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Terminator: Salvation

Terminator: Salvation

I will destroy you, you puny filthy humans!

dir: McG

It’s a sad day when you acknowledge for your own benefit that the world no longer needs Terminator movies. New ones that is. The first two will always be classics of a sort, but it’s just a sad realisation to see that it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be able to approach them in quality, let alone match them.

The curious element was that the story we were always watching was never really the main story. The main story was always the reason for watching these various people and cyborgs run away and try to fight progressively more advanced robots, but it was never the overarching plots of these films. The battle between the remnants of humanity and the ruthless artificial intelligence called Skynet was always some nebulous threat in the future: our immediate concern was supposed to be the survival of some people in the present.

Salvation, being the first of the Terminator flicks that doesn’t have time travel as its main plot device, is set during the time when this apocalyptic conflict has already destroyed most of the world, or at least North America. Sure, the protagonists are all still trying to survive assault from fiendish and relentless machines, but it’s not for some way of safeguarding humanity in the future: it’s survival in the here and now.

So when John Connor screams at people about doing or not doing something, it’s not to protect a timeline or the birth of some saviour of humanity, it’s to protect his own miserable life. Seems a bit selfish, doesn’t it?

Christian Bale received a lot of press and a lot of infamy for his ego-maniacal on-set rantings and ravings, so it’s hard to divorce speculations of what a nutbag he might be to work with, versus the nutbag nature of the character he plays here. As society’s self-designated saviour, he has been brought up to believe from the start that, considering the fact Skynet was so determined to kill him before he was even born it sent a terminator through time to kill his mother, he must be very, very important.

Okay, so we bought that for the first film, when Sarah Connor was the target. We bought it in the second film when an obnoxious teen John Connor is the target. I can’t even really remember what the point of the third film really was, since it had all been done before.

In the fourth, the bombs have already dropped, and the human resistance, unlike the ragtag, desperate impression we had from the earlier films, is a fully functioning military organisation with submarines, helicopters, air fields and a surprising amount of materiel at their disposal.

Of course they’re under constant threat of attack from machines whose sole purpose is killing all humans, but it doesn’t really feel like it. It looks just like a regular conflict between the US military and some mindless robots.

My only real problem with this is that it’s not really clear what John Connor really brings to the table any more. We can’t really buy that humanity’s very survival is dependant solely on the survival of one person, because the only thing he does which none of the others do is broadcast these quite depressing sermons to the remnants of humanity, repeating these meaningless statements and, I would have thought, broadcasting the resistance's location to the super smart killer AI robots.

There are a lot of plot holes in this flick, a lot of stuff that makes next to no sense, but, I feel obligated to let things slide in this instance, not because it’s a brilliant film or an amazing action spectacle, far from it, I would say, but because when I saw these multiple instances of stuff that really doesn’t hold water, I was reminded of how instances of similar inanity didn’t bug me when I watched the latest Star Trek flick. And I let a lot of nonsense shit slide, because I was having too much damn fun.

Well, Terminator: Salvation is nowhere near as much fun, nor does it entertain on anywhere near the same level. But I don’t think it’s a complete waste. There are mistakes in this script that wouldn’t get a pass in a grade school essay on unicorns, but I’m disinclined to really put the boot in.

Though, truth be told, the number of script/plot oversights is pretty embarrassing. Skynet’s obvious deficiencies as well as an alleged super-intelligent super-intelligence are just too numerous to mention. To say that its mu-ha-ha-ha evil plan was stupid insults stupid people and stupid AIs everywhere.

Even though I still can’t wrap my head around the luxury the resistance fighters seem to live in, I still thought the look of the film was right, and that devastation never looked so desolate. Hollywood reduced to a monochromatic wasteland is a sight to behold, if not one to wish for. The opening action sequence at a Skynet facility adorned with ginormous satellite dishes looks amazing. I don’t care what any of the reviewers say about this film: the look of it, and some of the amazing shot-constructions and sequences are good. The flying of and crashing of a helicopter is pretty impressive. The problems are elsewhere.

Not that I minded, but the truth is John Connor, who I was wondering as to whether or not he might be superfluous to these ongoing Terminator movies, isn’t really the main protagonist in this flick. In the same way that everyone remembers Australia’s Own Heath Ledger as the Joker character more fondly than anything Christian Bale does in Dark Knight, the main character in Terminator: Salvation is actually played by Australia’s Own Sam Worthington, who plays a confused guy called Marcus Wright.

Marcus is confused because, at the movie’s beginning, the year is 2003, and a cancer-ridden Helena Bonham Carter is asking him to sign some Cyberdyne paperwork on a clipboard, which is about what is going to happen to his body upon his death. No, she’s not the ruthless new face of a government drive to get more people to agree to donate their organs post death for transplants: Marcus is a death row crim minutes away from final curtain.

Fifteen years later, Marcus crawls out of the aforementioned Skynet facility just after it’s been nuked. He, like us, has no idea what’s been happening to him for the last fifteen years. He, like us, is not going to be any the wiser at film’s end.

John Connor is not a leader in the resistance hierarchy, but he has some kind of sway over people because I guess they need to listen to talk radio hosts even in the event of global catastrophe. John spends most of the movie looking like he needs some aspirin for his wicked headache. Also, for those keeping track, Bale again starved himself down for a film role, as he’s gaunt as anything (though not to the extremes of The Machinist or Rescue Dawn, thankfully). If he finally gets to play a concentration camp victim in one of his next films and they finally give him an Oscar, maybe he can stop doing this horrible shit to himself. It can’t be good for him.

