Terminator Salvation…so disappointing

So I’ve just watched Terminator Salvation.

Christian Bale is a good actor. Anton Yelchin is a decent Kyle Reese. Michael Ironside is in a sub and is John Connor’s boss, and he’s Michael Ironside. Sam Worthington brought a level of humanity to Marcus who I thought was a lot more interesting than John Connor. And Moon Bloodgood is hot…but she can also act as a hardass and pull it off by being perhaps the most human of anyone else in this film. I’ve no beef with any of the actors.

But the story doesn’t exist in this film in between the loud machine groaning noises, explosions, and periods of incredible coincidence that convinced me that fate was something that a smart pen had apparently crafted shortcuts to within some of the scenes. I’ve seen all three Terminator films, and this one would probably rank at the bottom of the pile.

The action, when there is some to watch, is fairly fun and exciting…McG knows how to stage big bot battles and chases,  but some of the other scenes that wind down after the action feel as if they leaned a bit too far into the crazy coincidence dimension. Not since the cryogenic truck was conveniently in T2 for Schwarzenegger and Eddie Furlong to use against the nefarious T-1000 did I feel this way, but it happens more than once in this film for it to be a little too obvious. The cryo tank was easily forgiven since T2 was backed by a human story, great characters and set pieces, and thrilling chases punctuated by a tense atmosphere…most of which was missing in TS whose many scenes felt far too staged, too closed to any other interpretation or subtlety that we’ve come to expect. Everything feels as if it were served out to the fans without using them to help push the story ahead.

TS takes places in 2018 which should immediately tell Terminator fanatics that something is amiss and that this isn’t when the war ends since that technically happens in 2029, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that we start off with Marcus, a convicted killer, signing his body away to science. One big flash of light later, we’re in the year 2018 shortly after a scrolling wall of text tells us that Skynet became self-aware and decided to kill off humanity because we were deemed a threat and in the years since, we’ve been hanging on by a thread.

There are a few great chases and other scenes that evoke some of the energy of the past films, but TS simply feels as if it were going through the motions when it doesn’t take as many chances as it could have. The only surprises here for this Terminator fan was in seeing some of the new machines and gadgets that Skynet had cooked up to take out humanity along with how the Resistance was set up. The vast battles that we’ve seen in flashbacks from the previous films aren’t here, we’re given no idea as to just how far Skynet has gone in its extermination of mankind, or any more idea of who John Connor really is aside from grunting into a microphone and blowing shit up. If you haven’t watched any of the previous films, good luck in finding anything here to latch onto.

Thanks to the miracle of special effects, Schwarzenegger is actually back…sort of…which happens when the film really starts to take off which is, unfortunately, all the way at the end. Much of the pacing in the first half felt as if it were bouncing from one character to the next without building them up, making many of them feel wooden, or taking more of those shortcuts just to make things happen. In one part, when Marcus actually meets up with living people and asks them what year it is and what the hell is going on, they’re not surprised since they’ve probably met cryogenically frozen people before that have just awakened several years after Judgement Day. So they immediately trust the guy. Huh?

The story tries to pull off the human element between man and machine, evoking some of the same feelings that we had with T2 and T3, which it does manage well thanks to one of the main characters who has to come to grips with what has happened to him. By now, you can probably guess that it’s Marcus who has this particular cross to bear, and Sam Worthington does deliver a believable performance as a man who is after that second chance and is much more than the sum of his parts. As I’ve mentioned before, TS is probably a lot more Marcus’ story than it is John Connor’s.

There were rumors about the real ending of the film here and you can tell that it could have gone either way. Whether or not some of those changes were true because of how it was supposed to finish off before is just another mystery, but the resolution will take a lot for you to believe in the miracle of field medicine performed in an open tent in the desert.

Danny Elfman does the score which bears little resemblance to any of the previous titles. It’s solid stuff, I liked it as much as I do any of his other work, but hearing him pull of a martial, war tested theme as opposed to his penchant for quirky orchestration work was definitely a different treat.

After the film was done, I wasn’t exhausted. I wasn’t thrilled, either. I felt like I had just watched a very long filler episode of a series that I regularly track and aside from the awesome action and a glimpse into Skynet’s world, I don’t think it’s the best out of the four.

Do I want to see another Terminator film? Absolutely. But I hope that they actually deliver something of a story in the next installment.

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