The most impressive thing about Terminator Salvation is that it features only one character who actually earns our emotional engagement – and it’s not John Connor [Christian Bale using his Bat-voice]. Neither is it sweet, mute, cute, black girl Star [Jadagrace], a kindergarten-aged child who is so obviously planted to manipulate our emotions that the strategy fails, miserably; nor is it Connor’s pregnant wife Kate [Bryce Dallas Howard] whose worries about her husband are so underwritten that the character feels more like an add-on than someone from the original story. It’s not even Moon Bloodgood’s Blair, who follows her heart when it comes to dealing with the character who does earn our involvement, Marcus [Sam Worthington].
Y’see, we meet Marcus in 2003, just before he’s about to be executed for murder – and Dr. Serena Kogan [Helena Bonham Carter], who is dying of cancer, persuades him to donate his body to science by allowing him a kiss [“That’s what death tastes like,” he notes]. When he awakens, it’s in a desolate 2018 and he makes the mistake of attracting the attention of a T-600 – fooled by its bipedal appearance. He is saved by the teenaged Kyle Reese [Anton Yelchin] who exists, plot-wise, only to provide Marcus with directions and Skynet with bait to lure Connor to his death.
Other than Marcus, the human characters are of the “insert tab A into slot B” variety. Connor is one-note and utterly lacking in any real charm, or charisma; Star is but a blatant manipulation by the writers [who also wrote the disastrous T3]; Blair exists, primarily to convince us that Marcus is human; Kate is there to make think that John Connor can actually care about anything other than beating Skynet. Even the submarine-based Command exists only to make Connor look real – despite some vintage mugging by the extremely ill-used Michael Ironside.
The real star of the film the half-human cyborg, Marcus [which you probably figured out from the trailer]. Outside of Worthington, the movie’s real stars are, as in T3, the machines – and even then, all the quality FX in the world can‘t give them any sense of real intelligence. In The Terminator, and T2, the back and forth between humans and machines seemed like a game of Risk – each move was made within the structure of a plan. Move and countermove. In T3 and Salvation, there’s none of that. As good as look onscreen, the machines of Skynet are random and chaotic.
Even worse, for all its technical skill and well-executed action sequences, Salvation is a machine on virtually every level – excepting Marcus, who is not only engaging, but actually provides the film with its only genuine moment poignancy [if you see Salvation, you know it when you see it].
Sadly, for all its budget and high-powered cast, Salvation is little better than an empty, soulless, but well-made B-movie – which places it in the company of other beautifully made misfires like Max Payne and Punisher: War Zone. This series should died with T2 – and more people should have watched the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, which honored those movies and built upon them.
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EM Review by Sheldon Wiebe
Posted on May 23, 2009