Terminator Salvation (2009)

Director: McG

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Michael Ironside, Helena Bonham Carter

These aren’t the droids we’re looking for. One of many series which has had multiple opportunities to hang it up and still leave everyone with a positive feeling, the Terminator franchise had built itself a creative wall not once but twice. First, with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the nuclear fire that would claim billions of human lives had seemingly been prevented. Series ended, right? Wrong. “Terminator 3” showed that SkyNet can find a way to make Judgment Day happen, no matter what. With the final images of that movie, one couldn’t help thinking that there weren’t an awful lot of options left. About the only story that could still be told would be how John Connor became the leader he has always been told he would be. Naturally, when 2009’s “Terminator Salvation” rolled into theaters, it was expected that we would be shown exactly this. What we got only marginally resembles a “Terminator” movie.

It’s the year 2018, fourteen years after the events of “Terminator 3.” Fourteen years after the end of the world as we had come to know it. At this time, John Connor (Christian Bale) is a polarizing figure. There are those who buy into the predestination paradox of his soon-to-be ascension to the title of Savior of the Human Race. Others who don’t believe in all of that fate crap and who have more years of military experience see him as an unnecessary distraction which they have no choice but to endure. We’re all in this together, after all. So, while not technically a leader, Connor is effectively still the voice of the Resistance, with his words of inspiration being transmitted to any radio signal that is being monitored by surviving humans.

Perhaps this movie’s biggest swerve is that Connor is not THE main character of the story. His time as the central focus of the film is shared with new character Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convicted murderer who, after being executed for his past crimes in 2003, has awakened to a post-apocalyptic Hell. Along the way, Marcus makes a new friend, a young man by the name of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). When Kyle is later taken as a live prisoner by the Terminators, Marcus makes it a personal mission to rescue him. But, if Marcus thought that his surroundings were like something out of a bad dream, the nightmare for him was only just beginning. A Resistance fighter brings Marcus to John Connor after he accidentally trips a land mine. What should have killed or, at the very least, mutilated Marcus instead reveals him for what he really is: a human/machine hybrid Terminator! This comes as a surprise to everyone (except those who saw the film’s trailer), Marcus most of all.

It seems that SkyNet will never give up trying to kill John Connor. While Marcus is not programmed for assassination missions, SkyNet still uses him as a pawn to further its goal of eliminating its enemy. Having failed to kill John’s mother in 1984 before his birth and again both while he was a child and as a young adult, SkyNet has instead captured Kyle Reese so that Marcus would bring John directly to it. This way, SkyNet has two new opportunities to rid itself of its enemy. It could kill Connor before he is able to direct the final assault in 2029. Failing that, SkyNet could at least kill Kyle Reese as its backup plan. In effect, this would work as the same type of retroactive abortion it had tried in the first “Terminator,” as Kyle’s death would come before fulfilling his destiny of traveling to 1984, protecting and falling in love with Sarah Connor, and fathering John.

This all sounds a lot more exciting than what is actually presented. “Terminator Salvation” unfortunately fails in the execution department. Part of that is because it was written with the intention of making this the first part of a trilogy. As such, the ending is not as fulfilling as others in the series had been. Another excuse could be the rewrites that came after the original script was leaked. The intention of giving John Connor only a limited supporting role to that of Marcus’s main character, perhaps by killing him off at the midway point, did not go over well… hence the changes. Still that doesn’t excuse giving the rest of the cast so very little to do. Poor Kate Brewster (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose character as played by Claire Danes was so integral to the plot of “Terminator 3,” is barely even here… although she is noticeably pregnant, which at least suggests that she and John have been getting busy as of late.

One thing I am grateful for is the toning down of the humor which had gone into overdrive by the time of “Terminator 3.” To give you an example of humor done well in “Terminator Salvation,” the first thing I think of is the running theme of how loud noises, especially music, will instantly alert the Terminators to the presence of humans. This culminates with John Connor using “You Could Be Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, an in-joke reference to “Terminator 2,” to lure a motorcycle drone into a tripwire. Unfortunately even this, at the same time as it brings a smile to my face, only serves to make me wish I were watching either one of the first two films instead.

“Terminator Salvation,” intended to revitalize the series and take it in a new direction, ultimately did not live up to its name. Instead, for the third time, a “Terminator” film would become the product of a film company gone bankrupt and the ideas for the remaining two films in the “Salvation” trilogy would have to be scrapped. With the arrival earlier this month of “Terminator Genisys,” a franchise reboot and a second attempt at a new trilogy of “Terminator” films, this leaves “Terminator Salvation” feeling like more of an odd duck than it already did. Time travel being a part of the series’ legacy, this entry will always have its place in the sense that it exists, but for practical purposes has no bearing on the events of the new film. I’ve seen “Terminator Salvation” only twice, and I don’t know when I’ll be seeing it again. It has none of the replay value of James Cameron’s two classics, which I will continue to watch until the end of time.

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