Director revives franchise with explosive-overload

Terminator Salvation

Straight shooter · Christian Bale (above) stars as John Connor in “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment in the franchise, which takes place in the year 2018. - Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a struggling actor trying to find a legitimate niche in the early 1980s, a script written by James Cameron came across his path. It was about a man sent back in time to protect the mother of a future leader from a machine programmed to kill her. The only choice for Schwarzenegger was to play the machine. Twenty plus years later, a leader has been born in a chaotic atmosphere, both on and offscreen.

Now Schwarzenegger plays a governor of a bankrupt economy, and John Connor (Christian Bale) is finally fighting in a future his mother always warned him about. The franchise has entered the future and left Arny and his one-liners; this is a more vile and bleak situation with very little to laugh about.

In “Terminator Salvation,” director McG takes over the post- Judgment Day reigns and creates a desolate world circa 2018, where terminators run rampant and Skynet is in control. Only the Resistance, human survivors, can stop it — with John there to lead the way.  Unfortunately, John has detractors that don’t feel he is the chosen one. Head quarters wishes to attack Skynet when it finds a weakness in its frequencies. To do so would also lead to the termination of John, as Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), John’s father, would be killed while being held prisoner at the base

Confused yet?

To make matters even more convulted, John has to deal with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man who gave his body up for Cyberdine Technologies after his execution for murder. The question that plagues John and Marcus is what is he? A machine, a man, or perhaps both? Marcus could be a key to the evolution of the machines and the campaign against them.

Worthington, an unknown from Australia, has arrived. His character — a machine with a human heart, brain, blood and skin — is the most complex and the most alluring considering Marcus is new to the franchise.  Marcus is the central character and in essence portrays the protector amongst all the confusion. Marcus is a diamond in the rough and is quite impressive as he steals the show.

Despite the film’s departure from the mundane third installment and its return to a more exciting, if not louder and more explosive, saga, it is not without its flaws. One flaw comes in the form of Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), who serves very little purpose other than advancing the plot and further showcasing Marcus’ ability for compassion and human characteristics.

It is also notable that this film shares similarities with Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” Tons of explosions plus large two-legged transforming machines are abundant in McG’s vision, giving Bay’s complaints of plagiarism some validity.

Terminator Salvation

The film’s brilliant cinematography, from director of photography Shane Hurlbut, is showcased in the adrenaline-filled action scenes. - Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The film’s ultimate flaw, however, lies in the audience already knowing that Marcus is a cyborg. They see it in the ad campaign and are given a back-story out the gate. Sadly, it allows for a less than shocking reveal instead of a powerful turning point. As a result, the audience is forced to sit through the majority of the film wondering when the story will hit its curve.

Some questionable acting and dialogue also detracts from the film, specifically from Bloodgood and Bryce  Dallas Howard (Kate Connor), who star as the only major female characters in the film. Both needed to be fleshed out to make the film whole and less of a launch pad for two future sequels. It also doesn’t help that Howard was obviously pregnant during principal photography, yet her physical state is never mentioned. Howard was an emergency back-up for the role of Kate, so it remains to be seen whether or not the character will give birth between this film and the next.

On the positive front, the film’s CGI is stellar, especially when highlighted by the cinematography. Director of Photography Shane Hurlbut’s work is profound, and one easily wonders if the film would have been as effective without it. Though the action sequences benefit the most from the camera work, the scene that truly sticks out is the helicopter sequence near the beginning of the film. As John attempts to escape in the helicopter, he is shot down; everything that ensues in the long take toes the line between prolific and extraordinary.

It’s also interesting to note Bale’s fallout with Hurlbut. The now infamous incident is what many filmgoers are hoping to get a glimpse of; however, editing is smooth enough to ensure a difficult flagging point as to where the blow up took place.

Also, Hurlbut’s light work makes “Terminator Salvation” legitimate, and it even takes the attention away from Bale, though the script or McG could be at fault for that. 

“Terminator Salvation” is a solid action flick that should make summer moviegoers happy. The film is not “T2,” but it is a far cry from the sub-par “T3.” This installment feels a lot more like the original “Terminator” — though bleak and brooding, there is hope for the future of the human race and this franchise after all.