Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

After a six-year hiatus, “Terminator” is back and, while it may not exactly be better than ever, it is certainly better than most of what the action genre has to offer.

“Terminator Salvation” breathes new life into the two-decade-old franchise by shaking up the traditional narrative scheme a bit. Whereas the first three films all are set in “the past” and feature characters being sent back in time to try and change the course of the future, this new entry does the exact opposite. It is set in the not-so-distant future and features a character named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who essentially travels forward in time to discover that our world has been devastated by the massive nuclear attack predicted in the first three films.

The attack was ordered by Skynet, a military super-computer designed to save human lives on the battle field. Instead, it became self-aware and decided to eliminate humanity, which it began to view as a threat. After the attack, Skynet began to develop all kinds of new ways (read: killer robots called “terminators”) to get rid of people once and for all.

This is the scene that Wright awakens to in the film’s opening moments.
The problem is that he can’t remember how he got to the year 2018. The last thing he does remember is being on death row and agreeing to donate his body to 2003.

As he travels across a post-apocalyptic world so barren and desolate it would make Cormac McCarthy blush, Wright stumbles upon Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).

It seems that Reese, without him even knowing it, has been made public enemy number one by Skynet, which seeks to prevent him from ever fulfilling his destiny. That destiny involves joining the resistance, traveling back in time and becoming the father of humanity’s supposed savior, John Connor (Christian Bale).

Except at this point in time, Reese is only a teenager and a far cry from the battle hardened soldier that Michael Biehn portrayed in “The Terminator.”

Essentially the movie boils down to whether Connor can save his father, which would also mean saving himself. On top of that, Connor must also contend with Wright, a man who isn’t even totally sure of his own motives yet.

It’s a tough gig being the savior of humanity isn’t it?

Maybe in some way, the film’s director McG can relate to Connor’s plight. Not because he is also caught in a time travel web that has left him about twenty years older than his own father, but the savior part may ring true to the man who brought us the “Charlie’s Angels” films.

“Salvation” is more than just a catchy word to put after “Terminator” in the film’s title. It is the center of the film’s entire story: humanity’s fight to save ourselves from the fate we created. For the franchise, it represents the promise of new life in the form of potential sequels.

And for McG, his hopes rest on this film rescuing him from his image as a walking cinematic punch line.

At its core, “Salvation” is a fun summer popcorn movie, full of spectacular chase scenes and jaw-dropping visual effects. The film is what a sequel/prequel, and in this case a franchise reboot should be: loyal to the source material while not afraid to take risks.

It unleashes a host on new robotic bad guys never before seen in the “Terminator” universe. These include the gigantic Harvester, water-faring metallic tentacles known as hydro-bots, as well as several surprises.

If you’ve never seen any of the older films before, don’t worry, as a Cliff-Notes version of the rather complex mythology is given at the film’s onset. If you are a fan of the previous entries in the series, than you are in luck.

McG packs “Salvation” with enough references and call backs to the earlier films to not only appease die hard fans, but to keep them coming back just to make sure that they picked out everything.

A few old favorites even stop by— one with the aid of a young Austrian body builder and some computer-generated effects and the other as a voice from a tape recorder.

The film sports an impressive cast, anchored by Bale and Worthington. From the beginning of the film it’s clear that this is their story. Both actors have a remarkably commanding screen presence. No surprise there from Bale, but Worthington is a relative unknown outside of his native Australia and despite that still manages to go— literally and figuratively— toe-to-toe with Bale, which is no small feat.

Yelchin at times seems to be channeling Biehn, while at the same time managing to portray a much different man then the one that Biehn played.

The rest of the cast is ok, but fairly underused. Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard each do a decent job in their roles but sadly get shortchanged in terms of screen time, with Howard— who plays Connor’s wife— coming out worst of all.

The always entertaining Helena Bonham Carter stops by for a cup of coffee as a (possibly) mad scientist, one who may be trying to cure cancer or who may be up to something else entirely.

The biggest problem with “Salvation” is its script, which was penned by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, the duo behind “Terminator 3.”

Prior to the film’s release, Bale discussed the possibility of two more sequels to follow. This fact can be felt throughout the occasionally unwieldy story, which seems to bite off more than its 130 minute run time can chew.

The story frequently loses focus and there are too many side characters to keep track of. Let this be a lesson to all would-be filmmakers out there: never assume there will be a sequel. Tell your story in one movie and if a sequel is justified then well done, but if not then at least you know your film will stand on its own.

That being said, it’s not hard to get past the script problems. This isn’t “Slumdog Terminator” or “The Curious Case of John Connor.” It’s simply the third sequel to a low budget action movie from the 80’s that made up for its financial shortcomings with an abundance of ambition and creativity.

Only time will tell whether or not “Salvation” truly lives up to its name but— at least for now— one thing is certain: the future looks bright for both the franchise and for McG as well.

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