May 31, 2009 by Zack
The “Terminator” franchise is one that I’ve never really been able to fully wrap myself around. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I liked all of the films (yes, I did enjoy T3 even though it was horribly cheesy), and I still think “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is one of the most spectacular sci-fi action films ever made. Maybe that’s why I don’t look at this franchise with as much affection as, say, the Aliens franchise for example. “Terminator 2” just seemed to blow all of the other films away, as much as “The Terminator” was a good film. Cameron really outdid himself with the sequel. It was not only a visual achievement, it was a well told story; and, besides Edward Furlong, it was well acted. The story of the rise of SkyNet is interesting, and in “Terminator Salvation”, it comes to fruition.
So let’s go ahead and hop into the latest sequel, directed by McG, and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington as both protagonist and in some ways, antagonists of the narrative. The year is 2018, and SkyNet has enslaved mankind, and is running the world with machines–with the exception of a small group of people that are The Resistance, headed by John Connor (Bale). But since this film series has had a bunch of time warps and all kinds of time continuum conundrums, we are introduced to another aspect we weren’t aware of before. This is the both the convenience and the problem with time travel used in films as a device–it can’t help but be a deux ex machina. In this film, though, it doesn’t rely heavily on the time travel aspect–but it does realign things a bit in the canon(not to the extent that the new “Star Trek” film did, though).
We are first introduced to Marcus Wright, a convict who is on death row and is given a “second chance” by SkyNet to come with them and give his body “for science”. Now we all know what happens when we give into science. Everything. Works. Out. Of course! And in Marcus’s case, he is suddenly transported to the future, in 2018, and in the middle of the Resistance–and gets introduced fairly quickly with another familiar name in the Terminator series–Kyle Reese (this time played by Anton Yelchin, who for the second time in a row is playing the Young Version of a Character, and does a pretty good job doing his best Michael Biehn). Reese is just a teenager, which is set up already because when Connor is listening to his mother’s tapes she left behind for him, she mentions that Reese is a part of the resistance, but is just a kid at the time. Now, the fact that Connor is his son, and he would end up meeting him at a time when he’s actually older than him–I mean, aren’t we talking massive quakes in space and time? Again, time travel rule. Actually, there aren’t any. Forget it.
Marcus eventually meets up with Connor, because he’s on his way to SkyNet to settle a score–trying to find out what in fact happened to him. But there’s a slight snag–see, he’s a terminator too. He doesn’t know it, but he is only half human. What SkyNet did to him was use him as a prototype (I’m guessing) for the T-800 (otherwise known as The Governator). Bonding human skin with machine was their project, and Marcus was part of it. At this point you’d think that would make Connor like the cut of this guy’s jib–but it’s the complete opposite. Connor actually somewhat becomes a “villain” in the sense that, in this film’s narrative, Marcus is the main character and Connor stands in his way because of the fact that he doesn’t trust him since he’s a terminator, and thinks that Marcus has been sent to kill him. This obviously means they’re done professionally.
But that’s all I will give away about the plot. And I didn’t give away much–in fact, the trailer blew the twist. But basically, it becomes a rescue mission for Kyle Reese (who is the MacGuffin, for you film students out there) since he’s captured by the machines and sent to…I don’t know, something like a chicken coop for humans. I still don’t understand what SkyNet needed humans for, except to be real jerks about keeping them alive just to make them do labor. As I’ve learned in life, I would actually rather have robots do labor. Especially construction on the Dan Ryan.
In any event, this is probably the darkest and bleakest of the films, and I did actually like it for what it was. While Bale’s performance was amateur, and he kind of walks around going “Lat-da-da-da-dada-ahh”, the guy that steals the show is Sam Worthington as Marcus. As far as the film’s dark atmosphere, I will say it got to me–there is just something very unsettling about SkyNet as a computer-based empire that just illustrates the coldness and sterility of what life has become for earth. It’s an obvious metaphor for the ubiquitous technology that we depend so much on, and become more and more dependant on as we grow deeper into the Computer Age. The machines in some ways are like insects, and I actually was reminded of “Aliens” at times.
McG’s not all that creative with the storyline and doesn’t really bring anything too original to the table, but he manages a decent script and allows the story to breathe enough to get through. There are loads of references to the earlier Terminator films–some of them work, some of them don’t. Overall, the film is a solid entry into the Terminator series; however, I don’t know how much life this franchise has left in the tank. I don’t know what else I need to see, honestly. The film’s conclusion is good enough to end the series with–then again, I thought the same thing about the first “Matrix” movie and then there were 2 unnecessary and awful sequels to turn it into a “trilogy”. But that’s another story.
Despite some scenes that really depend on you to suspend disbelief (Sci-Fi Action Film 101, people), and some clunkiness in the first act, overall it’s a solid film. Oh, and the film was extremely well shot, by the way. The director of photography was amazing. It was not distracting at all. He should certainly get an award recognition.