Joseph McGinty Nichol, better known as McG, had a daunting task when handed the reigns to Terminator Salvation. After two films which that have since become classics of the genre, and a third that was a box office hit, McG had his work cut out for him. He came in with a reputation for bad films, and an even worse nickname, and had a task some considered near impossible: reboot a massive hit franchise without its main star (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and seemingly without the blessing of its creator (James Cameron). So how could he reinvent a franchise that didn’t need it?
By making it into a war film.
Terminator Salvation is the continued saga of John Connor (Christian Bale), savior of mankind and leader of the resistance against the machines. Picking up in 2018, years after Judgment Day wiped out most of humanity in nuclear warfare, Connor is a mid level grunt in the human resistance against the machines. A mythical figure prophesied to lead the resistance to victory, he’s a low level officer taking orders. With the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row prisoner executed well before Judgment Day, the whole timeline is askew. As Connor and Marcus try and discover his purpose for being there as well as rescue the teenage version of the man who would eventually become Connor’s father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), from the machines.
And instead of trying to recreate the massively budgeted action films of the franchise, McG has gone with a different route. The franchise was founded on big action sequences with science fiction sensibilities, and instead of trying to top the spectacle of the first three he’s crafted the series into the most logical extension: a war film.
McG stated that the only way he thought to do the franchise was as a war film because the future, as depicted in the original franchise, had well been past by the present. His take on the franchise is to muddy it up a bit, get dirty in the war between humans and machines, as opposed to turning it into a massive chase film. For the most part he succeeds, as well, as he manages to take the conventions of the franchise (humans trying to survive against a seemingly unstoppable machine antagonist) and use it as part of his overall war narrative.
The problem is that the film doesn’t feel like a standalone film, it’s meant as the opening act in a trilogy. With each of the prior three Terminator films there was a sense of completeness. Each film was a separate act, but neither existed merely for the sake of existing. Whereas McG has avoided that feeling, there’s no real decisive finale. There’s more story to be told, and it begins with his treatment of John Connor.
One could see where McG is headed with the second Terminator trilogy; the first was about the origin of the man behind the myth of John Connor. McG is exploring the rise of Connor from merely a man to the mythical figure he would become. This is Connor rising to being the leader of mankind, but he’s not quite there yet. There’s more to his story, and McG is pacing it for two more films. Whether or not they get made is one thing, but on its own it isn’t a completed story.
Terminator Salvation comes off uneven, a good start but leaving a larger story on the table.
Presented in a widescreen format, with a Dolby digital sound, the film looks and sounds terrific. This is a grimy, dirty looking film and it comes through cleanly and clearly.
Grossing lower then the last two films in the franchise, McG’s entry into the Terminator franchise is a bold foray into territory that’s been mined already. Succeeding for the most part, McG has more Terminator story to tell then one film can allow. As such, Salvation can only be judged tentatively, based on where the follow-up to it goes.
Warner Brothers presents Terminator Salvation. Directed by McG. Starring Christian Bale, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Sam Worthington. Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Running time: 88 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: December 1, 2009. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, terminator