Six years after the mixed result of Terminator 3, an attempt to continue and revitalise the franchise was launched, and thus we have Terminator Salvation, both a sequel and the intended first film of a new trilogy. The film isn’t exactly bad, but neither is it particularly good, and it seems that any hope of continuing the franchise beyond this point has fizzled out, which is perhaps for the best.
Just before Skynet launches nuclear armageddon on humanity, death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is executed by lethal injection. In 2018, while the war with the machines is raging, he awaken in the ruins of a Skynet outpost destroyed by John Connor (Christian Bale), and, baffled about how he can be alive, sets out to try and find other people. On his way to meeting up with the human resistance, who are planning a major assault against Skynet, he encounters a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).
You may have guessed that something strange has happened to Marcus, and the ultimate revelation about why he isn’t dead is one of Terminator Salvation‘s most interesting idea which probably would have had a lot more impact if it hadn’t been given away in the trailer. I won’t spoil it here for those of you who don’t yet know, but it’s a real pity that the film’s biggest plot twist was given away in the marketing. Still, Sam Worthington does a fairly good job in the role, and his flawed, uncertain hero is at any rate a far more interesting character than Christian Bale’s John Connor. Bale is a great actor but he’s given almost nothing to do here; this Connor has none of the charm or rebelliousness of Edward Furlong, but is at least less annoying than Nick Stahl.
To be perfectly honest, however, John Connor did not need to be in Terminator Salvation: Marcus is the hero, and the scenes focusing on John serve only to distract from the main plot. The best actor in the film, by some margin, is Anton Yelchin, which is tragic because apart from a few early scenes with Worthington, he’s barely in it. He’s thoroughly believable as a young Michael Biehn, and the saddest thing about the lack of a sequel to Salvation is that we probably won’t get to see him play Reese again.
Terminator 2 is one of the greatest action films ever made, and sadly, Terminator Salvation doesn’t live up to its legacy. There are a couple of nice sequences involving robot motorcycles, but none that prove as memorable as the car chases and shootout at Cyberdyne from Judgment Day. The biggest problem with its depiction of the future war, only glimpsed in previous films, is that it’s significantly less interesting than the aforementioned glimpses. Where before the world was shrouded in permanent night from the dust clouds kicked up by Skynet’s warheads, most of Terminator Salvation takes place in bright daylight, which doesn’t do much for the feeling of impending doom a war against seemingly invincible machines ought to create. Instead of looking like the future war we know from the earlier films, it could be any military science fiction film and it would be hard to tell the difference. The machines seem significantly easier to kill here than they did before, as well.
I’m reluctant to call Terminator Salvation a bad film, but it isn’t good either. It’s very, very average, and while it’s probably still an improvement over Terminator 3, it’s not a film I can recommend. The callbacks to the first two films are nice, particularly the obligatory I’ll be back, and a cameo from Arnold (digitally made to look as he did in the first film) is very welcome, but they serve only to remind you that you could be watching the first two films instead, to which Terminator Salvation frankly can’t hold a candle.