9 years from now, machines will be intelligent, will have pretty much destroyed civilization, and will be able to shoot lasers out of their, um, eyeholes. What’s more, they’ll be experimenting with biotechnology, reanimating executed criminals (yet another argument against the death penalty – they’ll be back!) and, ultimately, creating their own fleshy humanoids, modeled on the current governor of California. (Skynet, is based in San Francisco, after all.) Somehow this all seemed a lot more believable in 1985.
“Terminator Salvation” is supposed to be a movie about humans vs. machines. Its biggest problem is the machines are way more interesting than the humans. I remember Pauline Kael saying the same thing about “Blade Runner” — one of many movies “TS” shamelessly borrows from – and thinking, well, that’s the point, isn’t it? In “Blade Runner,” the line is blurred between man and machine until nobody really knows for sure who is who. In “Terminator Salvation” the line ought to be, needs to be, crystal clear — the two are locked in an epic war, after all. But Christian Bale, who plays the grownup John Connor, Saviour of the Human Race (JC for short,) has only one speed throughout: intense, hoarse, and focused. You could call it Bat Speed, if you wanted. And the supporting cast is as thin as rice paper. Bryce Dallas Howard shows up briefly to be pregnant. Michael Ironside barks orders to the resistance from a submarine, and appears to be doing his best Michael Ironside impression. Even Anton Yelchin — far and away the warmest actor and character in the film– is equipped with a cute and mute wild-haired child sidekick that seems an awful lot like a robot. (Come one, who wouldn’t want to buy a cute kid-bot that never speaks and always has the tool you’re looking for when you need it?)
To blur the line further between man and machine, our hero is, well, both. Played by Sam Worthington, he spends most of the movie fighting for the resistance, wondering why he’s alive after that whole lethal injection incident, and looking for Christian Bale. But because we’ve seen the preview, we know he’s a robot. Bale learns he’s a robot when he sets off a magnetic mine in the field surrounding the base. (Good thing nobody in the resistance has braces on their teeth, or pacemakers, or wears belt buckles. Or, um, carries guns?) Bale orders him executed (here we go again) but a girl he’s known for two days decides to risk her life to save him, and then there’s this scene in a swamp in the dark….
Oh, to heck with the plot. It doesn’t really matter. Long story short, Worthington is a tool for the machines, until he rips some things out of the back of his head, at which point he’s a free agent. Bale is terribly worried about this guy named Kyle, who’s going to be his father, eventually. Bale and Worthington break into the Skynet base to rescue Kyle, where they run into the Governator, who kicks their butts until they kick his.
The movie ends on an odd note. Bale is wounded in the battle, and needs a heart transplant. Worthington, in a heavyhanded metaphorical move, offers his. I don’t know why, after watching two hours of killer robots in a postapocalyptic world, this bit felt so implausible to me. Really, a heart transplant on the battle field? How do you know he’s even a suitable donor? What if Bale’s body rejects the donor’s heart, and now you’ve got two dead heroes? etc, etc. Maybe it’s because this moment was the only one in the movie that had any bearing on reality at all that it felt so hard to swallow.
But if you’ll accept that the humans aren’t all that interesting, or worth saving, that the plot is convoluted, ridiculous, and most of all, cobbled together from every other sci fi flick ever made, if you’ll approach “Terminator Salvation” as a movie about big, metal beings with intelligence but no personality battling against smaller, softer beings with less intelligence and no personality, you might have a good time. The machines are way cool. They make creepy metallic noises (somebody put some serious love into the sound editing of this film. I’m serious.) And the people find creative, if not terribly effective, ways to fight them, despite being outnumbered and outgunned. “Terminator Salvation” is pretty much wall-to-wall action sequences, and it never gets boring. Nothing may be terribly new, but everything’s intense, and well choreographed and shot, and, you know, pretty fun to watch. Roger Ebert complained that it’s a lot like playing a video game, and it is, but I’m not sure that should be a complaint. Video games these days are pretty entertaining.
- if you really liked “Wolverine,” and want more.
- if you’re way into the “Terminator” series – so much so that you thought “Terminator 3” was a pretty great movie.
- if you want to know when all the fighting will end.
- if you’re looking for this year’s “Dark Knight.” This ain’t it.