At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Terminator Salvation “09”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside, Ivan G’Vera, Roland Kickinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger (kind of), Jadagrace Berry, Brian Steele; Voice of: Linda Hamilton/ Runtime: 115 minutes

Unlike the summer of 2009’s other big sci-fi film Star Trek, I think it can be said quite easily that the slice of cinematic pie that is Terminator Salvation is by no means an attempt to reimagine a series loved the world over. Instead, this film acts as both a continuation of the series, but also finally takes us into the world that in the previous 3 films we only got teases of be it what we were shown or what was said by the other characters. As a result, we get a movie that is a gonzo, balls to the wall, special effects smorgasbord that also is able to carry the weight of a fairly well constructed narrative with some surprisingly riveting thematic material at its core on its back and run with it. Yet even though at the time this franchise had already gone through three distinct helmers in no less than a quartet of films, this film is still quite the riveting sequel, especially in the face of both Terminator 3 as well as the latter 2 movies, and managed to not only take this franchise into the post-apocalyptic wastelands that we had all been waiting for, but we also got to see a glimpse of life from this iconic franchise that seemed to suggest that maybe the series wasn’t quite ready to be terminated just yet….only to have Terminator Genisys come along and well the less said there the better.

The plot is as follows: Terminator Salvation takes us to the future year that is 2018 (hey wait a minute!) and shows us that humanity for a while now has been fighting in vain against something called Skynet. An entity that, if you recall, was a computer system that developed an A.I. and decided to exterminate the majority of humanity in a horrific nuclear incident that has come to be regarded as “Judgment Day”. To that end, we see that among the human beings fighting back is a man by the name of John Connor. A man whose gifts for both fighting back with iron-clad resolve and his ability to know what is coming before anyone else has resulted in some seeing him as a quasi-messiah like figure and a fraud or worse to others. The reason I bring this up is because whilst on an assignment that sees him sneaking into a research base run by Skynet that Connor discovers proof to back up another one of his “prophecies”. This one being that Skynet has started planning and designing a new killer machine to aid in their humanity extermination mission known simply as the “T-800”. Around the same time however, another group manages to discover a signal that seems to act as a possible switch that could destroy all of Skynet’s defense grid and is thus promoted, against Connor’s advice, by the higher-ups as the thing which will give humanity the edge and help them win this war against the machines. Of course, it isn’t long before Connor, a mysterious loner with a secret or 2 of his own by the name of Marcus Wright, and a young man that Skynet wants dead more so than Connor named Kyle Reese discover that there’s perhaps more to this “kill switch” than initially meets the eye…

Now ever since the very first Terminator came out in the year 1984, I think a lot of people who love this series have really had a desire to see more if not a whole film that is set in this “future conflict of man vs. machine” that the first three movies seemed deadset on only giving us hints and mere glimpses of. As a result, this slice of cinematic pie decides to toss away the time travel narrative hook from the first three movies and instead presents us with a gonzo post-apocalyptic combat movie that manages to brilliantly blend riveting special effects-aided combat sequences with a distinct take on an origin saga that manages to show us the “roots” of certain key elements from the earlier films. To that end, this film is both a sequel and a prequel since the franchise’s ever-changing reality where things that happen both in the past and in the future are continuously being changed permits this series to potentially go on forever whilst also giving audiences different takes on moments both big and small since they are always being changed. Even with that in mind though, and much in the same vein as 2009’s Star Trek film, the concept of destiny is one that plays a fairly integral part to things that occur in these films (with particular regard being payed to the ending of 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.) Yes the dates of these events might be able to be altered, but this series still holds true to the belief that some things are just plain and simply meant to be or are just bound to happen no matter how much the world around them changes.

As a result, yes this movie does have quite a few new elements at play, but it does also insert plenty of moments that not only act as throwbacks to things seen in the previous three movies, but it also manages to more firmly root this series in its core concept of destiny. Examples of this include John more than once listening to the audio recordings his mom was making for him at the end of the first one, treasuring the same photo she had taken of her by a young guy, and even the same ropy scar that he had during a look into the future at the beginning of Terminator 2 is shown to originate here. Heck even the first words said in the movie by Kyle Reese not only act as a throwback of sorts, but also come to beautifully represent the mythos of this franchise as well. Yes a lot of these are little things to be sure, but they are important. Not only to make the fans happy, but to also really make this series’ continuity work and to also strengthen the concept of destiny that seems to enjoy weaving its way through everything that happens in this series to an outcome that is all but guaranteed. Not only to happen, but to also take us back to the very beginning with the very first Terminator film.

