Film * McG * This is an apocalypse of a movie, that’s for sure * 2009
The things I do for science. Like, why is this movie a real thing people can sit down and spend two actual human hours watching? Who is this for? Certainly not Terminator fans. Certainly not movie fans. I was so bewildered I actually took my sanity into my own hands and delved into the Internet to find out. Turns out there are people out there who like this better than Terminator 3! (There was actually a dude who claimed that this was better than the first two movies, but obviously those are the ravings of a lunatic.) Look, T3 wasn’t a great film by any means. It was kind of a dumb, campy action flick with Terminator trappings up until the end. Salvation, though. I guess it appeals to people who enjoy the Transformers movies. It’s a very noisy, explody, excruciatingly dull action movie that has very little to do with anything other than Christian Bale yelling at everyone and Sam Worthington being generally confused and angry. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this is the product of a guy whose major directing accomplishments are Charlie’s Angels and the video to “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” There is no particular visual style outside of “pseudo-Bay,” the writing is lazy and/or flat, the characters have zero depth to the point that it’s impossible to feel anything about them, and worst of all nobody has anything to say. There is no reason for this to exist other than cashing checks. Which it failed at. Good job, everyone!
There is a level of disappointed expectations with Salvation, and this stems from the future flashbacks from the first two films. Both Terminator and Judgement Day featured brief scenes of the future war between the remnants of humanity and the legions of Skynet which were hugely intriguing. It was all haze and skulls and dope-looking Hunter-Killers flying around and lasers and synthesizers and awesomeness. So Salvation, I guess, is trying to make a movie out of that. We get John Connor in his role as a post-apocalyptic Messiah (although he’s not actually in charge, which is weird) and a young Kyle Reese before he had any idea what his role in the war would be. Added to the mix is a new character, Marcus Wright, who is actually the protagonist of the film.
The movie opens with Marcus awaiting his death sentence in a pre-war prison. A representative of Cyberdyne is in his cell trying to get him to donate his body to the Skynet people for some reason. Eventually he does. Then he dies (via lethal injection while strapped to a literal crucifix, and even the symbolism of this trainwreck makes no actual sense). Then it’s the future and shit’s blowing up pretty much for the rest of the film. Connor is mad at the command structure of the Resistance, but then finds out they have a secret weapon to use against the machines. It’s a secret wavelength that can turn the machines off or something; it’s not important. Elsewhere, Marcus appears out of nowhere in the middle of a decimated Los Angeles, who then promptly runs into baby Kyle Reese. More things explode, and not in a fun way. Eventually Reese is captured by Skynet for some reason and the rest of the movie is trying to rescue him because if Kyle can’t go back in time then John Connor can’t exist. Time travel plots. Whatever.
Generally when I don’t like something, I try to find something I can point to which the work in question succeeded at. In this case, that’s difficult. Salvation doesn’t care about me. It doesn’t respect my time and it certainly doesn’t respect my intelligence. Its entire message is: “Hey, remember this thing you liked? Well, we selected six minor symbols of that thing and used them in an otherwise generic action flick so you’d be happy! MONEY PLEASE.” And so the bad guys look like the exoskeleton of the original film. At some point people say things like “come with me if you want to live,” and “I’ll be back.” Check, check. The term “Skynet” is mentioned often. I guess it’s now housed in a central location, even though the third movie explicitly stated that Skynet was software, not hardware. There’s a plot twist that’s obvious from the first thirty seconds of the film, even though it’s never really explained. Marcus is a terminator, except Skynet still allows this supposed secret weapon to have free will. Okay. Everything else sucks, so this may as well make no sense too.
I suppose if nothing else, Salvation highlights what made the first two films so excellent. Forget the larger commentary about the modern world for a moment. The original film and Judgement Day work as action movies because they take the time required to present an engaging story first. Even though they both boil down to little but an extended chase scene, those stories are still grounded in character. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese both have strongly realized, believable backgrounds. John Connor is an obnoxious adolescent, but he feels right. Of course he’d be a willful delinquent. He’s super conflicted about his mother, and his life has been anything but stable. But at his core he’s still a generally kind, goofy kid with a wry sense of humor. Shit, even T3 extrapolated a plausible future for John. In that movie, John’s a mess. That makes total sense, but he’s still true to his character. He’s conflicted, but he still cares and he still has that wry sense of humor. Enter Salvation’s John Connor: a humorless, overly-intense, grizzled action-man that it is impossible to give a single fuck about.
The saddest scene in this film is toward the end. John Connor is about to infiltrate Skynet to rescue Kyle Reese (and in effect himself) but needs a mode of transport. Earlier, during one of the noisy, pointless action sequences, we’re introduced to self-piloting robot motorcycles. These don’t seem to serve much purpose other than looing cool, but in this scene John figures he can use one for transportation. So he sets a trap with the intention of using the secret frequency to control it. Only he needs a diversion in order to lure said robocycles into his trap. So John plunks down a boombox and starts blasting music. The song? “You Could Be Mine,” the rad Guns N’ Roses song that Budnik was blasting from the back of young John Connor’s sick dirt bike in T2. This could have been a cool callback. If Salvation had bothered spending a few minutes developing Connor’s character, playing this song would have been a connective tissue between the older man and his younger self. Here, I’ll do it. See, Connor is older and more experienced and has experienced great loss, but in his heart he knows that to save humanity is to save the little things in himself, like his sense of humor and love of G n’ R. See? Not complicated. Instead the moment just reads as another hollow checkmark to be used to remind everyone just what the hell they’re watching. Turns out that’s just another failure in what amounts to a waste of everyone’s time. I just… really, really hate this movie. Can’t wait for the next one!