Terminator Salvation: Humanity's Eve of Destruction … Again

Salvation, as dirty and battle-scarred as it might look, is a much more optimistic piece of work. In this more straightforward telling, good seems much more likely to prevail, as does the continuation of the series.

Terminator Salvation

Director: McG
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Helena Bonham Carter
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2009
UK Release Date: 2009-06-03
US Release Date: 2009-05-22

Are we just counting the days until the announcement comes that Mad Max IV is on again, only now with Christian Bale replacing Mel Gibson as the burned-out wanderer of the endtimes? The casual and authoritative ease with which Bale (already the new face of Batman) slips into the warrior skin of Terminator Salvation's John Connor clues you in to the fact that he\'s the new millennium's action-hero everyman.

Not for a moment does Bale's Connor seem anything less than the very soul of the human resistance against the machine apocalypse. When he stands up to his superiors to stop a bombing raid that could cripple Skynet but also kill many human prisoners -- saying that to do so would make the resistance no better than the mindless machines they fight -- the heart jumps a little with pride in the race. It's a proficient but not particularly moving performance, even much of the plot revolves around Connor's trying to save the teenage Kyle Reese (aka, his father, eventually) from Skynet. Bale keeps his eyes lidded and his powder dry, exploding only on command. This is a man you would follow into battle and do stupidly heroic things for, but probably could never know.

Because of that, Bale's Connor fades into the background during Salvation. This leaves a good stretch of film into which the filmmakers (particularly director McG, going a good way towards atoning for his Charlie's Angels sins) pack squadrons of Terminators and metal-shredding battle scenes that outdo anything the previous films could throw at you. What remains is ultimately a retro-dystopian war film, in which a ramshackle human army using patched-together helicopters and bombers fight pitched battles against a toy store's worth of Terminator models (primitive ones predating the first film's T-800, airborne transporters, marine units, and so on).

Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation

McG stages his action scenes with impressive élan. Unlike most modern action directors, he knows how to frame wide shots and hold them for dramatic purpose, not mistaking a quick edit for excitement. He's able to keep the action coming as the story has many more moving parts than previous installments. There are a couple intertwining plot lines running here, keeping Salvation from turning into another series of endless showdowns between the heroes and a single unstoppable killing machine. In one, we see Marcus (Sam Worthington), a death-row inmate executed in 2003 after promising to donate his body to science, who then appears in 2018, rather confused by turning up alive after the apocalypse and having to play protector for Reese (a nervy Anton Yelchin). Meanwhile, Connor, an officer in the human resistance, needs to locate Reese before Skynet can assassinate him, stop Bale from being born, and create another fun time paradox.

Despite an unsurprising surprise about one character that launches the film into a spirited round of (surprisingly heartfelt) 'What Does It Mean To Be Human' soul-searching, the screenplay does not spend a lot of time thinking about consequences. The immediacy of the raging firefights keeps that sort of thing to a minimum. And while Salvation certainly moves like a freight train, by cutting the time-paradox tomfoolery of the original trilogy, the filmmakers may well have left one of the series' most interesting components behind.

The resistance leads an airborne assault on Skynet in Terminator Salvation.

Certainly the film's spare, grey-green camo and grime-chic palette might speak more effectively to the future (and Cameron's original) than the last two film's TV-friendly Technicolor SoCal feel. There's some actual acting going on here between the fireball explosions, particularly on the part of Worthington and Yelchin. And McG's sources for filching, whether for visuals (Children of Men and Apocalypse Now) or story (Battlestar Galactica, whose moral investigations about differences between Cylons and humans appear here almost whole-cloth), are unimpeachable. (The occasional Transformers feel of all the fluctuating machinery is the only real misstep in terms of identifiable influences.)

But Salvation sometimes feels more like just another link in a chain to nowhere. Say what you will about Terminator 3 and its considerable camp factor, there was a cleverness to its script, particularly in those final braintwister moments when Judgment Day approaches, that speaks more to what was so fundamentally fascinating about James Cameron's initial premise.

The original trilogy could certainly be big dumb blockbusters in the worst way -- Salvation being Ahnuld-free certainly helps limber it up -- but they also had a truly tragic worldview, in which human folly inevitably leads the race time and again to its own potential demise.

Salvation, as dirty and battle-scarred as it might look, is a much more optimistic piece of work. In this more straightforward telling, good seems much more likely to prevail, as does the continuation of the series. After all, Salvation is set in 2018. The first Terminator was sent back from a future of 2029. That leaves 11 years' worth of film-ready fighting in between. Unless Bale goes off and gets himself another franchise in the meantime.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.