Christian Bale as John Connor, the human leader of the rebel resistance, is supposed to be the star of Terminator Salvation. It’s his story, he’s on screen most of the time, everyone’s always rooting for him and has a beautiful wife (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village).
But when the movie’s over, when you begin to recover from the boot-thumping soundtrack and all the ear-splitting explosions and blinding weaponry, what you remember is the co-star, the half-man, half-robot loner, Marcus Wright, played by Aussie newcomer, Sam Worthington (Somersault). It’s not just because Worthington is a gorgeous hunk, or that the writers have wisely chosen to give him as little dialogue as possible to create a Gary Cooper man-of-few words mystique, or that he’s got the most noble role in the movie–it’s because this young man has “it”–that indefinable, charismatic, magical something that lights up the screen. Given half a chance, Worthington is going to be a huge star. Since he’s also a writer and director, too, film lovers are gong to have a lot to appreciate from this talented 32-year-old.
The guys don’t have it all in this movie. Unlike the almost totally testosterone three other blockbuster so far this year–X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, and Angels & Demons, Terminator Salvation has several substantial secondary female roles. Two of them are played by stars-in-waiting from whom we’re going to hear a lot in the future. Blair Williams, played by Mood Bloodgood (TV’s Journeyman) is a kick-ass pilot rebel, who not only looks as good in her skin-tight leather outfit as Halle Berry did as Storm in X-Men, but uses every syllable of her small amount of dialogue to evince heart and depth. The other is a pint-size homeless rebel named Star, played by a bushy-haired elf named Jadagrace. Star says nothing in the entire movie, but Jadagrace’s expressive face and cleverly scripted action helps her steal every scene. The movie gets a half-point higher in my rating because of the women’s roles, especially these two.
Terminator fans will love this latest edition of the legend because it builds well on the past stories. John Connor (Bale) is the respected leader of the rebels and he learns that, with a time twist that only his dead mother can explain to him on tape recordings, the teenager who will become his father, rebel fighter Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in Star Trek) has been captured by the horrible robots who have taken over the planet. Connor must rescue his father to make sure he gets born (don’t worry about the logic here) and thus lead the rebel cause.
Sometime in 2003, condemned murderer Marcus Wright (Worthington) allowed doctor Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd) to harvest his organs after he’s executed. He’s horrified to learn when he wakes up in 2018 that his once perfect human body has been transformed into a programmed robot-killer. He saves pilot Blair’s life so she thinks he’s human, but John Connor doesn’t trust him because he’s part-machine. Among all the spectacular explosions, and rampaging robots–including a fully naked CGI version of Arnold Schwarzenegger–the movie is the story of Marcus Wright’s struggle to find out who he is. Like many of us, Wright wants a second chance in life but like only a movie hero can do, he’s willing to die to get it.
It is one of my core beliefs, that a movie is only as good as its villain. And the villain in Termination Salvation is a bunch of mindless robots. Of course I want all the movie heroes and heroines to beat, burn, stomp, shoot, stab, and electrocute the beejeebies out of each and every one of the big, shiny nasty doo-dads. But in the end, who cares? If there were some human mind running the robots, then maybe it’d create some emotional veracity.
As it is, except for the wonderful actors I mentioned, the movie is basically forgettable. But while you’re watching it in the theatres, Terminator Salvation is truly spectacular, with enough special effects to fill three movies. Director McG (We Are Marshall) definitely makes you feel your ticket dollars have been well spent. Its driving stunts rival Fast & Furious, the end of the world sets rival Mad Max, the pyrotechnics have to give hell a run for its money, the battle scenes rival just about every sci-fi movie around and the actors provide eye candy for everyone. Just be sure you have something interesting to do afterwards because unless you’re a Terminator nut, there’s nothing much to talk about.