One thing's for sure about the Terminator franchise now, we can begin to dash all hopes of a Cameron-Arnie comeback, given the former has mentioned he has done all he wanted with the first two films, and the latter now a politician. Terminator Salvation, with McG at the helm and a bevy of writers attempting to do a one-up on the original two films, only managed to bring about a thrill ride which is miles better than the third installment, but has plenty of catch up to do if the new films were to stamp their authority on the franchise.
For the most parts, you would have felt that McG and his team had wanted to play it safe. For starters, there are numerous elements here, from one liners to artifacts to references and events that serve as a throwback, or homage, to those seen in the earlier movies. Which is good in a way, because it reminds us that characters like John Connor (now played by Christian Bale) have come a long way and Salvation reinforces their character traits a bit more. Fans will likely have a field day with the dozen easter eggs that can be identified, and I guess that the filmmakers are trying to tell everyone that they've got a good grasp of what has happened, and to trust them in moving the franchise forward.
Then there's the play on you, the audience, with your back knowledge of certain events that will happen, such as Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) coming into the mythos in the now-future, the raging war between the humans and the machines, and how Skynet is still scheming to get rid of the leader of the Resistance, only to be a little more cunning in its methods. It's a little no brainer in picking up where T3 had left off with Judgement Day, though like John Connor's voiceover in the trailer, this is not the future he was warned about, as something's not quite right, and different from his personal expectations.
The setting here is not something not seen before, with post apocalyptic environments done to the death in films such as Resident Evil. But this film felt more like The Matrix Revolutions, with more cerebral potentials making way for all out action. Under McG's guidance, whom I think has taken a huge leaf from Michael Bay, Terminator Salvation brings us to that bleak sci-fi future which is pretty much void of everything, where everything that can be blown up in a fireball, will be. And the explosions get larger and more intense as it goes along, with mushroom clouds ballooning over many horizons, and with robots of all shape and sizes entering the fray. I particularly liked the lumbering T-600, the precursor to Arnie's T-800, and this film allows the witnessing of Skynet's design sophistication, knowing we're eventually going to be introduced to the later models already seen in previous films.
But story wise, John Connor is the franchise's Neo, or so he takes it upon himself to think. He's been brought up by his mom Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton lending her voice here), the equivalent of a Morpheus, to believe that he's the next The One, humanity's saviour from the machine world. Only that because how Skynet's assassination efforts in the future/past have been thwarted time and again (T-800, T-1000, T-X), we now face a future that could, and possibly is, a tangent of what was the original sequence. If you want to talk about a time-travel-mind-warp, this is it, since three films as chronicled skewed events that would happen in the future. Connor, to his band of rabid followers, is their messiah and prophet, as he has battled Skynet's creations before, and could predict what would be next in the assembly line. To his superiors (yes, he's not Resistance Leader), he's just lucky with his guesses, but little do they know of the Bible that he refers to - his mother's audio tapes.
With this belief in being The One, Connor irks the leadership more so because his primary objective in saving Reese, boils down to the fact that without Reese, his own existence will be in jeopardy, and can no longer fulfill the role he believes he will, in being the salvation of mankind. And I thought that provided an angle that would have elevated the film, if not for forgetting about Connor mid way with the focus on new character Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), and that of the action sequences.
But don't get me wrong. Sam Worthington is a discovery in this film, bringing his ghost in the shell Marcus Wright into being the most tragic figure thus far in the storyline, tussling constantly between humanity, and his unknown destiny. Destiny seems to be the flavour of this year too, in reboots especially. Star Trek suggested that what will be will be, even though the journey to enlightenment will take a knock and a meander, but you'll get there. Here, we all know John Connor would be the leader of the Resistance, and we will journey with him to that stage, albeit with some kinks along the way.
In fact, Bale seemed to be second fiddle to Worthington's presence, but here's a warning shot - don't forget Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. I think he has a knack of reprising roles in long-standing franchises, with his Chekov being very well liked in Star Trek, and now his Reese bearing some similarities in mannerisms to Michael Biehn's take. I'll definitely be paying attention to this young actor as he moves Reese's character forward in future installments. And of course, the very pregnant Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard, previously Kate Brewster played by Claire Danes) might spring a surprise or two later as well.
Am I looking forward to the next installment? Yes, to no surprise of course. Terminator Salvation, like all the reboots and remakes you have out there of well known and beloved franchises, served its purpose as being the bridging film, cementing known knowns only to gain acceptance from the audience, before boldly moving forward on its own two feet, hopefully.