With the recent(ly cancelled) series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, still so fresh in the pop culture atmosphere, it’s odd that they’d be going forward with the movie series as well. Granted, the franchise reboot is becoming a sub-genre of its own these days, but for this series it’s getting a bit confusing. Nevertheless, when the signature “Da-dum Dum-da-dum” beat of the Terminator theme music started up at the beginning of Terminator Salvation, I was still pretty excited. Admittedly, this one is not truly a reboot (a la Star Trek), but one more piece of the mythology. This story of the fabled John Connor (played by Christian Bale with a crew cut) and the struggle against the machines is set entirely in the post-Judgment-Day future. We finally get to see this war which was previously shown only in flash-forwards throughout the movie and television series.
Despite a penchant this series has for time travel and messing with the past/future, there is none of that in this movie (except for the previously seen/heard tapes from mama Sarah Connor to her son John). The plot of this movie is not particularly complex. It’s kind of an amalgam: part Mad Max, part Matrix Reloaded, part Total Recall. In the time when SkyNet and its machines rule, and humans are relegated to a guerrilla war against their mechanical overlords, John and his rebel buddies discover a secret signal which can disable the machines. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Marcus Wright (played by soon-to-be-break-out-action-star Sam Worthington) runs into a young Kyle Reese (future/past dad to John Connor) and helps him escape from the machines. All the pieces (including numerous call-outs to past Terminator movies) come together for an assault on one of SkyNet’s major manufacturing facilities. I won’t reveal what little plot remains, but this movie is mostly about the fun action, coated with the thin metallic sheen of sci-fi.
Christian Bale has proven himself a capable lead actor in the new world of the serious sci-fi movie. Deeper than Keanu Reeves, younger than Viggo Mortensen, and more serious than Hugh Jackman, Bale seems poised to make a career out of these new franchise heroes. As John Connor, he does a fine job (mostly because we’ve had so many different versions of John Connor, it’s really hard to go wrong in how you portray him), giving him a gravelly gravitas and noble intensity. It’s only partly his story as we spend a lot more time with Marcus, and some time with Kyle (Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin, sporting a mercifully American accent). As previously noted, Worthington is excellent as Marcus — everyone’s favourite strong, noble, anti-hero. As a murderer in a previous life he does a pretty good job punching out the badder guys and fending off the robots. It’s too bad that the dialogue surrounding him is so corny. When he meets up with Moon Bloodgood, playing one of the rebel pilots, she says horrible things to him like, “You’re a good man who just doesn’t know it yet.” Barf … I know.
Something I really enjoyed about Terminator Salvation is how they expanded on the Terminator product line. Sure, those shiny metallic skeletons are still around, and if you look closely you might see an Arnie model lying in the back of the closet somewhere, but they also added some massive three-story Terminators (kind of foreshadowing the upcoming Transformers sequel) and my favourite are the baby-motorcycle drones which drip right off the big guys and vroom down the road after Marcus, Kyle and the gang. There seems to be an entire genus of Terminators which also includes fighter-plane models, and swimming tentacle/snake models. (I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we see little Terminators vacuuming up SkyNet’s living room.)
Overall, this was an enjoyable summer movie. It added some elements to the overall Terminator mythology (which frankly was not that elaborate to begin with) and told a serviceable, simple story with some great action sequences and flashy special effects. I think that’s really all anyone expects of a good Terminator movie, so enjoy. 4 out of 5