© 2009 Ray Wong
The Terminator franchise is like a Terminator itself: it will never die. This time around, Terminator Salvation (or T4, as the fans call it) is set in the future.
The year is 2018. Judgment Day happened and Skynet has taken control of the world after the global nuclear holocaust. The surviving humans form pockets of resistance to fight "the machines." John Connor (Christian Bale) is now one of the resistance leaders, as Skynet and their Terminators are out to destroy mankind. Broadcasting his messages via shortwave radio, Connor becomes the voice of the resistance.
Meanwhile, a human named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) emerges. His last memory is of being a convicted murderer on death row, in 2003. He is shocked to discover that not only is he in the future, but also the world he knew has been destroyed. Aided by the Los Angeles branch of the resistance -- Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and Star (Jadagrace) being its only members -- Marcus manages to reach John Connor, but not before Reese and Star are captured by Skynet. Marcus is seriously injured.
What John Connor discovers is that Marcus is not human, although Marcus insists that he is. To Marcus's own surprise, he finds out he is indeed a machine with a human heart. John Connor believes Marcus is sent by Skynet to kill him, until Marcus tells him about Kyle Reese and promises Connor to infiltrate Skynet and rescue Reese for him. Meanwhile, the resistance gains a new technology that can give them an upper hand in the war, but the operation may sacrifice the human prisoners, including Reese. Connor must decide if he should trust Marcus or risk losing the war.
Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) is an notorious method actor and his on-set tantrum constantly made headline news. There's no question that Bale is intense and serious. Perhaps a bit too serious. The adult John Connor, with his portrayal, is dense and humorless. Given what he has gone through, it makes sense. Still, Bale's performance is somewhat one note. It's also surprising that John Connor is actually a secondary character in this film.
The protagonist turns out to be Marcus Wright, effectively played by Sam Worthington (Rogue). A relatively unknown, Worthington has the film's biggest and most important character arc. His portrayal is mostly along the "tough guy/action hero" line, without a lot of depth. But he does the job and has some good scenes, especially with Moon Bloodgood (Pathfinder), who plays resistance fighter Blair Williams with a nice mix of spunk, charisma and heart. In fact, the scenes between her and Worthington are some of the best in the film.
The supporting cast doesn't really have much to do, with the exception of Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), who does a fine job playing Kyle Reese as a teenager. Yelchin makes us believe that the tough teen could grow up to be John's right-hand man and father! Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeny Todd) has a small role as Dr. Kogan, the woman responsible for making Marcus. Newcomer Jadagrace has a stereotypical "child" role in such an apocalyptic world. Bryce Dallas Howard's (Spider-Man 3) talent is rather wasted in a small and irrelevant role as John's wife, Kate.
Written by John D. Brancato (Terminator 3) and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3), the screenplay seems to have been written for Marcus Wright instead of John Connor. That's a disappointment in that we've come to expect the story, set in the future after Judgment Day, to be about the war and the rise of John Connor to be the fabled leader. Instead, the main character arc belongs to Marcus Wright. To make things worse, there just isn't a lot of character development for Connor or other characters. The story lacks real human touches and sensitivity. The dialogue is standard. The plot is thin, mostly revolving around major action scenes.
Under McG's (We Are Marshalls) direction, the film does have a great apocalyptic look. The production and designs are excellent, and the film moves in a brisk pace. The action is top-notch, and the special effects are very good, too. In fact, the whole film reminds me of a great video game. And I think that is part of the problem with the film: It is a video game. It focuses too much on the machines and action but not enough on the humans. It would be a much stronger film if we had spent more time with John Connor. As an action film, it does the job. But the story simply falls short considering all the possibilities. Instead, we have a half-cooked story with the wrong focus.
There is no salvation for this installment.
Stars: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin, Jadagrace, Bryce Dallas Howard
Writers: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language, partial nudity
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.1 out of 10