So I decided to skip over Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). They are both good movies in their own right, but it would seem that they progressively abandoned the deadly seriousness of The Terminator (1984). I wonder if James Cameron, who directed Terminator 2: Judgment Day, thought when the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) uttered the line “Hasta la vista, baby” in his monotone that it was going to get as popular as it became? I am guessing he did not anticipate that this little bit of levity was going to become an invitation for the sequels to get sillier and sillier. In the next installment, in one of the first scenes the Terminator appears, he is initially wearing sunglasses with star-shaped frames. Later on, he actually stretches forth his arm and says, “Talk to the hand.” In the latest film in the franchise, in Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), incredibly they decided to give the famous killing machine a career in hanging drapes. Perhaps because of the increasing wackiness of the first three, when it came to Terminator: Salvation (2009) they decided to have it set in the post-apocalyptic future that its forerunners fought so hard to avoid. Not to worry, there are plenty of unintentional laugh-out-loud moments in this one as well.
Terminator: Salvation makes the bold decision to reintroduce us to its story by opening with none of the characters with which we are familiar. Instead, we get prison inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who is awaiting his execution for murdering some people. While in his cell, he is approached by Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) representing Cyberdine Systems, creators of the killer computer program known as Skynet, to propose that Wright donate his body to them upon his demise. That was 2003. Fast forward to 2018 and we finally get to meet an all grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale) as the not-quite overall leader of the human resistance against the machines. He is in command of an attack that will, at the film’s climax, turn out to have been a trap designed to reveal the location of the Resistance’s submarine where their true leaders hide out. Shortly following this raid, Wright stumbles out of a lab not aware of the fact that he has been made into a cyborg, with a metal skeleton and various computer bits but with his heart and brain powering it all. Wandering around, he eventually makes his way to the shattered remains of Los Angeles, ruined by numerous nuclear missile strikes. There he finds Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) who, along with the child Star (Jadagrace), are what is left of those defying complete annihilation at the robotic hands of the machines. The young man catches Wright up on current events, and together they decide to leave Los Angeles. Initially they do not agree on a direction: Reese wants to head for Connor and his base while Wright desires to head to Skynet headquarters north in San Francisco for . . . reasons. Instead, Reese and Star get captured and taken to San Francisco while Wright ends up with Connor. It is while being treated for injuries that Wright discovers that he is not made of the same stuff as he used to be, if you get what I mean. This makes everyone, including Connor, uneasy. Regardless, Connor and Reese agree to put their differences aside in order to mount a rescue of Reese, made all the more important by the fact that Reese is Connor’s father (this is explained in The Terminator). Doing so nearly results in Connor’s death. Having accomplished their mission, and Connor on death’s doorstep, Wright decides to give Connor his heart to help keep alive humanity’s savior.
I have said this before about other movies, and I will say it again about Terminator: Salvation: relying on people to remember previous films in order for your current one to make sense equals movie suck. I understand what they are trying to accomplish, but there are ways of reintroducing elements of your story from previous plots without taking too much time in your movie. There are many examples here where this was done, both great and small. Remember the brief moment you see the character John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the vicious scar on the left side of his face? No? Well, there is a moment when Connor is being mauled by a molten steel-covered robot in Terminator: Salvation and his face is scratched by the super-heated outstretched digits. This is a small thing, but also kind of a joke when he could have easily rolled to one side or the other and thus not have to be so hideously wounded. A bigger example of this, and probably one the filmmakers were hoping you would not so readily recall, has to do with Connor’s wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard). In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines she was a veterinary technician, you know, the ones who assist pet doctors but do not actually practice any form of medicine. Seeing this, your brain might say, “Oh yeah, she worked at some kind of hospital place.” Yet now, at the end, in order to save the life of the all important John Connor in Terminator: Salvation she is apparently qualified to perform a human heart transplant. These are just a few of the moments that had me saying, “Huh?” “What?” or “How did that happen?” This is never a good sign in a movie. There are famous stories of Christian Bale losing his temper on the set of this film and shouting abuse and various crewmembers. Maybe you can understand a little why now?
Okay, so Terminator: Salvation has somewhat of a decent story arc for Wright. For our Catholic perspective, though, let us focus on the fact that he starts off as a prisoner about to be executed for his crimes. While there is the suggestion that his act had been not entirely his fault, he still heavily feels that guilt. He believes that he should be dead, and there is no meaning to his life. There is an interesting word in the title of this movie. I will give you a hint: it is not “Terminator.” The Church holds that anyone, even the worst possible criminal imaginable is worthy of redemption and salvation. All walks of female and male religious have ministered to those behind bars over the centuries, and their message of atonement provides hope for those who have little. I feel this accurately describes Wright. Despite his gruffness, early on he hears Connor’s broadcast where he encourages everyone within earshot of his voice to do everything they can to stay alive and to help others do so as well. He takes this message literally to heart when he makes the decision to give his life so that Connor may live.
Overall, Terminator: Salvation is a big, dumb, post-apocalyptic action film. It has a PG-13 rating, so at least it is shorn of its most gruesome violence unlike its original predecessor. I would also submit that it is better than any of the other Terminator films to come after it, particularly since they seem to have completely abandoned any real tie to what the story was supposed to be about: John Connor saving humanity from the rule of the machines. This one allows the classic plot to remain relatively intact. But who cares? It is awful. I will stick to my own Lord and Savior, thank you very much.