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Terminator Retrospective (Part 4)


Ben

So after two smash hit films and one... average film, the Terminator series wasn't quite done yet. Like Terminator 3 before it, Salvation experienced its own troubled production. This was largely due to legal issues involving multiple parties. It didn't help that the face of the franchise had just been elected as Governor of California, forever earning himself the title of “The Governator”. Therefor, this would be the first (and so far only) film in the series not to feature Arnold in a significant role. To make matters more interesting, the directing torch was passed on to Joseph McGinty Nichol, otherwise known as “McG”. So far, Salvation has been McG's most ambitious directorial project (as far as budget goes), as was the case with Jonathan Mostow and Rise of the Machines. After the first two installments kept the bar high, Salvation would serve as a test of sorts. Would it breathe new life into the series, or would it show that Rise of the Machines wasn't just a hiccup and that the franchise's best days were behind it? Let's find out.


Story:
The year is 2003, and we're introduced to Marcus Wright (played by Sam Worthington), a death row inmate on the verge of execution for multiple murder. After speaking with a mysterious woman, he is given a vague offer which he accepts before being apparently executed later on by lethal injection. 15 years later, the war between the machines and humans is ongoing. For a mission, John Connor (Christian Bale) leads a group of resistance soldiers into a Skynet bunker and retrieves some important data files, but also discovers that humans are being held there as prisoner, to his surprise. After leaving the bunker, it is subsequently destroyed, John narrowly survives, and unbeknownst to John, Marcus emerges from what remains of the base.

Later on, John meets with several high ranking resistance members in their headquarters, a patrolling submarine. John is informed that the resistance has discovered a special radio frequency of sorts that can shut down Skynet's machines, which would go a long way towards ending the war. John volunteers to test the discovery himself, and is also told that the machines have a hit list, with him as the #2 target and his father, Kyle Reese, as #1. Meanwhile, Marcus wanders about aimlessly and finds himself in what remains of a nuclear-blasted city. After being nearly killed by a patrolling robot, he meets up with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), and his friend Star, a young girl who cannot speak. Marcus is of course very confused after being out for about 15 years and gets into an argument with Kyle, which is stopped by a patrolling aircraft. At the same time, John and the others successfully test the frequency on a small Skynet robot and intend to put it to use against larger and more dangerous machines. As Marcus, Kyle, and Star travel in search of a vehicle, Kyle explains that he's essentially an unofficial member of the resistance, and we are shown that he doesn't know who John is. After locating and fixing up a car, Marcus prepares to abandon them and head north, much to Kyle's anger.


Bury_Our_Dead.png
"You want to know the difference between us and the machines? We bury our dead. But no one is coming to bury you."

Before he can leave, a scouting machine arrives and chases all three of them for a while before Marcus manages to destroy it with a well-thrown tire iron. Afterwards they arrive at a worn down gas station and are met by some wary human survivors. However, before much can happen, a massive Skynet machine arrives and begins to attack them all, easily picking off several escapees in the process. After failing to destroy it with a tanker vehicle, Marcus and the others flee in a truck but are pursued by motorbike machines. Following another hectic chase and the arrival of resistance jets, Kyle and Star are captured by a prison aircraft and Marcus is thrown into the water at the bottom of a canyon. After recovering, he meets with Blair Williams, who had ejected from her aircraft during the battle. She explains that Kyle and Star are as good as dead, but she offers to guide him to John.

Later on after traveling together, Blair is attacked by several human raiders and puts up a good fight but is outnumbered. Marcus intervenes and mops the floor with them. The two bond a bit for the evening. Meanwhile, John Connor's next test of the radio frequency on a larger machine is a success, and he is informed that the attack Skynet Central will occur very soon. John is outraged to learn that there will be no rescue attempt made for the human prisoners. Blair and Marcus near the resistance and pass through a magnetic minefield in the process. Blair passes by unharmed, but they are both shocked when one attaches to Marcus' leg and detonates. During the subsequent operation, the resistance is surprised by what they find and they knock him out cold. Marcus awakens as a prisoner of theirs and is alarmed to find that there are metal parts beneath his skin. John and the resistance (sans Blair) demands answers from him, figuring him to be a cyborg assassin, but Marcus denies this. Blair later sticks up for Marcus as they consider killing him but they insist that he used her to get to John. Regardless, Blair frees Marcus and they escape the base.


