the idea of seeing a ‘Terminator’ movie with him in the lead, really didn’t appeal to me. Plus which the setting of a world after Judgment Day didn’t pull me; it’s great for 5 minutes, but that’s it.

Still, I’d heard good things about it over time, and I eventually thought that I might as well give it a shot.

‘Terminator Salvation’ begins in 2003, in a maximum security prison, where a convict by the name of Marcus agrees to give his body to science – in this particular case, to Cyberdyne Systems. What they are planning to do with his body and why he agrees to it remains unexplained even as we see him begin this mysterious process.

Flash forward to 2018, after a text intro situates those of us new to the franchise. John Connor (Bale) is on a recon mission of some sort and finds Marcus’ body along with a bunch of other live captives in cages. They are separated by an attack, and Marcus goes off wandering the countryside until he meets up with a young Kyle Reese.

Meanwhile, Connor discovers that Skynet has a hit list and that he’s number two on it. When he asks who’s number one, he is unsurprised to find out that it is Reese – having been forewarned by his mother that Reese was his father and that he would be sent out in time. He is obsessed with finding him, and Marcus would eventually aid him.

This pits the pair against Skynet. Naturally (what did you expect?).

Let’s face it, ‘Terminator Salvation’ was designed as an action film primarily: It’s kinetic. It’s loud. It has impressive set pieces. It has chases. It has gun battles. It has killer robots. It has special effects. It’s meant to thrill. In that respect it succeeds to some degree. And yet I remained somewhat removed from it the whole way through.

…even as I appreciated some of the skill involved.

The film tries to stimulate the intellect by broaching the line between being human and a machine. What exactly makes a person human? Could someone be considered inhuman whereas a machine could be considered human? Interesting. Unfortunately, this isn’t explored in such a way as to provoke more than a mere flashing thought.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

This left me to pick away at the picture, resulting in a series of questions and observations:

  • Right from the onset the picture’s interpretation of Brad Fiedel’s classic theme was off. I didn’t realize Danny Elfman was the culprit until much later, but his score is run-of-the-mill, whereas Fiedel’s was a standout. The fact that he dared to change key themes, thereby ruining them, was a horrible start to the picture. !@#$
  • When Connor and his crew find Marcus and the other people at the beginning, interestingly, no one wonders how long they’ve been there and who’s been feeding them. They’re just there. No questions need be asked.
  • Christian Bale’s tough guy voice and his bark are annoying. It’s not as bad as his Batman, but c’mon, give it a rest. Get a pack of lozenges!
  • The CGI is bad. Even the skinless T-101 frames don’t look real. Why couldn’t they just use animatronics like in the original films? Even if they’re a bit clunky, at least you can buy into them.
  • It turns out that Marcus is alive, even though 15 years have passed and it looked like he was being put to death. We don’t know how or why, since nothing’s been explained to us about the experiment. It creates confusion more than mystery here.
  • After escaping, Marcus goes to big city and encounters a Terminator. Reese, who is a stranger to him at this point, traps it and hangs it upside down by a leg. So it shoots its own foot off. Um… instead of shooting the rope. Dumb. Simply not logical and/or practical, coming from a machine.
  • Later on, after Marcus hotwires a truck, they are later chased by a flying drone. Marcus takes it down by throwing a lug wrench at it while they’re barreling down the road. Um… sure. To make matters worse, this drone apparently doesn’t alert the rest of Skynet. You’d think it would have Terminators out there in a second. But no…
  • Marcus and Reese find some survivors at a garage station. After a bit of tension they are attacked by a ginormous Terminator apparently known as a Harvester Terminator (because it picks up humans and tosses them in a basket, à la ‘War of the Worlds‘). Firstly, it looks stupid – unlike the cool machines in Cameron’s films. And second… um… did no one see or hear it coming? It was loud enough…
  • All the new Terminators looks like crap compared to the originals. Either they’re a CGI mess, or the designs are stupid, like the aforementioned Harvester Terminator, the scout, or the woefully inept “Mototerminator”, which is basically robotic motorcycle with guns on it. So much for the skull-crushing beasts from Cameron’s nightmare.
  • Speaking of the Mototerminator, why is it that Marcus can ride one? Seems to me that a Skynet-built robotic motorcycle wouldn’t have the functionality required for human beings (buttons, pedals, …etc). Silly.
  • Marcus helps a soldier girl, played by a devastating Moon Bloodglow, and she immediately takes him to her hideout. Um, yeah… instant trust makes sense in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
  • After they arrive, she naturally strips in the rain even though he’s within view. Not shy, apparently. Oh, and it’s a perfect excuse to see some boobies. Honestly, I have no issue with the sight of bosoms or that she doesn’t care if he sees her, but the way it was presented made it feel gratuitous.
  • Out of nowhere there’s a scene where she’s attacked by some thugs. It made no sense, but it was an excuse to see her fight and for Marcus to act all hero-like. Given that there was no set-up for it, it’s a bit lame. But what can you do?
  • As they wander about, Marcus steps on a magnetic landmine. And yet he survives. So… um… what’s the good of those landmines if they can’t kill and/or destroy? Presumably they’re to stop Terminators, right? Well, then… what gives?
  • We discover that Marcus is a cyborg, which explains why he’s still “alive”. But only his outer skin is damaged. Again… what’s the point of the landmines if they won’t stop Terminators?
  • Connor actually had Marcus brought into the resistance’s HQ, knowing that he’s a machine. This is not the first time he’s done that, mind you: they tested a jamming device on another Terminator earlier in the picture. Apparently the great John Connor has no sense of security.
  • Our soldier girl rescues Marcus. She makes so much noise in so doing that it’s a wonder that no one could hear her.
  • Connor finds out that Marcus has escaped and, in trying to destroy Marcus, he creates so much carnage that he basically compromises his base. Gee… what a great military strategist. A legend. Our hero.
  • Knowing that Reese is at Skynet, Connor asks Command to postpone its attack. But he does it hours later (by that point it’s daylight and it was night when he decided he wanted to go in to rescue Reese). Why did he wait so long? Directorial mistake, methinks.
  • Connor broadcasts to the Resistance, contradicting Command, telling them to stand down in a speech that’s incoherent – he’s basically rambling about his mother and such stuff. Command didn’t stop him and everyone listens to him. Everyone. As if. Doesn’t Command have any loyalists?
  • Further to that, why couldn’t Skynet pick up those broadcasts? You’d think the machines would be able to pick up most signals, especially something like a radio frequency. The resistance is also always using PDAs, which suggests that they’re using a satellite. So why couldn’t Skynet intercept that either?
  • Skynet is pretty incompetent, given that they’re suppose to annihilate most of the human race: why did the machines keep Reese alive if he was number one on their hit list? Seems to me that the moment they identified him amongst their prisoners, that he should have been given no quarter.
  • Anyway, isn’t it unusual that Skynet can somehow read into the future and know that Connor will send Reese back in time? They certainly couldn’t read into the past because Reese wouldn’t be mentioned in any records – either because he hadn’t been sent out yet, or because he’s just a man with no name whose activities warrant no headlines. Anyway, most records were destroyed in the war.
  • Now, if Marcus was created by Cyberdyne, before Skynet, why would they do that? And how is it that humans could invent Marcus but the machines couldn’t equal that design or do better? I was confused there. Maybe Cyberdyne didn’t build Marcus. But, what was their experiment all about, then? Why did they make such a fuss over Marcus?
  • In the end, Connor blows up Skynet with flick of a switch. Of course he does. But… who planted all the bombs? Seriously, the whole complex explodes in various stages, suggesting that there were many planted explosives. Um… when did that happen?