To that end, Terminator Salvation is one that manages to take the initiative and go beyond in the best way possible. Not only in how it utilizes parts and thematic concepts that are familiar to fans of this franchise, but also in how it utilizes parts and thematic concepts that are key more to this film on an individual level. Indeed the arc in this film of the character known as Marcus that is the core of the movie and in more aspects than you might be thinking. That’s because, without going into spoilers, this character’s journey in this film is the perfect embodiment of why it is man that is better than machine. Indeed as this film argues, it is the soul and the comprehension humanity has been gifted with that not only make it the better species in this conflict, but the one more deserving to determine where history goes from here. When looking beyond the more immersive concepts at play though, this is still a tough as nails, but quite lovely action film. Indeed in the other movies, a lot of what we saw of this future conflict had futuristic weapons and were set by and large at night. In this film though, we not only get a lot more in the way of daytime combat, but the weapons are also more run of the mill thus making mankind’s struggle that much more difficult. Ultimately though, this film is a wonderful bridge between what has occurred and what will occur, but it also makes for one heck of an action-packed viewing experience as well.

Now when approaching this film from a technical perspective, I definitely think this film is incredibly well done. Indeed film helmer McG has managed to bring to life a bleak and grimy future that from a production perspective is quite slick and this compare/contrast is actually not that bad. I mean sure the action beats in this are edge of your seat, but they also have a foundation in reality as well thus giving them a wonderful degree of necessary realism. McG also does a wonderful job of giving the more intricate themes at play the proper sincerity that they deserve whilst also making sure the look of the film is absolutely fantastic. Indeed the all but annihilated cities, decimated buildings, and other rubble that is a part of this smashed up landscape might not make the movie leap off the screen, but they do manage to give off a realistic and chilling vibe for how our world in the aftermath of a nuclear attack might look. Along with that, this movie’s bigger pocketbook as well as all of the updates that the special effects world has gone through also do a wonderful job at bringing both the world and humanity’s machine antagonists to life. Indeed both the horrific Harvesters and the lead-ups to the T-800 known as the T-600s (imagine that) are fairly low-key compared to the titular cyborg, but you can see how those would eventually lead that direction. Of course there is one effect in this movie that is more incredible than the rest and that is one that I won’t spoil, but I will say was easily one of my favorite parts of the movie. Trust me. You’ll know when you see it. It also doesn’t hurt that the cast in this does some truly wonderful work as well especially when it comes to Christian Bale who is perfectly cast as John Connor. Indeed even though older John has never been seen for more than a few minutes at a time before the release of this film, Bale still does a terrific job at giving us a complete and riveting individual who is everything older Connor is supposed to be including an inspiring leader, an incredible warrior, but also a man who undoubtedly has moments of doubt when it comes to fulfilling the role that he is meant to for the betterment of mankind. I also really appreciated the work done in this by wonderful yet taken from us sadly much too soon Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. Yes he doesn’t have the presence that Bale’s Connor does in the film, but Yelchin still made quite the impact and gave us a performance that even though it’s the only time he got the chance to portray the character you could already begin to see the character’s transformation into the take we got from Michael Biehn in the first movie from 1984. Finally I also thought it was wonderful to see iconic character actor Michael Ironside pop up in something again and he too also gives quite the riveting if not typical for him performance as the battle-scarred leader of the Resistance who doesn’t quite know what to make of our intrepid hero or his “gift” for knowing what’s ahead before anyone else does.

All in all though and at the end of the day Terminator Salvation is not just a high volume, riveting, and full to the brim with special effects summer film from the long gone year of 2009. Rather, it is also (especially in the wake of what the franchise has given us as of late) a fairly well done continuation to 2003’s Terminator 3 that also gives us a quite riveting analysis on both our alleged superiority to technology coming back to bite us and above all on just what exactly it is to be a human being. Yes this movie also takes the time to showcase us to both humans and machines that are new to this series, but it also doesn’t completely desert what the previous films had established either. Thus what we are left with is a well done and quite engaging movie that is able to both pick up the baton and run with it whilst also bravely being its own thing in a cinematic world that now more than ever desperately needs just that and so much more. On a scale of 1-5 I give Terminator: Salvation a solid 3.5 out of 5.