I_am_Human.png
"You think you're human?"
"I am human."


As they escape, a massive battle erupts. John intervenes in a helicopter, but after flying too low, it is attacked and downed by waterborne Skynet machines. Marcus assists John and states that he'll help John get to Skynet in order to rescue Kyle. At the same time, Marcus wants to know the truth about who turned him into a cyborg, and John allows him to escape with a radio. John demands that the upcoming attack be delayed, but his superiors deny his request and they kick him out of the resistance for his ongoing behavior. In any case, John radios out to the various resistance members in the area to hold off on attacking. After commandeering a Skynet motorbike robot, he infiltrates Skynet Central as Marcus enters unchallenged. After accessing the systems, Marcus locates Kyle for John and speaks with an AI as John begins releasing prisoners. The AI informs Marcus that he is in fact, an infiltration bot, and that everything he did was designed to bring John to them. It also explains that the radio frequency that the resistance has been using was bait, and they use it to track the resistance's sub and destroy it.

Outraged by this, Marcus refuses to serve as their pawn and rips a chip out of the back of his head before he smashes the screen. Meanwhile, John meets up with Kyle and Star, but he is confronted and pursued by a terminator bearing Arnold's likeness. John stays behind and fights off the bot as the others flee. He nearly loses until Marcus intervenes. After John wires several fuel cell to explode, Marcus is apparently defeated but John revives him with an electric shock just in time for Marcus to defeat the terminator. A badly beaten John and Marcus escape the facility and detonate the fuel cells. Later on, as John is lying in bed, it becomes clear that his heart is failing. The movie closes with Marcus donating his own heart to John and contemplating humanity.


What_Makes_Us.png
"What is it that makes us human? It's not something you can program. You can't put it into a chip. It's the strength of the human heart. The difference between us and machines."

Classic Scenes:
Truck Chase
This is an entertaining, albeit very goofy chase in many ways. For starters, the image of motorbike terminators is kind of hard to take seriously after seeing that a lot of the robots are basically walking metal skeletons with miniguns. The way in which the aircraft is taken down by the motorcycle is also pretty ridiculous as well, but it's harmless I suppose, and I'll give them credit for creativity. This scene also serves as one more chance for Kyle Reese to contribute to the action before being sidelined for for most of the rest of the movie.

Minefield Escape
For some strange reason, YouTube didn't appear to have a clip of this particular scene. I'm not sure why that's the case, because this is a pretty good scene in an otherwise average film. This is one of the few chances where Blair actually gets to do something, which is a welcome break from John and Marcus doing practically everything. It's a pretty entertaining gun battle that shows Marcus becoming gradually less selfish and more willing to protect and help others, which forms a lot of his characterization. It's by no means an iconic scene like the motorcycle chase from Judgment Day, but this is a respectable scene in its own right.

John vs Arnold
I guess it had to happen at some point in the series: The two faces of the franchise finally get to fight one another proper. In case you weren't sure, that's a digital version of Arnold and not the actual governor. At any rate, it's pretty cool to see Arnold give John a great fight, even if his likeness isn't really necessary for the plot to move forward. I suppose at this point it would be impossible to have a terminator film and not incorporate Arnold in some way, so even if the scene is mostly just to please the fans, I can't complain. It's fun to watch, even if the final battle isn't as great as the first two films.

