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Another Perspective on Terminator Salvation

Written by: Sal Crivelli, Special to CC2K

CC2K's pop-culture editor takes a look at the latest entry in the Terminator franchise.

ImageI need to let go of the fact that they are never going to make a Terminator movie the way I want to see a Terminator movie done. It's not 1991, CGI is the mainstay of technical effects, and James Cameron is just plain tired of Terminator. They're never going to hire Edward Furlong or Linda Hamilton, and Arnold will never be as huge as he used to be without body doubles and aforementioned computer enhancements.

That being said, Terminator Salvation is a far better movie than T3. While T3 was a paycheck for everyone, I think the filmmakers truly believed they were making a deep, cool, action-oriented follow-up to the franchise. In many ways, they also succeeded. In others, their attempts were simply a painful reminder of my feelings outlined in the first paragraph. 

We're in 2018 and the war is raging on between humanity and the machines. John Connor is just a grunt, but set on the path he knows he's destined to fulfill.

I'm sorry, but I don't have the energy to go into a full in-depth outline of the story. You know the story if you saw the trailer. Let's just get on with the review, shall we?

Marcus Wright is more sympathetic a character than John. The re-writes were obvious when it came to this. The movie was clearly about Marcus and Kyle, and John was this character we only got glimpses of throughout the movie until the finale.

John's nightly radio addresses were a great example of how well they executed the movie. The Resistance hears a voice of hope and leadership every night, teaching them how to fight from across the world. Marcus and Kyle hear this voice, and react the way anyone in that position would. "We gotta meet this guy." We watch John Connor inspire Regular Joe's like Kyle and (ostensibly) Marcus, and grow from just another man in the fight against the machines into the savior of mankind, with little more to go on than a strong voice on the radio. That's the kind of movie they were telling. The story of how strong the human spirit is, and how resilient we are as a species. John Connor as a character is irrelevant– the fact that he exists is what matters. It's why they spent so much time developing Marcus, and so little time showing John being human.

Anton Yelchin is Kyle Reece. He's amazing. Perfect representation of the character, excellent portrayal– he's Kyle. It works.

Bale kind of phones it in. It's passable, but I would have preferred Sam Worthington as John. Bale's lisp and Batman voice continue to grate on me as time goes on. Sometimes he’s completely badass and disappears into the role, and the moments work. Other times, I’m not quite sure.

Sam Worthington is a good Marcus. The name annoys me, but it's a solid performance. There's a shaky accent that crops up the closer we get to the end of the movie, but it's forgivable. His character is believable and sympathetic. It's sad to see him go.

Bryce Dallas Howard has little to do in this movie, but she does it well. I wish there were more scenes between her and John. It could have humanized him better. Also, there is no verbal reference to Kate Connor being pregnant. She's showing, so the plotpoint is there. But other than the physical appearance of a big belly, there is no reference to the future of the Connor lineage, and I'm not sure if that's cool or lazy. You could tell Howard gained weight for the role, and that's actually really well done. You don't look like Megan Fox with a pillow under your shirt when you're pregnant.

Moon Bloodgood as Blair is the heart of Connor's team. She also simultaneously reminds him of the dangers the T-800's existence promises– believability. This element is understated, but present. Once again causing us to wonder if it was intentional or inadvertent.

Common played a black guy in Connor's infantry. That's about it. Nothing especially cool or interesting, whatsoever. Maybe his character is the victim of editing, or maybe they just had an extra set of lines lying around. [Rant: If they wanted to keep Connor’s platoon from being a bunch of white guys, why not put ANY Hispanics in it? Connor’s ties to Mexico and South America are strong and established. Double you tee eff?]

Michael Ironside has confidently stepped into self-parody territory. I can see the casting director: "We need an unlikable General to keep Connor down, but we don't have time to develop a character. Enter: Michael Ironside!"

The T-800 Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator looks absolutely flawless. You know what I'm talking about. His famous visage lasts just long enough for it to continue looking perfect before the budget runs out. The T-800 endoskeleton was a blend of puppetry and CGI, and it's done the way it's supposed to. No complaints there.

In fact, I have almost no complaints about the machinery at all. All the Terminators, from the Harvesters to the HK's to the T-600's, look great. Gritty, worn, filthy, and dangerous. They don't have the inhuman polish and sheen they had in the first two movies, but they work. It's a decent enough transition that works well. The motorcycle Terminators looked silly in the trailer, but I got used to them fast. Likewise, the Sentry Terminator things worked just fine, if only because they essentially harken back to the advanced Terminator sentry drones from the T2 Stunt Show (which had influence, direction, and blessing, from James Cameron). And I think I saw some plasma rifles, but nothing with opposable digits fired any. Just plain ol' bullets for our bipedal characters.

The story is pretty good. The desperate hope to end the war early is felt, and the surprise about their secret weapon is executed nicely. All the action sequences are high-octaine coolness. There are a few chase scenes keeping up the motif from the previous films, and they kick some ass. I wish at least one of them took place at night, though.

The happy ending feels like they re-shot it. It's a pretty good ending, and would work if the movie spent the necessary time and energy supporting it. I’ll be honest: I would have bought it, had I never heard any rumors about the re-writes/re-shoots. But the movie carried the message that John doesn't matter, and a machine can learn the value of human life. Then we go back on its spirit and say that John is all that matters. Either message works for me, but take the time to make one of them work.

There are little touches in this movie. Little glimpses of things that reference or explain things from its predecessors, and they either work or they don't. They fit in sync or they fail spectacularly. Kyle learning how to use a sawed-off shotgun works great. Helena Bonham Carter as the voice and face of Skynet is stupid. John listening to his mother's tapes is awesome. Re-casting Sarah Connor's voice from an original scene from Terminator is fucking retarded. It goes on like this.

In the end, I honestly think this is the most faithful a studio can possibly be to the original franchise. I think any follow-ups will be complete bullshit, but this has just enough cool or nostalgia infusion to make it work reasonably well. As an action movie, it's cool. Without Terminator in the title, it wouldn't work at all. As a Terminator sequel, it's better than T3. As a continuation of the franchise, I think this is where it will begin and end.