"Terminator Salvation" is one of the best examples of a film that was never meant to have any more or less heart then was required of it. Let me explain: The original Terminator films by James Cameron were movies about ideas. Yeah, they were horribly convoluted ideas that might not hold up to scrutiny, but they were about ideas none-the-less. Like "Back To The Future" they toyed with the idea of time travel, and by that token they also dealt with the idea of "cause and effect." They were action films, but they were smart action films. Once "Terminator 3" came out I knew that the series was no longer about ideas so much as about making as much of these films as possible. The studio knows it, and I think even the moviegoers know it too somewhere underneath their "we'll see it just to see it" attitude.
The movies advertising claims that this movie revolves around John Conners (Christian Bale) rising up and taking up the cause for the fight against the machines. This is what they would like you to think. Most likely because Warner Bros. knew that they had to get a star to play John Conners, and once they had the star they had to market that star to death. But no, the movie is really about Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man who in his previous life was a convict on death row but now walked free in the current apocalyptic world. He initially has no feelings on any matter in particular, but he comes to discover that being shot at by gun touting Terminators will inspire one to become a political activist. He seeks out Conners to offer his assistance to the alliance, only to have Conners reject him on the grounds that he is, in fact, a Terminator.
Now I'm going to ignore some very basic flaws with this story right off the bat. I'm going to ignore the fact that the movie gives away this fact at the beginning of the movie and thus ruins the surprise for the audience. I'm going to ignore the fact that John Conners is no more important to the world then any other soldier, so there's no need to seek him out in particular. I'm even going to ignore the fact that the movie, despite being nothing but noise up until now, almost put me to sleep. I'm going to ignore all this because here is an interesting idea for a film. Once Marcus finds out he is not human he is shocked and scared. He loves humanity. He lives life. He's even starting to discover girls at this point. If he is not human, then where do these emotions come from?
This would be a great jumping point for director McG to not only prove himself a worthy director, but to also show that this movie wasn't just being made for a quick easy buck. Well, obviously this isn't the case. In this films eyes the next logical thing to do is have a woman free him and then have the resistance spend the next twenty minutes shooting at him with no foreseeable effect. Even less so then usual since the world of "Terminator Salvation" is nothing but dessert and destroyed buildings. Visually there is nothing appealing to look at in this film. It's a wasteland. One that doesn't give the viewer anything to connect with emotionally when things get destroyed. When the Terminator destroyed a couple of 80's buildings with live people inside it registered to audiences as something cruel.
I doubt audiences will feel anything when a Terminator in this film destroys an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere. There are good points in this film, most of which revolving around Marcus discovering who he is and what he exists for. These scenes make an otherwise boring film more interesting, but because Sam Worthington is no star we have to spend most of our time with John Conners. Is Conners important to the story? That's doubtful. I mean, he does destroy a manufacturing plant, free prisoners, and have a one-on-one battle with a CGI created Arnold Schwarzenegger. But does has the hero done anything important when he ends a film with "We've won the battle but the war goes on?" I'll leave that for you to decide.
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