Characters:

John Connor:
John.jpg
In the first two installments of the franchise, John's screentime is very well handled. In the first, he does not appear at all, but is instead held up as this future larger-than-life hero of mankind. The way he is spoken of but never shown goes a long way towards building him up. As an audience we are able to build him up in an idealized manner because little is stated about him on a personal level. This changes a bit in Judgment Day where we finally meet John... long before he actually becomes a resistance member. We're shown his flaws and shortcomings, but we also see that while he is a future hero of incredible importance, he's still just a human, and he therefor becomes more relatable without completely destroying the image of him as a future ideal leader. His characterization slows down in Rise of the Machines, which is supposed to serve as his chance to fully realize himself as mankind's champion. This change is shown a little bit, but his development is nowhere near as strong as it was in Judgment Day, even if it does continue to show his shortcomings and misgivings.

Salvation was finally the opportunity to showcase John as the hero who would finally lead the humans to victory. The problem is that his character is just... ehh. He's just not particularly interesting and doesn't have that much depth. He's focused intently on the mission of stopping Skynet, and is shown to be compassionate and, like his mother, uncompromising (namely with regards to the prisoners), but the character seems less like a larger-than-life superhero and more of an experienced albeit otherwise unremarkable soldier. I suppose this is largely due to the fact that Marcus overshadows him in many ways. With roughly half of the movie focused elsewhere, John almost feels like a background character at times, and actually had one particular moment that struck me as very odd. After Marcus is revealed to be a cyborg and remains in denial of having known so, John is taken aback that such a thing could possibly exist. He states that his mother's tapes never mentioned anything about machines with organs. While the audience should be surprised (at least in theory) at the plot twist, it makes little sense for John to be stunned by this, and likely harms the perception of him as an experienced, ultra-prepared individual. His mother obviously must have told him about the original terminator, which was at least superficially human-like. He has also seen the T-1000 and the T-X firsthand, which were even better at mimicry and blending in. He should be able to infer that Skynet has been experimenting on humans (why else would they have prisoners?) and that they have many different models and methods. While it's true that he had never seen a proper human/machine hybrid before, things like this should not catch him off guard, especially not when you're trying to build him up as mankind's hero. In short, this instance of John Connor is not horrendous, but it is rather disappointing.

Marcus Wright:

Marcus.jpg
Out of every character in the movie, Marcus is given the most development of anyone, and steals the show to some degree. Whether or not you will find this movie to be weak, average, or good will depend largely on how much you enjoy Marcus as a character. He is initially set up as a selfish jerk who can hold his own in a fight but is out of his depth in a world of murderous machines. His character progresses as he starts to appreciate those around him more (namely Blair) and by the end, he acts selflessly out of a desire to help John and the resistance. His arc is far and away the most complete and compelling, even though it could be argued that his character is just a watered-down version of Arnold from Judgment Day.

If you recall my previous review, I spoke briefly about something that was touched on but not adequately addressed. Arnold was temporarily reprogrammed to kill John and had to hold himself back from doing so, in defiance of his programming. The concept of a machine violating its own programming and forming its own wants and desires is a very interesting thing to explore but was ultimately not given the time it deserved. While Salvation doesn't explore this enough for my taste, this move was ultimately a step in the right direction. Having Marcus as a sort of sleeper terminator is something we hadn't seen before in previous installments, and the evidence and foreshadowing for it was just enough to keep it from seeming like an out-of-left-field plot twist. The idea is a solid one, even if the real cognitive and emotional conflicts within Marcus aren't adequately explored. The reveal that he is an infiltration unit for Skynet (and not merely a cyborg) comes about far too late in the film and doesn't leave that much room for him to wrestle with that sort of life-altering truth. His decision to give up his heart to keep John alive obviously echoes Arnold's sacrifice at the end of Judgment Day, and I feel that in the hands of a better writer and director, the same story could've had a much stronger impact.

Others:

Others.jpg
Normally, I would use this time to talk about another supporting character, or I would explain my thoughts on the movie's primary villain. But this is where we run across a bit of a problem: there is nobody else for me to evaluate to a significant degree. The movie essentially revolves around John and Marcus (mostly the latter), and pretty much everyone else is a supporting character with limited screentime and development.

