- What’s Good: I’m always up for an apocalypse! The film is a disappointment from top to bottom except for the sound effects and a performance by Anton Yelchin who channels a 1980s Michael Biehn.
- What’s Not: The film is caught between Connor’s story and Marcus’s. It ends up favoring Connor to its determent. If only the machines in Skynet’s doomsday clutches knew that all they need to do is wait for McG to come along to solve their John Connor problem once and for all. This film offers a poorly envisioned future with bad effects. And, sigh of sighs, Christian Bale as John Connor is just not good.
The tides of time have been hard on poor John Connor. He grew up under constant threat, was constantly emasculated by his mother, lived on the fringes of society and his reward for doing so was the end of days and a really lame futuristic tale that he has no business staring in. Of all the robots that have tried to kill Connor in the past, present and future (the list includes the T-100,200,300,400,500,a step-dad,600,700,800,900,1000 models and of course the sexy TX) nobody and nothing could silence the boy/man until a robot named McG came along. In one swift and stupid 90 minute battle waged by this menacing figure I am certain the savior of all mankind will never surface again in film form. It can finally be written that the robots have won the battle for the future.
I didn’t care that a new “Terminator” was coming out. Despite a love for wacky robot antics, the apocalypse and wackier Christian Bale freak-out remix songs I anticipated at “T4” with as much energy as one of Arnold’s early T600 line readings. It didn’t help that the adds, despite a fittingly cool NIN tune about the “day the whole world went away…,” made the film look puzzling. The John Connor future-is-now Jesus figure bit I get but there was more. Something about a robot that’s also some sort of savior that also thinks he’s human despite also having robot parts spilling out of his head and, um, cars and bridges blow up. That about sums it up but with the twist that John Connor ends up being the least essential factor due to a lack of character development.
Despite my curious case of disinterest and the whole McG factor, this is the “Terminator” that had to happen. As plots go the setting for “Salvation” is almost predestined considering the futuristic framing device has been used in all the “Terminator” films. The future, in other words, is where’s EVERY “Terminator” plot motivator has come from–robot from the future comes to the present to do this, resistance fighter from the future comes and does that etc. Besides “the future,” the only other commonality is that everyone must be naked. In this respect whenever I watched a “Terminator” film what always bothered me was that the flash-forwards to the post-apocalypse battlefields –a tasty vision of things to come– were always brief and always followed by a cut to emo John Connor and his butch mom. ARGH! I don’t know about you but I always wanted to fast forward to the future again where all the cool stuff seemed to be happening. Well, “Salvation” takes us there and now that we’re, um, here… all want is to return the past again. Funny how things work out.
So where are we, exactly? I would describe it as a sad and bleak future. No, it’s not so much that the tone of this post-apoc world brought about by pre-Matrix man made robots is a downer but, instead, the way its all rendered by McG. Namely, “Salvation” takes us to a bland wasteland where everything is either burned or burning. And of all the scenarios of things to come I never knew the future would be dominated by chases followed by more chases. This is odd considering –and correct me if I’m wrong– there there’s no fuel! I call this the “Mad Max” fallacy except “Max” is thoughtful and actually addresses the scarcity of power sources.
The fight for fuel is just one of many small details the film glosses over. “Salvation” not only fails to fill in tiny gaps such as that but the broad stuff too like: how did the robots gain so much in the way of artificial intelligence (we’re only talking about a decade into the future) and why are these “thinking” robots kidnapping humans; if they just want one or two prime suspects can’t they just scan them on the spot? The bigger issue is not related to logic nitpicking at all. The shooting style is (fittingly) robotic and lifeless and surprisingly tame considering this is the ADD jerk0ff that spawned a pair “Charlie’s Angels” abortions. What makes matters worse is that the grungy effects are neutral when they’re not flat-out forgettable. Next to the grown up resistance fighter we all knew and loved (John Connor as phoned in by Christian Bale), the co-central character is a cyborg named Marcus Wright (played by the it guy Sam Worthington) and his poorly rendered robot face is a prime example of the film’s lazy and unimaginative visual style. But at least Sam puts in some effort to make up for the ghastly gobs of copy/paste CGI robot parts. The rest of the cast is wildly hit or miss in their roles and characterizations. First is John Connor who is a total let down. But for ever inspired Markus Wright we get useless figures like John Connor’s paper thin combat partner “played” by Common (why does Hollywood love this guy so much?) and mute young girls out of a Dickens story and the perpetually talentless Bryce Dallas Howard, doing what what she does best: empty gazing.
The film also indulges in blank gazes. Nothing about “Salvation” stuck with me. I wasn’t emotionally involved by John Connor’s fate, wasn’t dazzled by the effects (because after the tenth chase who cares who wins?), was seething over the cinematography (me and the DP are done professionally!) and was not even able to enjoy the film as a goofy camp experience a la the totally underrated “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” I’m almost tempted to ask for a second “Salvation” so that, I don’t know, maybe then the future will have more going on because in the film I just watched it’s as lifeless and ghostly as the past.
As John and Markus head towards their fate in a set piece that takes place in Skynet city (a robot world that conveniently seems to have been made for humans to run around in and hack terminals with handy USB outlets), my friend hit upon an good insight when he pointed out that the film breaks a cardinal rule by having two voice-over narrators. Now, this is a film geek moment but what immediately occurred me was that what we heard were not just two character voices propped up by sloppy editing and bad re-writing (thanks Paul Haggis!) but dueling characters in dueling films. On one hand we have the (slightly more interesting) film about a humanoid robot with a dark past that thinks he’s a real man connecting, through turns of fate, with Connor’s father to be (a fantastic Anton Yelchin doing a dead-fucking-on Michael Biehn impression). This story, even in its more limited function and despite the fact that it’s a pale reworking of “Battlestar Galactica’s” robo existentialist dilemma, has some poignancy in the sense that it’s a tragedy about a man looking for a second chance on his damned journey to salvation, hence the title. Okay, THAT’S THE FILM! But it’s not: On the other hand is the storyline that ultimately upstages the original notion conceived for “Salvation.” That is John Connor’s flavorless film that hijacked the story proper after star Christian Bale was hired and insisted the project be about me, me, me–this is what I call the Jamie Foxx Effect. Connor’s military ops (more like military whoops) narrative also involves a search for his father (can you say redundant?) and a non-relationship with Bryce Dallas Howard’s doctor. Why is she pregnant and what’s their relationship? No clue and no reason just like the rest of the film.
Bottom line is that I would love to get my hands on the pre-Bale version of the script but even then how good could it possibly be? I mean, the credited screenwriters wrote “Catwoman” for fuck’s sake! But if “Salvation” teaches us anything it’s that you can’t change the past. This film, then, has its own fixed destiny: to suck. And since any destiny related to the “Terminator” series requires John Connor to be at the center, the film makes good on that and, hence, seals it’s unsatisfying fate.