Marcus makes his way somewhere and hooks up seemingly accidentally with a guy John Connor himself is searching for: a young Kyle Reese.

But then lots of other things happen, most of them making little if any sense, as the film builds towards a climax where the remaining human resistance will attempt to destroy Skynet once and for all.

If they did that, though, they wouldn’t be able to make more films, would they? So how likely is it that they’ll be able to destroy the evil supercomputer once and for all?

That doesn’t matter so much, but whilst watching the plot machinations, I did have to wonder whether the people making this flick realised that the film had already been made, and it was called Matrix: Revolutions. Now, I don’t find it particularly pleasant to be reminded of that disappointing ending to a series that started with such promise, and I fully grant that Terminator, originating as it did in 1984, was just one of the sources the Wachowski Brothers ripped off to come up with The Matrix. Sad to say, though, this film is almost entirely redundant because it’s virtually the same story. Take away the magical nature of Neo, but leave the messianic element of the main character in humanity’s struggle for survival, and it’s been done like a done dinner.

Not done well, but done all the same. Marcus needs to get into a Skynet facility to find out what really happened to him, John Connor needs to get into that same facility to find Kyle Reese, which not only has lots of human captives, but it also has unnecessary bursts of flames and showers of sparks, despite the fact that there’s no reason why anyone would be doing any welding, and it’s just demented that such a superintelligent AI that managed to wipe out most of humanity would build installations which have bursts of flame at regular intervals just because some horrible computer thinks it looks cool.

The horrible computer I refer to is not Skynet, but is instead the director of this flick, which has elected to call itself McG. Now, no real human would ever choose such a stupid name, but an agglomeration of directorial techniques and programming might. It might be slightly more amusing for Melbourne audiences who watch the opening credits to the flick and see in gargantuan fonts spread across the screen “DIRECTED BY MCG”, because then it implies that the Melbourne Cricket Ground itself has achieved self-awareness and is now going to be making movies. Be afraid, be very afraid.

McG is not a great director by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly tries hard, and he liberally borrows so many sequences from so many films that I wavered between deciding whether he was homaging these other flicks or whether he’s a hack with no originality who has to steal because he can’t come up with anything himself. With a cursory glance, I’d say that he borrowed from films as diverse as Aliens, The Great Escape, Children of Men, Mission: Impossible, Blade Runner, and an abundance of scenes from the most obvious sources, being scenes ‘honouring’ the first two Terminator movies. Where you would have though McG would have wanted to distance this flick from its predecessors, instead with a few gentle notes from Guns and Roses, and the image of bikes and trucks leaping above overpasses, it makes you fondly remember how much better those other movies were.

Still, unlike the friend who I saw this with, who specifically stated that the only two words that came to mind after watching Salvation were “bitterly” and “disappointed”, I have to say that I liked it. Not a lot, but enough. There was some good camerawork in this flick, courtesy of course of cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, the poor guy who copped all that abuse from Bale. And, murky and grungy though everything may be, I thought it was okay.

Truth be told, that ‘look’ is probably all CGI effects, with Hurlbut supplying little more than a punching bag outlet for Bale’s anger management issues.

Bale, for all his intensity, is one-note and one-dimensional the whole way through. I don’t blame the actor, though I probably should, because it’s really the script that lets him and almost everyone else down. He has little to do but look serious and bellow, which differentiates this little from much of the stuff he’s ever done.

The film’s apparent key moment, where Bale is bellowing the loudest he can manage into a radio, undoes much of what the flick might have hoped to achieve. He screams and screams about how the attack on Skynet needs to be delayed because everyone will be dead even if they succeed.

Um, no, not really. Sure, we understand what happens if Kyle Reese dies in the facility (it means one less enjoyable actor to watch in the story, oh, and John Connor presumably ceases to exist). But this film never shows us why Connor is humanity’s only hope. Which makes the film’s final sacrifice / salvation / redemption doubly galling, even if it could work dramatically (perhaps) down the track?

The script monkeys and everyone else loves Marcus, though. He gets the majority of the flick’s best moments and the best dialogue, he even gets a curiously adoring groupie in the form of the Blair character played by the unlikely-named Moon Bloodgood. Second to him is the script’s love of Kyle Reese, as played by Anton Yelchin. Anton Yelchin is never going to be a household name, but this has been probably the best year of his life. He was great as Chekhov in the new Star Trek film, and he’s excellent as Kyle Reese here.

Marcus’s origins, so to speak, are really the only interesting sci-fi element in the story, with humanity’s fight for survival faring less well. He is the only one making decisions, ones with consequences. Sure, his final decision shouldn’t work, and makes no sense if you’re going to be all logical about it (blood types? The resources and expertise to conduct that kind of surgery in that kind of environment? I’m surprised they didn’t all have PS3s and iPhones, in that case), but it works from a story point of view. I guess. Sorta.

I do hope there’s another flick made in this series. I wouldn’t have high expectations for it, considering the stupidity that’s leaking into the franchise, but it could be interesting to see how they achieve closure for this series. I can’t be alone in wanting the John Connor character to die, and if his life isn’t going to have any meaning, perhaps his death might. Whatever the way in which they choose to tell the story, hopefully they could be a bit more intelligent about it, and really think about ways to fight the good fight that don’t look like every other goddamn post-apocalyptic flick that’s ever come before.

7 times I’d rather they make Marcus the main character rather than John out of 10

“You and me, we've been at war since before either of us even existed. You tried killing my mother, Sarah Connor. You killed my father, Kyle Reese. You will not kill me!” – Terminator: Salvation