In the future, if you're walking around and encounter a Terminator, do not run.
Shout its model name at the top of your lungs "Teee EIGHT HUNDRED!!!" or "MOTO-TERMINATOR!!", then run. That way the kiddies back in 2009 can Google for the proper toy.
The Terminator franchise has always been inherently ridiculous. We're talking about killer robots that travel through time—without guns or clothes, of course—to not only destroy John Connor, leader of the Resistance, but take out his mom. (Destroying his mom's mom, mom's mom's mom or anything along these genealogical lines would have been easier, but a bit too far-fetched.)
And that's exactly my point. Our favorite, ridiculous franchises regularly walk precariously across that deep valley of ludicrousness, but instead of taking its chances on the tight rope like Star Trek did, Terminator Salvation double flips over the chasm on a motorcycle.
We're talking 20-story robots that can creep up behind you without so much as a peep and supporting characters who nonchalantly demonstrate super heroic bodily feats without anyone ever asking "WTF?"
There are two story lines going on here. One, of John Connor, aka Batman. Seriously, he sounds just like Batman. Actually, he sounds like Batman for only the first few scenes of the film. Later, in scenes that, according to storyboards I saw during my set visit, were added after renegotiating with Bale for a bigger part, he sounds, you know, somewhat well-adjusted. It's too bad that much of Bale's own subplot, a yarn in which Connor painstakingly develops a frequency to deactivate Skynet killbots, is ended in unfulfilling resolution.
The other story is of Marcus. NOW THIS PART WILL BE A SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE COMMERCIALS. BUT BECAUSE I ASSUME YOU WATCH COMMERCIALS, I'M NOT GOING TO FEEL TOO BAD FOR SAYING IT.
Marcus is a Terminator. Oh my God!
The problem with the movie is that too much of the story is of Marcus. The other problem of the movie is that too much of the story is of Marcus hopping from unexciting chase scene to unexciting chase scene. It's a two-hour video game linking a series of sequences that have little reason for existence other than McG's action-packed directing style.
And not action-packed like Charlie's Angels. It's a lot more like the so less charming, so less self-aware Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle.
Sure, the sacred tome of Terminator 2 could also be regarded as a montage of chase scenes, but each chase scene forced you to hold your breath. In Terminator Salvation, a giant, Transformers-esque robot chases after a tow truck full of people. Then it deploys motorcycle Terminators. There are several cuts. Then the tow truck spins in such a way that its winch strikes one of the Terminators like a wrecking ball. On a bridge. There is also jet involvement.
Remember in T2, when the good old semi chased that kid on a motorbike? Man that was great.
The thing is, only…2/3 of Terminator Salvation is this depressing. When the Marcus and Connor storylines finally converge in a mad dash to blow Skynet away, the film hones in on what made the original movie and T2 great: The good old-fashioned Terminators, not new merchandizing opportunities or high octane thrill rides.
In this last act, we see Connor properly grown up, exploiting his full potential as a soldier/hacker who strikes the ideal equilibrium of previously mentioned ludicrousness. We see Marcus, while not a character we particularly care about, to be of a particularly interesting and justified existence. (Incidentally, Sam Worthington doesn't play the role poorly. It's the script/editing that lets him down.) And there's a cameo that's probably worth the price of the ticket alone. Scratch that, it is worth the price of the ticket alone.
Somewhere, deep inside, Terminator Salvation may be a good film. But it's so unabashedly Hollywood, such a construct of too many artistic styles, storylines, chase scenes, contracts and heavy-handed metaphors—not to mention terrible script writing—that it may have simply forgotten how to be good. Quite simply, it's just too busy being a movie to be entertaining.
T3 was a lousy film, but at least its fatalistic ending stuck with you. At the end of Terminator Salvation, I left the theater gagging on the world's most expensive Hallmark card, questioning why I was supposed to give a damn in the first place.
For more on Terminator Salvation, read about our set visit.