Let's do a quick run down of several named characters. Kyle Reese is the most obvious, as he receives a fair deal of attention, and yet, he's rather underutilized and undeveloped for someone who was so critical to the first movie and the franchise as a whole. He's introduced as a young wannabe resistance fighter, but once he is captured by the machines (roughly 1/3 or halfway through the film), he does pretty much nothing. He is obviously supposed to have an arc, in that he starts as an inexperienced and unproven fighter who can narrowly outwit and outmaneuver the machines, and the film closes with him being given a resistance uniform. It's obviously supposed to be a big deal. But because of the lack of time spent focusing on his character, which pales in comparison to the first movie, this winds up feeling lacking. He's shown to be resourceful and has shades of his future self, but I struggle to point to any singular moment in Salvation that served as his breakthrough moment of glory.

But what of Star? She doesn't really do much to advance that plot, other than to warn Kyle and Marcus about approaching machines. How she is able to detect them like this is never stated, but I suppose the bottom line is: plot convenience. After she and Kyle are captured, she does even less. Granted, she's just a child, so I don't expect her to pick up a machine gun, but her character simply has no arc. As for Blair, she's ostensibly there to carry the mantle left to her by Sarah Connor and Kate Brewster as a strong female role model. That's all well and good, but she doesn't really do that. She arrives partway into the 2
nd Act or so which significantly limits her time to shine. She has to be rescued by Marcus, and does nothing of note after freeing him from the resistance. Her “arc”, if it exists at all, revolves entirely around Marcus, and at times she seems to exist for little other purpose than to be a romantic partner for him. The quasi romance that they develop is very fast paced (in my view, anyway) and unconvincing. While she doesn't harm the movie, there really just isn't much else to say about her.

Okay, so Kyle, Star, and Blair don't have much to discuss. But how about Kate Brewster? Wait, what's that? I didn't mention her in the plot summary? You're right, I didn't. That's because she does next to nothing for the plot and her role is easily glossed over, even more than the others. She serves as a surgeon of sorts for the resistance and provides a bit of emotional support to John. That's about it, and it's really a shame because she played such a prominent role and had so much more development in
Rise of the Machines. For all of that movie's problems at least it didn't have her sitting on the sidelines for 95% of the film. At this point, she's not much more than a background character, and removing her from the movie altogether would not change the events in a major way. It could have been very interesting to see how 15 some odd years of war changed her as a person, but we aren't shown any of that. I suppose she was included just because her total absence would've been hard to ignore.


Further Remarks:
One of the biggest issues I take with Salvation is with its villains. Skynet is obviously the main villain throughout the film and manages to outsmart the resistance. But the problem is that the villain is not very threatening, despite being an army of murderous robots. In previous films, the cyborgs are shown to be nigh impossible to take down, and are dispatched by luck more than anything else. In the case of the T-800, T-1000, and T-X, they are all frightening to varying degrees. They just keep going no matter what is thrown at them, and they constantly show up at the worst possible moments and fill the audience with dread. Your heart sinks every time they appear on the screen. In the case of Salvation, however, the machines are of wildly different quality and the majority of the them fail to instill a real sense of fear in the viewer. They sorely lack the horror-genre influence that made the T-800 and T-1000 so terrifying and are little more than metallic canon fodder.

Robot.jpg
I don't even remember if this thing has a name.

Most of the machines that the heroes encounter are dispatched within the very scene in which they are introduced, which eliminates the possibility of building them up as long term threats. The previous terminators were scary largely because they were shown early and often to be nearly unstoppable. But why should I be scared of this generic waterborne robot? It's ugly and deadly, but I've already been shown that it can be deactivated with a radio frequency and restrained with a fair degree of effort. The other robots are similarly deadly, but it's hard to care about them when they're compared to previous terminators. Even though the resistance is using what appear to be unremarkable projectile-based firearms (there are no laser guns like the ones we saw in the intro to the first movie) and are a ragtag group of survivors, there aren't many points in the film that make you
really feel like everything is hopeless and that they have no chance. A good movie should be able to bring the audience to the brink of hopelessness but bring them back with a triumphant and hard fought win. That's what makes a movie truly memorable, but Salvation really doesn't do that.