I know, I know… it’s a lot to think about. But I’m actually not that fazed by any of it. Like I said, I was emotionally-detached while watching it. However, there were a few things that really impressed me (I’m not sure that it truly makes up for the rest, but it did perk me up):

  • After Connor finds Marcus and leaves the building, he finds all the men slaughtered. He then gets into a chopper and it’s downed just as he tries to take off. It may not seem like much, but that sequence was amazing to watch: the shot was from inside the cabin and it really looked like Connor was in the air, got shot down and crashed. It was seamless, utterly stunning. If I understand correctly, those two minutes of footage took twelve days to shoot – that’s how crazy it was.
  • The filmmakers found a way to bring Arnie back into the picture even though he wasn’t on the set. They hired an Austrian bodybuilder with a similar frame as his and CGI-ed Arnold’s face on it. He looked halfway between the T-101 in ‘T1‘ and ‘T2‘. You don”t see him much, but it’s very convincing. And so very AWESOME!!!
  • ‘Terminator Salvation’ tries to connect the dots between it and the rest of the franchise, notably the first two films, by bringing in familiar references and making the events in this one fit in the whole series. Further to that, it also nods to the series by having Connor say “I’ll be back” or by playing “You Could Be Mine” (sure, the latter was contrived, but nice try anyway).

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

In the end, ‘Terminator Salvation’ looks more realistic than ‘Terminator 3’ did, at the very least it’s certainly grittier, but it doesn’t have Cameron’s vision. To me, it felt more like Steven Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’ than like a ‘Terminator’ movie. Then again, McG did take inspiration from ‘The Road‘ – certainly a good choice, setting-wise.

But, by the time the picture was released on May 21st, 2009, its budget had ballooned to 200 million dollars. Fans showed up, but many were incensed that the picture was given a PG-13 rating instead of an R (likely due to society’s growing tolerance to violence in PG fare), and the film ended up being the first not to hit the box office at number one.

It ended up making 370 million internationally, a respectable amount by any standard, but it is thus far the lowest-grossing of the series (counting for inflation). ‘Terminator Salvation’ was to be the first of a new trilogy, but its production company filed for bankruptcy protection, McG was jettisoned, and the ‘Terminator’ franchise went into stasis again.

That is, until ‘Genysys’, over five years later, featuring the return of none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Will it be any good? We’ll soon find out…

Date of viewing: March 25, 2015

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