‘Terminator Salvation’ Is About More Than Unstoppable Killing Machines

The third giant summer blockbuster-to-be is about to arrive in town. The first of two films this year featuring giant robot killing machines and a huge franchise in tow. Terminator Salvation was the victim of some unanticipated anti-hype in the form of star Christian Bale’s infamous off-screen rant, which spawned numerous internet mash-ups earlier in the year.

Add to this Warner Bros’ and Sony Pictures’ huge gamble in handing the reigns over to an absurdly named director responsible for quite possibly the worst couple of films ever (Charlie’s Angels 1 & 2) and and we’re looking at a potential cinematic catastrophe.

The truth of it, however, is that this afternoon, Terminator Salvation blew my socks off.

Set in a post-Judgement Day 2018, the world (or at least California) is now a post-apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’-style wasteland. The film wastes little time in getting straight to the action, as a now adult John Connor (Bale) leads a resistance cadre into the depths of a Skynet base, where he uncovers information on the Machine’s latest creation, the T-800 (the version Arnold Schwarzenegger played in the first two films). A further battle ensues, in which Connor is assumed to be the last survivor, until a smoking Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) emerges from the rubble, apparently confused why the world is in such a horrible state.

Soon after this, it becomes apparent why the film’s plot has come under such criticism. Fans of the original trilogy are well aware of what happens in the future timeline of these movies: Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect John’s mother from the T-800 sent to hunt her down. There’s an expectation to see those events unfold here. And they will, just not yet. Wasn’t it quite obvious from the outset that ‘Salvation’ was the first part of a new Terminator trilogy?

And while it’s easy to be cynical about this most fashionable of Hollywood strategies, it really works – there’s obviously a much bigger story to tell here. There are many more people involved than just the Connors and the Reeses, and it’s a compelling universe to explore; from the machines’ deplorable treatment of the human survivors to the inventive ways the resistance manage to stay alive.

The ‘Terminators’ come in many forms this time: huge hulking ‘Transformer’ types, small submersible eel-types, there’s even reference to a certain iconic looking skin-job in one of the final scenes, which moves and fights with uncanny CGI-powered grace.

On a less gratuitous ‘action movie’ note, it’s also cool seeing the various iconic roles juggled about. Kyle Reese is just a boy at this point in the timeline and so it’s John who has to be the protector – of his own father? To me, this series has always been as much about its mind-bending paradoxes as its unstoppable killing machines.

Ridiculous name aside, McG has accomplished an awesome feat. As Abrams recently managed with his Star Trek reboot, he’s touched all the bases required to understand what a Terminator film should be while making a film that can be judged by today’s standards. At it’s core, ‘Salvation’ can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other movies in the series, and with this post-apocalyptic canvas to explore who knows where the rest of the trilogy will take us.

If Kyle Reese doesn’t find that Time Machine by the final act though, I take it all back.