Verdict:
Terminator Salvation, like its immediate predecessor, had very big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it simply doesn't live up to the standards set by the first two films and winds up being a rather standard action movie with a Terminator coat of paint. Salvation is harmless and has a few things going for it (Marcus' arc is alright and the action itself is decent), and while it is arguably better than Rise of the Machines, I have a hard time recommending it to anyone who is looking for something special. As an action movie, it's passable, but even if you do see it, you may forget that you saw it at all. After watching it several times, there are few things that stand out to me about it, positive or negative.

Oh well. At least it's easy to follow.

[Note: all of the above screenshots and videos are the property of their respective owners.]

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MAZZ0Murder

Posted

When you think about whether or not John Connor would know about a Cyborg though it makes your head wanna burst. He knows Kyle is his daddy, and knows he has to send him back in time to make him his daddy, but does that mean Sarah Connor lived through the same thing in that John Connor's timeline? Would THAT one have encountered BOTH the T-800 and the T-1000?

UUURGH!

As far as the film I remember liking it well enough. The villains were kind of pushovers... but the T-800 would have CHANGED THAT... assuming they would have continued the stories (since T1/T2 show that the real threat is the T-800, and the other robots are, while threatening, not as much so as the T-800).

Are you gonna take about the TV series at all? I didn't finish it, but it seemed decent at the time... other than the fact that they may as well have moved the future to the past given how easy it became to send Terminators back in time...

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5 hours ago, MAZZ0Murder said:

When you think about whether or not John Connor would know about a Cyborg though it makes your head wanna burst. He knows Kyle is his daddy, and knows he has to send him back in time to make him his daddy, but does that mean Sarah Connor lived through the same thing in that John Connor's timeline? Would THAT one have encountered BOTH the T-800 and the T-1000?

UUURGH!

As far as the film I remember liking it well enough. The villains were kind of pushovers... but the T-800 would have CHANGED THAT... assuming they would have continued the stories (since T1/T2 show that the real threat is the T-800, and the other robots are, while threatening, not as much so as the T-800).

Are you gonna take about the TV series at all? I didn't finish it, but it seemed decent at the time... other than the fact that they may as well have moved the future to the past given how easy it became to send Terminators back in time...

As I understand, Salvation doesn't take place in a separate continuity from 1-3. Sarah died sometime before Terminator 3, so we can assume that the only machines that she ever saw (not counting the TV series) were the T-800 and T-1000.

In any case, John shouldn't really be surprised at the existence of cyborgs. The T-1000 that he saw is arguably more advanced than Marcus anyway. Technologically, Marcus is not much more than a "standard" cyborg, but the T-1000 was a machine made of liquid. John has seen the T-X as well, so he should already know that Skynet is very capable of technological advancement.

I don't intend to talk about the TV series for the time being because it never really caught my interest, and I don't recall ever watching it.

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MAZZ0Murder

Posted

Oh... so this John... has confusingly lived out the 1-3 movies...? I thought this was supposed to be taking up back before 1-3... how crazy @_@

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1 hour ago, MAZZ0Murder said:

Oh... so this John... has confusingly lived out the 1-3 movies...? I thought this was supposed to be taking up back before 1-3... how crazy @_@

Not quite. This is the same John Connor that we saw in 1-3, although he wasn't born until after the first movie. Salvation takes place after 3, and they're all in direct chronological order, except for Genisys, which is a reboot.

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MAZZ0Murder

Posted

Now THAT clears up some issues (such as SKYNET knowing who Reese was in the first place)... but also means... Judgement Day really was inevitable. I always thought this was a prequel to the other three.

And then Genisys gives the whole thing the middle finger (John included)... but I... still liked Genisys enough (except the post credit scene where the damn thing is still active somehow)... huh...

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ccateni

Posted

Your gonna hate terminator genysis (or genesis)

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I saw Genisys when it was first released in theaters. I'll have plenty to say about that when the time comes.

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