On DVD: Terminator Salvation

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The best thing to say about “Terminator Salvation” is at least they tried. Between the homage paid to the original films, the non-stop action and a myriad of different writers brought in to make the script as strong as possible, the producers really aspired to reinvigorate the Terminator franchise. “Salvation” was not meant to be a cheap attempt to capitalize on the Terminator brand. But not everyone will see it that way because the results stop at “entertaining.” Despite the thematic cries of why humans will always be better than machines, there isn’t heart written into the characters. The new vision is uninspired and flat.

“Salvation” takes place in the future — those scenes we only got brief glimpses of during “Terminator” and “T2: Judgement Day.” John Connor (Bale) is the leader of the human resistance living in the post-apocalyptic desert of the Death Valley area. He knows from his mother’s tapes that he is to at some point send his father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) back in time to protect his mother (and ensure his birth and the survival of humanity), but we’re far from that. Reese is a teenager at the moment and he’s just met Marcus (Sam Worthington) who was sentenced to death in 2003 and is mysteriously alive. They’re hoping to meet up with Connor and the resistance, who have just discovered a signal that shuts down the machines and they’re hoping to use it on the SkyNet HQ.

This information is enough to generate good action sequences, but it clearly lacks a singular focal character as well as an identifiable antagonist. In the first film it was Arnold and in the second it was T-1000 — in “Salvation” it’s just the machines in general. The dynamic of cat and mouse is gone and replaced with mostly mice running from the idea of a cat.

Then there’s the fact that this is the first film taking place in the future. Not a bad idea, per se, but McG’s strengths lie in action film-making, not envisioning the world Cameron gave us just a taste of in the original films. That world was dark, lonely and no one could be trusted. This film toys around with trust and brings it up only when convenient for suspense purposes. It just throws all the characters in the desert because it looks like a wasteland. It just takes for granted the fact that so many films before it have established what the end of the world might look like (“Mad Max” the prime example) that it doesn’t establish its own rules.

McG’s “Terminator” is action-packed and constantly moving toward a fairly redeemable climax. The references to the previous films will please die-hard fans of the Terminator universe. The punch is simply not there — the reason to care about any of the characters other than you knew them once when they were played by different actors and under the direction of a sci-fi genius. It is not an offensive robot-crunching atrocity, but it could use a bit more depth and heart.

3/5 Stars

Terminator Salvation
Directed by: McG
Written by: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard

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