Salvation of the Terminator Franchisee
Anti-Warning: The following review of Terminator Salvation does not contain spoilers that will hamper a good cinematic experience of the film.
The name of the film is as prophetic as it is ironic. After the disappointment of T3 which was more or less a remake of the second, Termination Salvation seems to attempt a salvation of the franchisee and the idea behind the concept. But does it?
Its 2018 and no, John Connor is not yet the leader of the resistance. He is one of the important lieutenants though and one who commands much respect. After an attack at a Cyberdyne facility, John is the is not the sole survivor (with a very interestingly conceptualised long shot of the camera following John into helicopter chased by machines that crashes with a nuclear explosion behind him) as a mysterious man emerges unscratched. The man as we know from before is the criminal Marcus who has been put to death in 2003 and his body donated to Cyberdyne.
John meanwhile is in search of the man, Kyle, his would be father (refer T1 where this man from the future protects his mother Sarah and fathers John). And as we learn later, so are the machines. The story is the salvation of the once criminal Marcus and also the salvation of the surviving human race as epitomised by John who goes against his superior by refusing to allow the cold blooded collateral damage of human lives without even attempting a rescue. He says in a passionate act of defiance, “If we attack tonight, our humanity is lost. Command wants us to fight like machines, they want us to make cold, calculated decisions. But we are not machines. And if we behave like them, then what is the point in winning?”
One of the major strength of T2 was its turn of story. T1 was a simple story of rescuing Sarah from the terminator. T2 begins similarly with the intended rescue of her son John from a super terminator by an inferior one played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the story turns midway with the characters attempting to change the future judgement day by destroying things in the present that effect it. T3 failed in this aspect as the only intellectual stimulation from the film came at the very end, with a surprise twist revealing that the Terminators mission, was not merely to save John but to escort him to the command centre thus facilitating his rise to power.
Salvation fares much better in this aspect. There are enough twists and turns to keep the viewer intellectually engaged. However, often they are predictable and deserved better and a more concentrated treatment from the director.
The attention to detail in many part of the film lacks e.g. when a rescue team is sent to evacuate humans from the Cyberdyne central facility, no resistance is shown or indicated. The inclusion of Arnold in a 2 minute cameo (actually a CGI patchwork of his face from T1 as Arnold refused to play the cameo) seems forced. Also the attempt to connect to previous films of the franchisee seem desperate and convoluted. The most jarring example being excessive shots of feet of characters, a trademark of James Cameron in the first two films. Copying shots and camera angles from the previous films breaks the consistency with the rest of the film. E.g the climax of T2 where a limping Sarah shoots at the terminator in a industrial facility is copied in the climax as John battles with a T800 in a similar fashion and with a similar gun. Some other connections fare better e.g. John using the most popular line in cinema history ‘I’ll be back’ and another Terminator trademark line in ‘Come with me if you want to live’.
T4 pushes the story of the series and goes into uncharted territories with some scintillating special effects and sequences that are a hallmark of the franchisee. However, the reaction to this film can vary depending on the one watching it, ranging from adoration to hatred. Yet, no one can deny that it is definitely worth a watch, and that too in the theatre, for the special effects and the plausible development of the story – especially by fans of sci-fi. It is definitely a must watch for fans of the Terminator franchisee. A watching of the previous films by a newcomer to the world of Terminator, is advisable and would be pleasurable but not necessary.
Besides references to previous Teminator films, fans of the science fiction genre would love to spot reference to other films of apocalyptic nature. One example can be given of the character of a mute child resistance warrior and the fight with Marcus driving a trailer, both of which you find in Mad Max 2. Marcus also does a Harvey Two Faced a la ‘The Dark Knight’. This is expected, considering that writer Jonathan Nolan who wrote the Batman film, also influenced this film significantly.
Yet, the film leaves die-hard fans disappointed in some ways. The first part of the Martix, was like a much better sequel to the future world of Terminator. Before you reject this theory, consider the story of the Matrix. The world of the matrix is of a world devastated by nuclear war started by ‘conscious’ machines and of humans waging an increasingly losing battle. Consider also the characters of the agents and that of the Terminator – both are seemingly indestructible and part of the system to destroy humanity as we know it. There are many such references, both visually and from a plot perspective to show heavy influence of the Terminator series on the Matrix. Yet, Matrix does it better than Terminator in many ways. Consider the presence of human like machines in Terminator. If the machines are indeed so intelligent, why would they make machines the shape of humans, something you don’t see in the Matrix. Also ‘weak’ humans wouldn’t stand a chance against ’strong’ machines like in the Matrix. It is with these points in mind that a fan of the Terminator franchisee has the right to expect much more from future films in the series.
Often Salvation looks like a desperate attempt to salvage a once great franchisee. And looking at what we see, it just might work. However, one hopes that current director McG and future writers don’t lose plot of the basic analogy of the film: that of a statement against excessive progress and industrialization and the dehumanization of the human race.
Satyen K. Bordoloi