Hollywood has a habit of rebooting successful franchises, and it seems like the next one on the list is James Cameron's "Terminator" franchise. I have always wondered how the futuristic apocalyptic world of this sci-fi franchise would look like and as to how humans are able to survive and keep a "resistance". Having the rare distinction of being both a prequel and a sequel, "TERMINATOR SALVATION" attempts to give us that vision. The film pretty much takes off after where Jonathan Mostow's underappreciated "Rise of the Machines" and takes place many years after Cameron's original.
2018. John Connor (Christian Bale) is an tired soldier in a war against the killing machine-hordes of Skynet. Using tapes left behind by his deceased mother Sarah Connor (voiced by Linda Hamilton), he tries to piece together clues to their future and how everything is tied to the past. Some people see John as some prophet, and he has managed to gain the confidence of many soldiers, including a teenager named John Reese (Anton Yelchin) who is also John's father. After a skirmish between the resistance fighters and machines in a desolate area, a man named Marcus (Sam Worthington) is freed. He was a ruthless killer executed sometime ago, and who has now regained consciousness. Wandering in the wasteland which was formerly L.A., Marcus befriends Kyle who points him to the direction of the resistance movement. Kyle becomes captured and marked for execution, as Marcus meets John Connor. But Marcus is a lot more than he seems to be, and the fate of humanity is now at risk.
The Terminator franchise is a series that is essentially an action-packed chase film that was thrilling, and manages to expose the heart of human drama in the face of a potentially horrific future. It was brilliantly simple, its creator James Cameron and then director Jonathan Mostow's renditions carried the same scent and mechanics. Well, this time around, director McG, is a odd choice since his less than impressive resume includes the abysmal "Charlie's Angels". The world of 2018, is not too much to be understood as it is to be experienced. "Terminator Salvation" chronicles man's fight for survival ruled by machines and intelligent computers. The direction is very uneven and presents a lot of inconsistencies in its existing groundwork. What's more, the film relies on the impression that whoever would be watching this film is a solid fan, as it abandons a lot of characterization.
The moody and brooding monochromatic world of "Salvation", is something different from Cameron's set groundwork of night executed guerilla warfare, where humans are left in the underground on the brink of extinction. Keep in mind that this film occurs during the early years of the resistance and this time around, there are quite a number of survivors in this dried up barren world. The screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris is very inconsistent and proves to be a little too hollow. (Not surprising, since these two are responsible for "Catwoman") The script introduces certain plot concepts, that seem quite viable but then abandoned. The script felt a little too rushed and lacked a careful methodical approach. It seemed like they were relying on the audience to fill in the plot gaps, such as why the machines were taking prisoners, or as to how the resistance seem to be well-supplied in armament and provisions--they have aircraft and submarines. It would have been easy to give hints that humans are needed as slaves to maintain the machines or to synthesize their organic skin, and that the supplies were stolen, that there were military lines of communication left in the world; but none were brought to exposition. I thought Cameron's world gave the impression that humanity was all but wiped out, with very few survivors. The direction relies on the audiences to find explanations, and leaves us to our assumptions. A little effort in plot details and characterization would've helped. The direction exhibited ignorance to this successful sci-fi franchise.
The film is also promoted as a film about John Connor but it carried a more steady diet on Marcus and even borrows elements from "Ghost in the Shell" and maybe even the "Matrix". The concept of what makes a human is quite interesting, but it was a little unnecessary. Marcus was human to begin with, despite his alterations to machine parts. He has his own organic parts, and still has the human essentials. The idea of him becoming a ‘sleeper' terminator carries little merit as a machine who thinks himself human. In this installment, the machines have risen to the point as being more interesting than their human counterparts. What's more, McG never fleshes out the idea of the duality of man and machine, the potential combustive merging of man and machine, Marcus' character would've been interesting if guided by more competent direction. Bale takes a backseat to Worthington and the Connor character was almost left with nothing but to play a supporting role. The cast is a little uneven, but I cannot really blame them given the small things they had to work with. I was real pleased to see Moon Bloodgood, she was a sight for sore eyes.
Amid all the plot mistakes and blunders, McG attempts to flood our minds with explosions and very cool scenes of battle. Yes, the film does have a good number of "Man Vs. Machine" confrontations. The machines this time around looked very inventive, as to how they mimic common military strategies and firepower. There are terminator motobikes (idea probably taken from "Robotech"), a huge tank-like robot ( which looked like a refugee from Michael Bay‘s "Transformers"), a carrier aircraft, and we see glimpses of the T-600, the slow earlier generation terminator. Oh, we also get to see the newer generation T-800 and a CGI-generated "Anuld" makes a short appearance. The battle scenes are cool to watch but they are hardly epic, since they are too short and barely carried any emotional impact. Still, the action sequences were thrilling enough and may be enough to give the movie hyper-kinetic momentum, to compensate for the clumsy storytelling.
Now, is "Terminator Salvation" worthy of a nod from Cameron? Well, probably not. The film's storytelling is clumsy and uninspired, the film doesn't carry the same metal scent in the other previous films of the franchise. But for a fan of the franchise as I am, I was willing to forgive its shortcomings. At least the franchise is given new life, now let's hope "Sarah Connor Chronicles" manages to stay on television.
Recommended! timidly [3 ½- Stars]
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