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I have never seen a McG film before. I avoided the Charlie’s Angels movies and thought We Are Marshall looked pretty mediocre—besides being a based on true events sports flick; not my genre of choice—but here we have him helming the new entry to one of the best science fiction series in cinema. How would someone that people oftentimes compare to a hack like Brett Ratner do with a big scale production containing an existing mythology and fan base calling for greatness? We all know the weak job Ratner did on X-Men 3 with similar expectations. Terminator Salvation is a bit different, though, being that it is somewhat of a reboot—the first of a planned new trilogy—that has some room to breathe on its own. You do not need to be aware of the television show “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” at all, and frankly don’t need to know too much about the original trilogy either. Salvation amps up the action, brings in some pretty good talent to perform, and gets the aesthetic of post-Judgment Day perfect. Unfortunately, for all that it succeeds to accomplish, there is one glaring problem—the story is very thin. With action scenes and explosions filling the screen at a rapid pace, story is pushed to the back, making the film very much an opening to a larger tale. When put alongside the future installments, (there is no way this tanks to the point the money isn’t there for more), it may all work perfectly. Watching as a film on its own just shows a fantastic surface with a weak interior heart.

I use the simile with the heart because of how important that muscle is for character Marcus Wright. The film opens with his lethal injection in 2003, allowing us to see him sign away his body to a very creepy, cancer-ridden Helena Bonham Carter. The blatant, ham-fisted script pushes its agenda of second chances right from the start and never stops. Nor does it let up on the fact that Marcus’ heart is very strong, a pulsing that comforts Moon Bloodgood’s Blair Williams as she rests her head against his chest in 2018. Wait … 2018? I thought he died in prison fifteen years earlier? Well, what would a Terminator movie be without a Terminator? Salvation uses the character of Marcus Wright much to the same effect that “Battlestar Galactica” used the skin-job cylons: a combination of machine and biology, one who’s consciousness stills holds the humanity necessary to make choices in his actions. Because, of course, the true sign of what sets a human apart from machine is its heart.

Besides Wright’s awakening, the film concerns the evolution of John Connor and his place in the Resistance. We learned through the first three films that he would be the savior of our race, the one man to unite all survivors to take down the Skynet’s machines once a for all. However, in 2018, Connor is not yet the Jesus-like visage we would think. A rogue voice commanding the masses, as people listen to him because of the rumors and speculation they have heard, Connor is not a general—no that would be the always-classic sci-fi action actor Michael Ironside—nor is he universally loved. Many believe him to be a false prophet, not worth the time or effort, despite the eventual discovery of things that he had spoken of years before. One major plus in Salvation, though, is that his teacher and mother Sarah Connor didn’t know everything; the future seems to have changed. A creature such as Marcus was never fathomed before. The fact that time travel has been occurring for the past three decades in attempts to eradicate John and to save him means that the timeline has been altered. Somewhere along the line the machines discovered their failures and advanced their AI to create the ultimate infiltrator—half man/half machine. However, this weapon is awakened before ready, an outcome caused by Connor’s arrival on a mission to the Skynet laboratory, a mission that ends with the destruction of everything in sight, besides Connor and Wright, therefore setting them on a collision course.

Wright goes on a journey to find the one person that might be able to explain why he is alive, Bonham Carter’s Dr. Serena Kogan. On his way he meets the LA division of the Resistance in Anton Yelchin’s Kyle Reese. Yelchin is great in the role, even making facial expressions that recall memories of Michael Biehn in the original film. With this and Star Trek, the kid is finally making it into the big time after a very successful early career. John Connor is also on the lookout for Reese, searching while hatching a plan to utilize a sound frequency that will shutdown the machines. Once Reese is captured, both Wright and Connor try to find a way to recover him. When they cross paths, it is up to their trust in one another to decide whether they are on the same side or mortal enemies. The salvation of the title regards both of these men: one a murderer given a second chance at life and the ability to do good; the other lost and adrift, finally living the life he knew he would as a child, but needing to think outside the box and remember that his future self once sent a robot to the past to protect him. His future self learns to trust the machine and make them work for him; that mentality must start somewhere.

As exposition, Terminator Salvation is a success. It refreshes our memories on the relationship between characters, re-familiarizing viewers with the age gaps and ramifications time travel has done to them through the previous stories. There is a nice progression for Marcus Wright as we see him for what he was and who he becomes. Sam Worthington, a virtual unknown Aussie on this side of the Pacific, but soon to hit it big after filming the lead in James Cameron’s new Avatar, sinks his teeth into the role. Here is a Terminator that has a heart, has emotions and feelings, and has the ability to go against programming, even if he doesn’t know he was programmed to begin with. It is something seeing a soul behind the eyes of a face half composed of metal. Wright’s story is where the plot’s strengths end, though. We are introduced to Bryce Dallas Howard as Connor’s wife and to Common and Bloodgood as two of his soldiers, but we really know nothing about them. Even Christian Bale’s John Connor falls a bit flat.

Don’t get me wrong, Bale plays the part to perfection, (I could have done with less growl), and the character lives up to the one we’ve seen before. There just isn’t anything here to make us grow an attachment to him, to allow for the ending to resonate as much as the filmmakers would hope. Worthington’s Wright is so complete a character, and even Yelchin’s Reese is completely three-dimensional, that Connor is left by the wayside. Bale is asked to perform as someone more legend than man, someone making the tough decisions in order to save the world. I just wish the story allowed us to discover who he is and what he is to become; I guess maybe we’ll get that in the next film. So, for now, just be happy to see a glorious landscape of charred, bleak destruction, inhabited by robotic vehicles of death wreaking havoc wherever they go. As an action flick it is great, but besides Marcus Wright’s conflicted monster, there isn’t much more than that. Truthfully, though, does there really need to be?

Terminator Salvation 7/10

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[1] CHRISTIAN BALE stars as John Connor in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action/sci-fi feature “Terminator Salvation,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, also starring Sam Worthington. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[2] Marcus Wright (SAM WORTHINGTON) stands in front of what remains of the Hollywood sign post-Judgment Day in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action/sci-fi feature “Terminator Salvation,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, also starring Christian Bale. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[3] A T-800 Terminator in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ action/sci-fi feature “Terminator Salvation,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. The film stars Christian Bale and Sam Worthington. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures