I remember being awed by James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day when I first saw it in theaters. I was young, but I knew even then that this was the kind of blockbuster that only comes around once in a while. It had heart-stopping action sequences, and parts were genuinely terrifying. I was drawn in by a charismatic, wisecracking teenager named John Connor, who would grow up to become a powerful post-apocalyptic leader of the human race. And the best part was the funny and touching relationship young Connor developed with the Austrian-accented Terminator sent to save him from the future.
Now, here comes director McG, reviving the franchise with Terminator Salvation by taking us into the nightmarish future that previous movies only hinted at. The year is 2018, and Skynet, an evil computer robot dictator, has bombed up the earth. Only a small population of humans has survived. Large and in charge is none other than John Connor, all grown up and looking like Christian Bale. In fact, grown-up Connor sounds just like Bale's other famous Summer movie character, Batman. And like Bale's Batman, his Connor is very serious — because, you know, these are serious times. But this movie would have been a lot more entertaining if both McG and Bale had lightened up a bit. To see why, read more.
The movie actually opens in 2003, where we meet Marcus Wright (played by newcomer Sam Worthington), who is a murderer on death row. He donates his body to science, and before we know it he's emerging muddy from a pile of futuristic rubbish without a clue as to what's gone down. Wright might be human, he might not be, and that's the question that haunts him throughout the movie. Worthington is a godsend in the role, and he manages to infuse his brutish, indestructible character with some humanity.
Things get interesting when Wright bumps into a young teenager named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) — who, we know from previous movies, will become John Connor's father. Some time in the future (even beyond 2018), Reese will travel back in time to impregnate Connor's mom, Sarah (Linda Hamilton, whose voice appears in the movie).
The timeline gets even more mind-blowing when Connor realizes that a teenager out there is his dad and Skynet is working on killing him. I kept thinking, "If Skynet kills Reese does Connor go poof right now?" A big disappointment, though, is that Reese isn't, like his son was once upon a time, more of a smartass. There is so much opportunity in this story to give Wright and Reese some fun dialogue, but alas, they don't say much to each other and spend most of the movie running from a wide variety of incredibly loud robots.
Overall, dialogue is the big thing missing from this movie. There are impressive action sequences galore, but no one really talks. And the talking that is there is earnest but somehow empty. McG and his team don't bother digging into — and having fun with — the lore that Cameron created, and it feels like a missed opportunity. Also, while everything is open to interpretation, I would have thought more effort would have been made to preserve the original tone. Edward Furlong established John Connor as a scrappy and unlikely hero with a wicked sense of humor. Christian Bale is humorless, dour, and void of human emotion. In other words, he's robotic — and the movie follows his course. In the end, it's hard to figure out which robot you want to win.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.