Salvation holds the
rare distinction of being both a prequel and a sequel, set 34 years after James
Cameron’s 1984 original, whose backstory it seeks to explain, and picking up
more or less where Jonathan Mostow’s underappreciated Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines left off.
If you’re already scratching your head, don’t worry. Salvation, which chronicles man’s
struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world governed by malicious
super-computers, isn’t a movie to be understood so much as experienced.
For starters, it’s riddled with inconsistencies, even if you’re
willing to accept a premise that might have seemed wholly implausible 25 years
ago but feels slightly less so today. While Cameron and Mostow kept things
simple, playing artfully on our fear of rapidly advancing technology and
exploring with remarkable clarity the paradoxes of time travel, Salvation
director McG (Charlie’s Angels)
offers a more
convoluted vision of the future in which plot points are hastily introduced
and, at times, insufficiently explained.
For the uninitiated: Fourteen years after the nuclear
holocaust known as Judgment Day, prophesied savior of humanity John Connor
(Christian Bale) is rising through the ranks of the resistance dedicated to
crashing Skynet, the artificial-intelligence network responsible for the
virtual annihilation of mankind.
Twice the target of a machine-orchestrated manhunt, he is
understandably edgy when his brain trust is infiltrated by a suspected mole:
Marcus (Sam Worthington), a former death-row inmate who appears human in every
way, save for the internal hardware keeping him alive. An uneasy alliance is
formed, however, when Connor discovers a Skynet plot to kill the soldier (Anton
Yelchin) destined to travel back in time, save Connor’s mother and impregnate
her with the savior himself.
The brilliance of the Terminator
movies has always been their ability to emphasize the human drama at the
heart of a horrific, effects-driven sci-fi soap opera. Here, the machines have
not only risen, they’ve become infinitely more interesting than their
As in The Dark Knight,
Bale plays second fiddle in his own movie. Connor, the emotional anchor of the
series through two sequels, is no longer a frightened, sarcastic teen sinking
beneath the weight of unthinkable expectations; he’s a one-dimensional bore. It’s
Marcus, the mysterious loner whose purpose remains unclear until the movie’s
explosive finale, who holds our attention through a strangely turgid opening
It’s a good thing he does. Terminator Salvation, lacking the wry humor of its predecessors and
the inestimable presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, sputters mightily out of the
gate before gaining momentum. But the action is impressively executed and
powerfully engrossing (Bravo, McG!), and there are clever twists – many of them
revealed in the movie’s all-too-telling trailer – that compensate for the film’s
untidier patches and clumsy editing.
Is Salvation worthy of Cameron’s blessing, which McG sought
and was reportedly denied? Perhaps not. The film has more than its share of
shortcomings. But if you’re hopelessly invested in Terminator mythology, you might just be inclined to forgive them.