With Terminator: Salvation, two things are apparent: McG shouldn’t be underrated, and franchise filmmaking robs franchise films of anything challenging. TS is the fourth entry in the Terminator canon, and it is the first of the franchise to be set during the future wars (usually shown in brief flashbacks) that fans had long clamored for. It also has a distinctive feature in that it’s the first film without the heavy participation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. My review of Terminator Salvation after the jump.
The film starts in the recent past (2003) when convict Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is being put to death and a researcher (Helena Bonham Carter) wants him to donate his body to science. Cut to 2018, and John Connor (Christian Bale) is part of the resistance fighting the evil Skynet and their terminators. Bale is introduced with a fairly impressive sequence that tries to emulate the one-shot wonders in Children of Men. Still, it’s some fun camerawork, and it engages. It appears that the resistance has its main men on a submarine, and they’ve got a harmonic frequency they think can shut down the machines. The want Connor to test it out. The “leaders on the sub” is easily the weakest element of the film because they never feel all that connected to the narrative, and therefore have no stakes. Wright wakes up and runs across Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), a teenager in LA struggling to stay alive with a mute moppet kid. They run across Skynet harvesting humans, and so Kyle Reese gets captured, and Marcus hooks up with Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), a pilot who needs to get back to the resistance. Well, Marcus trips a mine, and his secret is revealed: He’s part robot. But he’s so nice that he’s set free by Connor, and the two go after the Skynet base in San Francisco to rescue Reese.
McG talks on the supplements about having a pitch-black ending, but it appears that Devin Faraci of Chud.com and Drew McWeeny (then of Ain’t it Cool) let the cat out of the bag on the original, original ending, which had Connor dying, only for Marcus to take his skin, and lead the resistance under the auspices. This would have done something to change the tenor of the film, which in its current version does nothing to upset the canon such as it is, nor introduce anything new to the universe. And so where the film needed to have a bomb-dropping conclusion where things went topsy turvy, instead you get a narrative where nothing that happens in the film carries any weight at all. If they do a fifth film (as McG keeps talking about), you would never have to see this film, and if the third film had a predictable conclusion, at least it went there, and delivered something that was a game changer. Here, the biggest problem with the film is that it’s a no-stakes movie. It’s the same problem that the Star Trek reboot has, except that film has more fun and swagger. This has grit.
But, for better or worse, you have to walk away from this film with a respect for McG’s ability to stage and shoot action. Some of this may have come from working with good second unit people, but the action beats in this film are fairly clean and coherent, and the opening set piece – while having some obvious cutaways – is still technically proficient enough to invest you in the story (such as it is). This was a strike movie, and the set was difficult, hot, and tempers famously flew. If you can just watch it for the set pieces, the film is impressive, and McG does try and mix in some practical as much as he can, and the moment where there’s a cameo from old stars, you can’t help but chuckle at the audacity. But because there’s nothing new here, the film does play a lot like fan-fic. Every five or ten minutes there’s a reference to something else from the franchise. And after a while it doesn’t add to the pleasure any more. That’s this film, being constantly reminded of the better films in the franchise.
Warner Brothers presents the film in a three disc set. There’s a digital copy of the theatrical version, and then the director’s cut (117 min.) which adds some nudity, some blood, and not all that much compared to the theatrical cut (113 min.). Both are presented in widescreen and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD surround. These are demo discs, make no mistake about it. The director’s cut comes with no supplements, but the theatrical version comes with a maximum movie mode where McG hosts the film, and stops it from time to time to talk about the making of the film. There’s PIP that run during the film and thirty minutes of branching video. Also included in the maximum movie mode are storyboard galleries and still galleries. Rounding out the set is the making of featurette “Reforging the future (19 min.) and the “The Moto-Terminator” (9 min.), which focuses on the Ducatis used for the film as terminators.