Beware there are spoilers to follow.
Being a fan of the Terminator franchise, I had high hopes for this movie. The trailers could have been a black screen with a Christian Bale voice over – I still would have been excited for this movie. Unfortunately, this film did not deliver. Several of the memorable moments are shown in the preview trailers, so there really are few surprises.
When I began writing this review, I pointed out all the problems with the story. I’m sure it will surprise most to find out the first draft was far too long and detailed. However, that should give you some insight to the disappointment I felt with this film. Overall, the different kinds of machines are awesome. A lot of thought was put into them and the role they would play in a world where humans are fighting machines and their practical applications. However, even here I was let down.
Being a bit of a techie myself and given the technology we have readily available, there is a simplicity to the machines I found unlikely and quite frankly annoying. Using short wave transmissions as their principal line of communication, the USB 2.0 drive that appears to be included in the design of every model and the inability to observe and analyze their surroundings killed it for me. The machines have facial recognition and a considerable arsenal, yet are color-blind, unable to register symbols, unaware when a control panel has been accessed and simply have poor aiming capabilities. Apparently, only a few machines are outfitted with infrared scanning in a world where machines hunt humans, never mind simple motion detection. Top it all off with a healthy dose of arrogance and I’m done.
Now on to the humans . . .
The film opens in the modern-day and we are immediately introduced to two important characters: Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), a high level Cyberdyne employee dying of cancer, and Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convicted man on death row. Responsible for the death of two cops and his own brother, and given his ability to add insult to injury, we are meant to believe Marcus is a hardened criminal. Who better to sign their body over to Cyberdyne for God only knows what? I will admit I did enjoy this additional storyline. It adds a new and interesting development to the war against the machines. However, as soon as you find our what Dr. Kogan wants, you know how this scene will end and quite a bit about how the story will unfold throughout the rest of the film, especially if you’re seen any of the preview trailers.
Personally, I would have liked more insight into these characters. These two become an integral part of the movie and this bit of exposition does little to provide insight into the characters, their motivations and how they will continue to where we inevitably see them later in the film. At the end of the scene, I was left wondering if I am supposed to believe Marcus Wright to be a hardened criminal or a man who found himself in a bad situation and is essentially good at heart. Marcus realizes he is not a good man and we are meant to feel for him in his struggle and believe he is worthy of a second chance at life – that he is to be trusted. The entire film struggles with this and I was convinced of neither. Particularly later in the movie, it would have been great to see more of a struggle between doing the right thing and satisfying an innate desire to kill. Here again, a tech issue. With the role technology plays in healthcare today, Marcus will be the only human to be so greatly incorporated with machines???
I also have to wonder what Dr. Kogon’s job at Cyberdyne involves, how she ended up there in the first place and what her intention is. Her concern is for the future of humanity. Well, that is more than a little vague. What is the big bad we supposedly need to be saved from? Or is the woman suffering paranoid delusions? We are supposed to get the impression that she has good intentions and means well, but again, not enough substance here. The film really becomes their story, Marcus and Dr. Kogon, but there’s not enough here to back it up.
Enter John Connor (Christian Bale) and his resistance fighters, looking for a mysterious key to end the war. We quickly discover the machines are building a new model of Terminator. The audience is also made aware the machines are capturing humans and the operation was a trap. This latter point is no surprise. In fact, one of the resistance fighters even points out the facility is too quiet and it’s as if the machines were waiting for them. Sure enough, the facility is destroyed and John Connor is the only survivor.
Cut to Connor forcing his way in to see the leaders of his military command, where the audience is fed even more of the storyline. The fruits of John Connor’s mission turn out to be a hidden signal in the machine transmissions the resistance can exploit – an “off switch.” Here’s the kicker, a thumb drive will hold the key to turning the tide in the war.
Now, let’s bring back Marcus. Immediately, we all know he is a machine, at least part machine. He eventually runs into a 17-year old Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and a mute little girl while randomly walking the face of the earth. Reese and the girl alone have survived in a decimated Los Angeles for several years. While Marcus has obviously been living under a rock, with a complete lack of knowledge about the machine uprising, Reese and the little girl take him in. Reese and the girl, along with a band of other survivors we meet along the way and captured to be held in Skynet headquarters. Soon after Marcus will meet Blaire Williams (Moon Bloodgood), a resistance fighter, who will lead him back to the resistance base. All three of these characters, “out in the wild,” readily accept this stranger as just another human trying to survive. No one bothers to ask how he’s been able to survive all this time blindly walking out in the open, oblivious to the threat of the machines.
While the acting is good, the story is near unbearable. It’s all too simple, too easy. And I spent the entire movie waiting for a huge battle between humans and machines that never came. Many of the scenes actually remind me of other, better films. As a whole, this film tried too hard and failed miserably. The beginning of the storyline was a great opportunity for excellence, instead the movie falls flat. I got so wrapped up in the major holes the screenplay offered, there was little connection to the actors and their struggle to survive and overcome their own conflicts. All of the previous Terminator movies, and the television series were handled better than this film, and are far more entertaining. Rumors have it there are two more Terminator films slated, based on the performance of Salvation. If this film is any indication of what those films will be, the franchise has lost a fan.