Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Directed by: McG (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”)
Written by: John D. Brancato (“Catwoman”) and Michael Ferris (“Primeval”)
What should have been a war for the ages quickly turns into an exercise in mechanics as director McG and team are somehow able to disconnect 25 years of apocalyptic mythology and groundbreaking cinematic moments with “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment of the sci-fi franchise.
Although director Jonathan Mostow helped spur the downward spiral with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in 2003, he at least left the final scene of the film wide open for someone else to take the reigns and drive the story to the inevitable war between man and machine. We’ve all anticipated it ever since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) met face to face with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg in the 1984 classic. Instead, McG and unproven screenwriters John D. Brancato (“T3”) and Michael Ferris (“T3”) seem to feel that just because the foundation is there they can throw it into cruise control. Sadly, no one bothered to tell them that fans deserved more than a few loud explosions and artificial nostalgic moments.
The film starts with an introduction to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signs his body away to science before he is executed for murder. Marcus unknowingly returns as a cyborg years after Judgment Day has occurred. With no memory of his past life, he roams the smoldering ruins until he meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who fans will know as the human sent back in time in the original film to protect Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and sow the seed that would later become John Connor (Edward Furlong in “T2,” Nick Stahl in “T3,” and Christian Bale in “Salvation”).
As the “prophesized leader of the Resistance” against the machines, John knows his future and the future of mankind lies with two things: the destruction of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network behind the nuclear holocaust, and the survival of his teenage father, a member of the Resistance. Marcus and John’s paths cross after Kyle is snatched up by a machine and taken back to Skynet. John is left to decide whether or not to place his trust in Marcus not knowing if he is the type of terminator that has been sent to destroy him.
The rescue mission, however, doesn’t happen until after a series of impressive special effects and some terrible choices in dialogue, narrative, and female characterization (Moon Bloodgood, Jadagrace, Helena Bonham Carter, and Bryce Dallas Howard do absolutely nothing to progress the story). In “Salvation,” the machines are the stars of the show – and well they should be – but not to the detriment of anything that resembles human emotion (Bale blasting off on viral audio doesn’t count). What McG and writers replace it with instead is 11th-hour metaphorical wish-wash that centers on the strength and resiliency of the human heart. Where that heart was for the rest of the film is anyone’s guess.