Terminator Salvation doesn’t really have much substance or point, apart from attempting to cash in on a series that many fans already considered dead. If you’ve seen those movies, or at least, the first two, you know that at some time in the future, a war breaks out between man and machine, and that John Connor is the leader of the human resistance army.
Now, in those films, which took place in the 80’s and 90’s, the future was depicted as a dark place, one where lasers were shot by both sides, and there was never any light. Humans hid underground to avoid being killed, and the environments were desolate, filled with rubble, dead humans and destroyed machines. Salvation doesn’t really follow that idea. Oh, it’s a desolate place, but it looks just like a generic post-apocalyptic world, where the humans aren’t often killed, and instead are captured and held. I guess the machines weren’t as bloodthirsty as we once thought.
This is true with the titular Terminators too, as they don’t seem all the concerned with killing people. The film is set in 2018, before the popular Arnold Schwarzenegger model has become standard issue (although his likeness does appear in a cameo role). We see Terminators without fake skin, and instead just look like generic robots. But when they get a hold of humans — and this is especially noticeable in the final fight scene — they just decide to throw the humans around, without any attempt to kill them. Have they gotten soft? And where are the lasers I was promised? Nobody shoots lasers at one another, instead just using bullets. Lame. This is the future! Why aren’t we getting to see the future that was promised in earlier films?
There are two parallel stories in Salvation. The first concerns a man who was killed in the opening scene, but is brought back to life after Judgment Day (a bunch of nuclear explosions that wipe out most of the human population) occurs. His name is Marcus (Sam Worthington), and he eventually finds Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Yes, that same Kyle Reese, from the first film in this series. They hear a radio broadcast and decide that it would be a good idea to try to find John Connor (Christian Bale this time).
John’s story is the second one that’s told. He and the other humans believe that they’ve found a way to defeat the machines once and for all. But that will involve blowing up the base, which is where Kyle Reese ends up being captured. Since blowing up Kyle would kind make it impossible for John to be born in the first place, he decides that a rescue mission must take place, so the planning and execution is what ends up dominating the rest of the time of the film.
The thing is, that’s all the film has. Once Marcus and John get together, chat a bit, maybe point their guns at one another for a while, it’s a rescue mission that doesn’t have sufficient planning and has absolutely no character depth of development. There’s one twist near the middle that I suppose could count as “development”, but really it just serves to create a small amount of tension between a couple of characters, but doesn’t change anything about them.
That doesn’t completely ruin Salvation, but it does hamper it. What ruins it are the action scenes taking up approximately 90% of the film’s runtime, and also not being all that entertaining in the first place. They have a place and serve a purpose, but they’re simply not thrilling. They’re run-of-the-mill, and considering how exciting the set-pieces in the first three films were, these just don’t cut it in a film wearing the Terminator name.
At least the special effects look good. Oh, CGI is certainly overused, but at least it’s good CGI, and it doesn’t appear lazy or sloppy. I guess that $200 million allows you to have good looking special effects, and in a film like this, you need good effects. Eye-candy is more or less the only thing that Salvation has going for it, and since the environments are so uninspired, the action scenes at the very least need to look busy and exciting, even if they don’t end up feeling that way to the audience.
I’m not sure how much this would have helped, but I think the roles of the leads should have been switched. Bale should have played Marcus, while Worthington should have been John Connor. This would have improved the film for a couple of reasons. First, the actors fit their characters better. Bale can do dramatic roles, and the role of Marcus does have more depth than Connor’s in this film. Second, it would have given Bale more screen time, as Marcus is more of a lead character than Connor is here (in the initial script, Connor was only included at the very end, instead of being included all throughout.) This wouldn’t have made the action scenes any better, but it might have aided the characters.
Unlike the first three Terminator films, Salvation is simply not all that exciting or entertaining. It is loud and has a lot of explosions and action scenes, but I found myself disappointed that it didn’t follow how the future was depicted in earlier films. That did look like it could be a fun watch, but what we got was a bunch of action scenes where Terminators don’t aim to kill, and humans acting more like boring machines than ever before. It’s an unnecessary film that you don’t have any reason to watch.