Terminator: Salvation (2009) *1/2

May 22, 2009
I would have thought that there was a clause in Christian Bale’s contract prohibiting any other actor from having scenes permeated by their hoarse, rasping shouts, but clearly Sam Worthington was the exception.  They outdid each other, bellowing with rage, stubble glistening with manly sweat and grime as they tried to preserve the human race.

terminator-salvation-flash-posterA simple plot, loud action scenes and little character insight or development, what more could you ask for?  Well, quite a bit actually.  A simple plot is no problem, in John Conner’s own words, the most important thing is to stay alive.  In this case it includes making sure your father stays alive, so you can send him back in time to protect and sleep with your mother.  Loud action scenes are also to be expected.  The earlier installments expended a fair number of bullets with one or two terminators.  Now, when they are running wild over the entire post-apocalyptic world, they have to up the intensity of these scenes.

John Conner (Bale) was tough and gritty, a hardened solider.  He didn’t seem to be very high ranking in the surviving human army, frequently getting told off by his superiors for acting above his station.  However, he is somehow the beacon for the ‘resistance,’ and is put in the position of making very important decisions without consulting with any supervisors.  This gives him time to be weighed down by the choices he makes, but, rather than using these moments to allow us insight into his inner thoughts, they breeze by and end with him barking orders.  He has a pregnant wife (Howard), but apart from an embrace, initiated by her, when he returns as the lone survivor of a mission, it is never shown how he feels about her or about bringing a child into his war-torn world.  Far from confiding in anyone, when he is feeling troubled he retreats into his room to listen to the tapes his mother left him.

Marcus Wright (Worthington) is similarly tough and gritty, appearing mysteriously in 2018 after a Christ-like execution for murder in 2003.  At first confused as to why machines are dominating the world, he quickly adapts to this new lifestyle.  He travels with Kyle Reese (Yelchin) and the girl Star (Jadagrace), discovering the startling new things he possesses, like compassion, and circuits.  He is suitable tormented, as anyone in that position would be.

Kyle Reese, whose adorable mute companion Star is good at picking up things that seem of no importance until they suddenly become essential ten minutes later, is quick tempered, aggressive but still young and vulnerable.  He views Conner as a father figure, which is when the paradox starts kicking in.  Because Conner is such an underdeveloped character, we quickly lose the connection we felt with him in the previous films.  “John,” I thought, “I was with you through all the hard times.  I witnessed your conception.  I shared your troubled childhood.  I visited you during the tough years of your adulthood.  And now that the war has actually come you don’t have time to share with me anymore?”  Since Conner’s life has made it to the point where the previous films were struggling to get him, I lost interest.  I shifted my focus to Reese, who still has years of developing to go before traveling back in time to protect Sarah Conner.  What I really wanted was more of Reese.

The religious imagery is laid on pretty thickly, the word “salvation” is included in the title, but I was unsure who was supposed to be Jesus.  Is it our good old friend, JC, John Conner, the savior of mankind?  Or is it our buddy Marcus who actually died to save Conner, and was pictured several times in crucifixion position?

“No fate but what we make” has been a mantra of the series, but this film more than ever proves how that doesn’t make sense when dealing with time travel.  John Conner might consider himself free from the confines of fate, yet his very existence depends on his sending Reese to the past.  If that’s not fate I don’t know what is.

This film lost the humanity that was essential to the first two, and made them as good as they were.  You’d have thought that this installation, the one that features humans in a losing battle against the machines, would really be the one that strives to maintain the humanity of its characters.  Instead, it looses them in the action.  You can have an action movie that preserves the characters.  This isn’t one of them.


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