The ‘Terminator’ series has two prevailing themes. One of them is inevitability, how it is impossible to escape from destiny. ‘Terminator: Salvation’ dramatises this in quite an unusual way, as a form of concept art.
If you let McG, director of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle’ direct a ‘Terminator’ movie, if you fill it with fan driven moments, if you don’t have a script when you start filming, if what you do have is compromised by a writers’ strike, if the protagonist of the movie is not the same character as the protagonist in the trailers … it will set up an inevitable destiny that it is impossible to escape from: it’s not going to be a good movie.
If you go into ‘Terminator Salvation’ expecting it to be ‘good’ in ‘any way’, then you’re an idiot and you deserve everything you get. You may want a movie which has some basic cohesion within scenes, let alone between them – if so, you probably want something a little more arthouse and cerebral. Well, la-di-dah college boy, there’s good news: ‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’ is in the Play.com sale at the moment.
‘Terminator Salvation’ is the sort of movie where an omniscient, Machiavellian computer designed by the military, and so versed in military tactics, defends a factory where it’s making an army of Terminators by getting one Terminator to guard the only door.
The other, more central, theme of the ‘Terminator’ franchise is that people are small and squishy, whereas machines are large and made of hard things, and that were there to be a fight between them, a lot of people would quickly discover just how squishy they were.
This is a harder theme to mess up, and the movie doesn’t quite manage it. As early as ‘T2′, the core concept of the Terminators – that they are relentless and just don’t stop – collided with the script. In that movie, the T1000 just vanished for an hour, so they could do all that stuff with the Cyberdyne guy. ‘Salvation’ does what every franchise has to do with every ‘unstoppable’ opponent, and make them subject to the Inverse Ninja Ratio – one ninja, Xenomorph, Predator, Dalek and so on can wipe out an army, but an army of them can be wiped out by one man. It’s the natural evolution of any franchise. ‘Salvation’ strings together a bunch of set pieces and they’re OK, but you’ve seen all the good stuff in the trailers (including the ‘twist’ that ends the second act), and even if you haven’t, you’ve seen the ‘Transformers’ trailer.
‘Terminator’ is a simple concept, and probably – like say, ‘Aliens’ or ‘The Hulk’ – the best way to run it as a franchise is by having lots of standalone stories that are basically cover versions of the first one, but remade by quirky talents. The ‘Terminator’ franchise has gone the other way, tried to develop and progress the story. It’s not really worked, and the ratings for ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ and box office for ‘Salvation’ demonstrate that there isn’t much of an appetite for it. When you can’t get something as simple as the ‘Terminator’ franchise to work, it’s probably time to give it a rest for a little while.