Terminator Salvation Retrospective
By John Hussey.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ended the franchise on a bleak note, i.e. Judgement Day couldn’t be prevented and John Connor had to accept his fate as humanities last hope. This, however, opened the door to a brand-new trilogy. Terminator Salvation was to be the first in the new chapter following John Connor within the future. To me this was a great idea because it added a new take on the franchise, something we hadn’t really seen before apart from brief flash-forwards and mentions through dialogue in previous instalments.
The premise of this new trilogy was to move the franchise forward. Within the first trilogy we had the story of Sarah Connor’s development and the continuous plot of trying to avert the future. Within the third instalment the focus was entirely on John’s development and his eventual journey in becoming the leader of the Resistance as Skynet’s take-over began. On a side note, it has to be mentioned that the whole averting the future idea does have many flaws. The most notably is if the future doesn’t happen then how would Kyle Reece come back in time to become John’s father? It’s fair to say that the whole franchise is riddled in paradoxes and the time continuum is on shaky grounds.
Terminator Salvation takes the narrative into the future and moves away from the familiar formula we had come to known. This was a good thing because the formula had become tired. There was only so long that the same scenario could be used before it over stayed its welcome, like within Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines when it seemed to be repeating itself from the previous film. At least the first two films tried something different, allowing the audience a different experience each time. It was a bold move for this new instalment to mix things up but I believe it had many pay-offs.
In many ways it showed that the franchise was moving on and developing itself. We had seen Judgement Day happen and so now it was time to see how John faced the aftermath. I suppose the interesting part of the film came about with the notion that John wasn’t actually the Resistance leader yet. This worked quite well because it showed that John not only had to battle against the machines but also had to battle against the surviving leaders in order to fulfil his destiny. I liked how this added in its own narrative structure for the film and showed progression within John’s character, along with portraying his harsh struggle to protect humanity.
Terminator 3’s continuity was followed with the appearance of Kate Brewster, now John’s wife and soon-to-be mother of his child. It granted John a sense of humanity which the Resistance Leader’s did not hold. Their way of operating resembled the machines cold calculative behaviour. This allowed John to stand out as an individual filled with free-spirit and operate on his own grounds, following his heart and making irrational decisions in order to remain human. In the third act John used this simple notion to win over the Resistance and had them follow his leadership in order to keep their humanity and earn a future where freedom isn’t lost to harsh decisions that results in careless causalities (i.e. the Resistance Leader’s willingness to abandon civilians at the cost of supposed victory).
Terminator Salvation had the interesting side-story of character Marcus Wright. His character was first seen at the beginning of the film before Skynet’s takeover and it was suggested that he had caused his brother’s death during a criminal activity and was now sentenced to death.
Before this, Helen Bonham-Carter’s character requested that he signed his body over for scientific research. After Judgement Day he awoke mysteriously, without any indications as to how he survived his death or where he’d been since 2003. It has to noted that Sam Worthington really added an extra layer to this film and in many ways outshone Christian Bale’s performance as John Connor. Marcus became a brand-new hero for the franchise and added greatly to the on-going narrative as the ‘confused hero’. His past actions still haunted him and he questioned the notion of second chances and whether or not he deserved it. Throughout the film he rose to the occasion and aided in protecting a young Kyle Reece as well as Resistance fighter Blair Williams.
As the film developed it was revealed that Marcus was in fact a machine. What made things harsher on Marcus was him not being aware of this transformation, with nobody within the Resistance at first believing he was still human. This revelation brought about the creation of a brand-new Terminator which was part human in order to disguise itself further for infiltration missions. It was later discovered that Skynet created Marcus in order to kill John. Marcus, on the other hand, proved to be stronger and fought against his new nightmarish reality by remaining as human as he possibly could and ended up aiding John in attacking Skynet. This marked a new dimension for the series-arc of humanity vs. machine. The Terminator’s development within the second film will always be a fine product within movie history but this new take was fresh and really challenged the audience and the characters in deciding whether or not Marcus was in fact human and whether or not he was a good guy. The final act of the film proved, above all else, that Marcus deserved a second chance when he denied Skynet and protected John from death. This, to me, was the highlight of the film and stands as the main reason why I like this film so much.
The film of course wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. There were things that really bugged me about this new take on the franchise. But, I have to say that this sequel was far better than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The simple reason, as stated above: it tried something new. The depiction of the world after Judgement Day felt too familiar, a little too cosy to be a world run by machines with humanity on the brink of extinction. Cameron’s version of the future, featured in the first two films, showcased a brutal world of survival. In this film we see familiar landscapes and the Resistance using submarines, begging the question as to whether humanity is really on the brink. Also Bale has a tendency to perform with a deep voice, similar to his Batman portrayal within The Dark Knight Trilogy, which can get annoying and unnecessary. It begs the question as to whether he can pull off a different kind of character portrayal. Other than that he does give a solid performance.
My biggest confusion with this film is how Skynet knows that John Connor is his great enemy before he has become the Resistance leader. Then I have to ask how on earth does Skynet know that Kyle Reece is John’s father, or at the very least a threat to it? This, to me appears as a massive plot-hole within the film and never quite makes sense. I know the franchise is built on time travel and paradoxes but that still doesn’t excuse poor explanations within an already confused timeline. I suppose the only explanation I can give is that Skynet somehow found out about its future-self’s knowledge through its incursions within the past.
The greatest moment in this film was the brief appearance of the Terminator. Sadly Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t appear in person because of his duties, at the time, as Governor of California. At the very least they used CGI to bring him in for a brief time, before John blew away the cybernetic organism to reveal the machine underneath, and that was a breathtaking experience. It was a monumental moment because John was facing his childhood protector before he was his protector. This version of the Terminator was a call-back to the original creature that attempted to kill Sarah Connor. The Terminator attacked John and at every attempt tried to kill him. This section of the film gave a grant pay-off and added to the many nods to the past featured throughout the film. We had Linda Hamilton returning to perform voice over work for her tapes that John listened to for guidance in different sections of the film. We even had John playing Guns ‘n’ Roses to lure out a Terminator, a nod back to the fact that they performed the same song, ‘You Could Be Mine’, for Terminator 2: Judgement Day to which a younger John listened to.
Another highlight to this film was its ability to move on from Arnie. Now I’m not saying I didn’t want him in the film but it just showed that the franchise didn’t necessarily need him, though he probably would’ve needed to come back at some point when the Terminator fully became involved. This was what made Terminator Salvation unique and re-watching it still makes me feel satisfied because of its fresh approaches. However, as much as I wanted this version of the franchise to continue, as it was supposed to before financial issues caused it to be cancelled; I believe the replacement trilogy (starting with Terminator Genisys) was a much better product due to it resembling more of what the original two films was all about. Terminator Salvation was great for all of its differences and being able to move the franchise into a different direction but part of me still feels that it may have strayed a little too far away from what it should have been.
Either way this film was a success in its own rights but sadly wasn’t allowed to continue. As it stands, Terminator Salvation is a stand-alone film within the franchise that did well, in my eyes, and showcased a possible version of the future after Judgement Day, generating an entertaining and action-packed experience. At the very least it tried harder than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.