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New Terminator offers little salvation
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New Terminator offers little salvation
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Terminator Salvation
Now Playing


Judgment Day has come and gone, the war against the machines raging for close to a decade. John Connor (Christian Bale) is exhausted and exasperated, as nothing is happening the way his mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) foretold in her old tapes to him. Skynet is adapting, searching out new targets, and their latest object of termination may be the one they should have been going after from the start.

But when the arrival of a stranger (Sam Worthington) with no memory or knowledge of the planet-wide devastation brings startling new insights into their enemy's plans, Skynet's days might finally be numbered. But not everything is as it seems, and the machines have plenty of new tricks for their main adversary, their numerous journeys to the past giving them an insight into the future that could finally help them bid hasta la vista to John Connor for good.

There is a lot wrong with Terminator Salvation. Much of John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris' (they also co-wrote the overblown, and much worse, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) script is pretty inane, with lapses in logic so gargantuan they're almost jaw-dropping. As for the acting, Christian Bale is easily one of the more gifted performers of his generation, but he's a mess in this, barking so madly from start to finish I almost expected him to grow fur and a tail and start running around on all fours.

Still, I can't get too worked up about this (admittedly pointless) sequel one way or the other. Some of the action scenes are spectacularly dynamic; a final fight with an old friend is an astonishing special effect that completely blew me away. I also really liked Anton Yelchin, and between this and the new Star Trek, the young actor is now playing two iconic sci-fi characters and in doing so has managed to display a range and a versatility I never anticipated.

But the big coup is Worthington. Not because of his acting (he's fine, if a bit annoyingly monosyllabic), but more because the character he's playing is so potentially interesting. The reasons behind his journey have a lot of heft and weight behind them, as the decisions he is forced to make are the ones James Cameron's 1984 and 1991 classics debated with beautiful visceral intensity while still leaving plenty of room for expansion.

Unfortunately, what is a plus is also a minus, and while I like this character and what is going on with him, the script gives him such short shrift the majority of the time that the themes involving him are nowhere near as hefty as they could be. This undercuts all the emotional resonance the film is hoping to generate, and the only sentiment I could muster up during his final declarations was one of sheer indignation. What should be a powerful moment is instead an incredibly silly one, and taking into account the smattering of snickering I could overhear throughout the preview audience, I wasn't the only one having this reaction.

It also doesn't help that the machines, for all their malevolent (and somewhat brilliant) twisting of events, are extremely stupid when the chips start falling their way. Without ruining things, let me just say the final 20 minutes of the movie should never take place, and Skynet should have won the war. As things are laid out by Brancato and Ferris, victory is pretty much assured. A few robots here, some toxic gas there, maybe some strategically placed explosives, and everything is over in a nanosecond, humanity's tragic end a forgone conclusion if the machines actually acted like the logical beings they supposedly are.

With all that being the case, I should hate this film far more than I actually do. For whatever reason, there is enough about Terminator Salvation that I dug, or at the very least kind of liked, that I'm willing to give it something of a partial pass. Will I be back to see it again? No, of course not, but there are plenty of movies out there I feel the same way about. This one, for all its lineage and place in science fiction history, is just another forgettable semi-mediocrity I get to add to the pile.
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