In fact, Terminator may be the only Science-Fiction Saga that can do these things without coming off as having lame excuses for Gregory Benford Moments, possibly because it's the only Saga that we can say "If it's out-of-continuity, it's IN continuity!" about.
Yes, yes, difficult to nitpick! So T3's early Terminators don't quite match the prototypes we see at the T2 3-D Exhibit; so the date of Judgment Day keeps skipping to seem more like "The Future" when these entries debut; so Miles Dyson's work for Cyberdyne Systems was destroyed and now "Skynet" is the evolution of a Chess Computer called "The Turk"... don't you get it? Somebody changed the future, thus changing the past. Paradoxical? Definitely, but lots of fun. Hey, it worked for J.J. with 2009's Star Trek! "Hey, we changed the future through TIME TRAVEL... so we could re-design the Enterprise and you can't nitpick us!" Those OTHER bad robot dudes must be Terminator fans.
Yeppers! Terminator: Twenty Five Years of constantly changing Canon. Somehow, in their case, it's okay. And now the fourth film, entitled Terminator Salvation, is upon us and it's no exception to the rule. From a continuity standpoint, once again, this one is hard to nitpick. That said, certain things are done extremely well. In 1984's The Terminator the character of Kyle Reese says "The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy..." Here we see those very T-600 Robots and just why they were an incognito failure. Their Rubber Skin is burned, cracked and falling apart revealing an almost zombie-like Endoskeleton below. It's creepy, actually! And that's just one of many examples.
It's also one of many examples of why Terminator Salvation is equal parts "Reboot", "Sequel" and "Prequel". Certain events must be prevented in the year 2018 in order to maintain events that already happened in 1984 so that we can get to the self-same events in 2018 to make sure that we all live long enough to Time Travel back to 1984... and every date in between. The "Reboot" aspect, such that it is, relates to a change in tone and setting of the films. Each prior entry into the series (including the TV show and T2: 3-D) shows the good and bad guys going back in time to wrong that which once went right and then right the wrongs again, like a gang of dueling Quantum Leapers. In this fourth film we've already reached the future and Judgment Day has taken place. Earth is a wasteland and (as far as we know) the Time Machine has yet to be created by Skynet. "The Machines" have long since beaten Humanity down and all that remains are pockets of resistance. Our on-screen textual "Previously On Terminator"-style catch-up reminds us that in this future there is one man who is being looked on as a hero and even Prophet by most of the resistance. Fans of the series already know this man is John Connor.
But Connor (as played by Christian Bale) is not yet "The Leader" of the Resistance, just a major hero who barks angry Batman-voiced orders as if he was already the head honcho. That is in spite of what actual Resistance Chiefs like General Losenko (Ivan G'Vera) and General Ashdown (Michael Ironside) have to say. That rivalry has to be tabled pretty quick, seeing as how this war against "The Machines" is reaching a new height. The Resistance has developed a new weapon that might spell the end of the Terminators and thus, Skynet. However, Skynet has a new invention or two all its own.
Needless to say, John Connor is jumping on anything and everything that might end this war. It's not simply because of his training and station, or all that his mother Sarah Connor has instilled in him, but also because he's now married to Kate Connor (formerly known as "Katherine Brewster" as [now] played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Yes, that's quite a lot to deal with, I would say. Luckily John still has his mother's tapes (as started back in 1984) to help guide him. The voice and now-classic photograph of Linda Hamilton help complete this package of memories. But where, oh where, is Dad? Well, that's the problem. Dad (the aforementioned Kyle Reese) is stuck in Los Angeles with Terminators all around him... and yes, they know who he is and what killing him would mean! With things THIS bleak a new kind of hero is needed.
Enter Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), who woke up with a serious mad-on just after a nightmare of a battle. He's tough, heroic, skilled and intelligent. He's also immediately protective of Reese (as played by Anton Yelchin) and his kid sidekick Star (Jadagrace), which surely would get him points in John Connor's book. There's just one problem... Marcus' last memory was from 2003 when he was put to death for murder, just after donating his body for the use of one Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter in a cameo).
The rest? Well, you could probably pick up most of the "Surprises" relating to this subplot from the very trailer for, if not the first five minutes of the film. Therein lies one of the many problems to be found in Terminator Salvation. Much has been said about the fact that "T4" is the first film in the saga to receive a PG-13 rating. This translates to little-to-no nudity, toned-down violence and a limitation on the amount (and profundity) of profanity. Interestingly enough, this isn't really much of a problem for the film. It's action-packed and exciting with plenty of gun-battles, car-chases and, yes, violence.
