When it was announced that McG, most known for the Charlie’s Angels films, was to direct the latest entry in the Terminator franchise, it seemed to confirm the continual downward arc of the series. After the wonderfully tight first entry, which, like films like Jaws before it, not only succeeded commercially, but inspired countless knock-offs and “inspiring” so many that it nearly became its own sub-genre. T2 was, in many ways, an unnecessary rehash that took the series in a much sunnier, “we can control our destinies” direction-but did so with such elan and flash that it is easy to overlook how much it repeats the earlier film on a larger, but more hollow, scale. The sequels since then are more problematic-if for no other reason that both earlier parts seemed to wrap up the story so well-and also the delay in creating them. While the seven-year delay between The Terminator and Terminator 2 is perhaps a little longer than sequels typically take to get to the screen, it’s ground breaking special effects and huge scale account for it. Waiting another 12 years before returning to the franchise, with mostly new stars, a new director, and new writer screams “cash-in”. While a sizable minority seemed to regard the film as an entertaining if unnecessary entry into the series, a louder group cried foul (your humble reviewer, meanwhile, stayed out of the fray for lack of interest).
Rumor long had it that James Cameron’s original plan to follow-up The Terminator was to set a film entirely in the dark future world where man battled machines, and Terminator Salvation is the first film to deliver on this long promised bit of geek Nirvana. McG aside, when spectacular footage of enormous robots battling the resistance surfaced hopes were raised. Initial reviews, however seemed to confirm that it was exactly what one would expect in the age of Transformers: a big, beautiful, but very stupid and unnecessary sequel. Upon viewing it myself, I can say firmly: this is exactly what it is, though I can also say I regret missing it on the big screen, because damn if it doesn’t look spectacular. Effects are now at the point where it’s possible to do more than a few brief snippets of resistance fighters fighting unstoppable robot foes.
Or is it? One thing missing from those snippets in this film is the dark of the future. Yes, man is scattered and splintered, but he can apparently also keep 40-year-old aircraft resupplied and mount full-scale assaults on Skynet. Somehow, too, that nuclear war didn’t do much damage beyond making cities look vaguely bombed out. Anything involving robots fighting people looks great, but the plot is just so much tripe designed to link up action sequences. The large-scale of it all, too, robs the story of the lean menace of both of the first films in the series: what if something is chasing you that does not need to rest, will not stop until you’re dead, and is seemingly indestructible? It’s such a great hook that it launched a thousand rip-offs in nearly every format known to man, and yet it’s completely missing here. Instead we get a super intelligent super computer and a human resistance who are equally prone to idiotic plans; probably the worst single moment is when Skynet pauses to do the Republic Serial Villain thing and tell its pet cyborg (who throws off Skynet’s control insanely easily) its plan before it’s fully accomplished. Perhaps now we finally know why Skynet keeps sending robots back in time to kill just two people and keeps failing so utterly. This would never have happened to the genius computer Skynet is based on, Colossus. Do yourself a favor: don’t see this unless you can see it on the big screen where you can appreciate elaborate, effects driven action sequences. Instead, just re-watch the original, or, better yet, rent Colossus: The Forbin Project to see how chilling ruthless intellect can be.