The prequel to the first Terminator takes place in 2018 wherein John Connor (Christian Bale) has to find and save young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin of Charlie Bartlett fame) from the artificial intelligence military organization Skynet (based in a dilapidated San Francisco) and their robot machines. Connor has to make sure Reese stays alive so he can eventually be sent to the past to have sex with his mother so he (Connor) can be born. Got it? Connor must then battle the terminator army and move mountains (sometimes literally) to convince the underground resistance to help save mankind from an evil transport machine while they attempt to overthrow the machine-protected government. Introduced to move the plot along, a new character, Marcus (Sam Worthington) helps to reveal the underlying motives and prejudices of both sides. To the plot's credit, it stands alone as an action flick, but also works well as the beginning to the Terminator series, incorporating all the things any loyal fan would pick up on (the photo of Sarah Connor from the original, her recorded instructions to Connor). What works so well with this flick is that it follows a bunch of distinct sub plots, from Marcus' origin to Reese's underground resistance and capture to Connor's quest and blatant disregard for authority against all odds. Connor's motivational radio messages come across like a good version of Mata Hari.
Director McG (Charlie's Angels franchise) seems to have been born to make action movies. Steering through explosions, helicopter crashes, spaceships, hails of bullets, fire, ice, spiky mechanical eels and unmanned evil motorcycle robots, McG keeps the scenes chock-full of things to watch. Giving the planet earth a super futuristic, desolate, Road Warrior feel, complete with a washed out metallic look, the action builds on top of itself sometimes creating a Rube Goldberg chain of events. Right when some cliff-hanging stunts seem wrapped up another monstrous robot or wasteland human pops up to rattle a character's cage. If you think the Bourne Identity fight scenes were top notch, think again. This is a virtual, visceral punch-o-rama. My favorite scene was when Marcus gets thrown off an airplane and skips like a rock across a lake. There's obvious homage to The Great Escape in a motorcycle jump, a naked CGI Schwarzenegger, and a nod to Crank with a jump-starting heart scene.
The acting comes from the school of "I will knock your block off if you don't listen to what I'm saying." Bale does his intense-guy stuff (proving less irritating than usual) and comes off just right for this role. Worthington shows some promise, cutting loose as the ultra-hero with a mysterious origin. Moon Bloodgood holds her own as the tough rebel militant sexpot. Yelchin does his darndest to embody pathos as his radical survivalist movement slips away. And nobody does an evil military leader better than Michael Ironsides.
Salvation paints a bleak picture of the future with a glimmer of hope rooted in the heart of humanity. All who've seen the first Terminator know how this flick must end in some form or another. But like its characters, TS overcomes all odds. In the long run, if dissected enough one could find tons of things wrong with this movie, but for sheer edge-of-your-seat exuberant eye candy, it's hard to beat. There's plenty of room for more prequels and/or sequels as the pummeling machines reach for their sinister destiny.
Terminator Salvation ★★★✩✩
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin. Directed by McG