However, the film is edited remarkably poorly. You know how movie trailers edit scenes down to shove as much as possible in, even though you know there is more to be seen in between? Well, for movie trailers that works. Unfortunately, much of Terminator Salvation is edited in exactly that choppy manner throughout its 130 minute runtime. More often than not there seems to be something missing in a scene and characters seem to skip minutes of their lives. There are actually some scenes that are identical to those seen in the trailers, pared down to a few bytes. It's hard to lay too much of the blame for that on Oscar-Winning film editor Conrad Buff IV, who has edited a number of good films, including T2. It's more likely that the taped-together editing was the choice of director McG!
McG (aka Joseph McGinty Nichol) gives a vibe of satisfaction in this film as if his lawn-mowered editing and stitched-together progressions are perfectly fine with him. Now, McG's no hack of the "Dick City" mold, but he's certainly more interested in Action, Explosions and Car Chases than he is the underlying story. There are very few quiet, thoughtful moments here that truly develop a story (as there were in T2), nor are there many unique spins on the concept. Those that are there do work, but there aren't a whole lot. Further, McG has settled for certain scenes and takes that simply don't feel finished. This makes several of the acting jobs seem pretty poor compared to what the same actors are known to be capable of.
The script itself (by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris) is full of more holes than I have time to list. Was this another result of the Machete Editing or did they write the screenplay on Swiss Cheese? There are tons of visual and dialogue references and homages to previous entries in the series, which can be cool. However, they often feel less like echoing motifs in an overall operatic piece, but more like obligatory easter eggs meant to be cute and fun more than substantive.
That's too bad, too, because when Terminator Salvation is good, it's VERY good. Speaking of echoing motifs, the score by Danny Elfman is good and interesting in its own right, but also uses the previous, memorable themes from Brad Fiedel's Terminator and Terminator 2 music. There is also an appearance of John's favorite song from T2, Guns n' Roses' "You could be Mine" and another by Alice in Chains' "Rooster".
This is also a very good looking film with its use of light and shadow, off-center and tasteful use of CGI and muted, desaturated colors. A great many of the battles take place in broad daylight making the scratched and used Terminators (a far cry from the glimmering chrome we know) look even scarier. That's not to mention some of the smaller and gigantic Terminators that have only been hinted at before. There are new Robots all over this film. There is a lot of attention to detail in the special effects, set design and CGI, making it absolutely no surprise whatsoever that this was the final film of (the 2008 Dead Man of the Year) Stan Winston!
There are a few legitimate surprises and some big shocks now and then (not including those given away in previews) and some familiar faces and voices that make the film still feel like a Terminator film that we've been waiting twenty-five years for. In addition, I have to say that many of the (old and new) characters and characterizations are great. Marcus is an awesome character and complex enough to both root for and be skeptical of. Moon Bloodgood is both sexy and believable as the war-hardened fighter pilot Blair Williams. Strongman Roland Kickinger, actor Terry Crews and rapper Common also lend their talents as tough guys to this film. I had a lot of skepticism about the casting of Anton Yelchin as the young Kyle Reese, but I have to admit he did a fine job and actually made it believable that he might grow up to be the hero that Michael Connell Biehn brought us a quarter of a century ago.
Is Arnold Schwarzenegger in this one? Ah, but that would be telling, wouldn't it? After all, the man has a state to run, doesn't he? All I can say is, watch and see for yourself.
The truth is that Terminator Salvation is worth watching, considering all. The problem is, the great moments that are there don't quite make Terminator Salvation into a great film, in light of the many issues this film has. This is much more of a "War Movie" than any of the others and the change in theme works more often than not, due in no small part to the special effects of the Stan Winston Studio (and other noteworthy groups). All in all, fans will be pleased by some things and turned off by others. The overall feel is one of fun and adrenaline without as much of the cerebral elements that made up the first two films. While low expectations may be in order, make no mistake, there are some really great moments in Terminator Salvation which manage, over and over, to save the film and afford it Three Stars out of Five. This post-apocalyptic dystopia, ruled by risen robots and select cyborgs helps to prove, once again, that the future is gonna suck! And, once again, the future is ENDLESS SEQUELS! See you (endlessly) in the Next Reel!
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