The title of the last entry in the Terminator franchise, Salvation, is well chosen, given the enormous task it faces trying to restore faith after the ill-judged Terminator: Rise of the Machines, which managed in one broad stroke to dismantle the world that James Cameron had so convincingly pieced together in the first two classic sci-fi films.
This is unfortunately more Mad Max 4 than Terminator 4. The little snippets we gleamed of the future from the previous films showed humans surviving like rats, in bleak, dark times, fighting the machines guerrilla style with lasers. So it feels out of place to see the humans so organised with helicopters and hanger bays, with the leaders of the resistance on a submarine.
And the enemy has changed. Rather than a single time-travelling Terminator hunting Conner like the previous three films, here they come in all shapes and sizes, from the hydrobots that patrol bodies of water like eels, to the gargantuan Transformers-esque Harvesters that seems to have been stolen from The Matrix (although the writers seem to have forgotten that Terminators terminate humans, rather than capture them to use as power sources… no wait, that’s The Matrix again). It is as if the writers have confused the enemy with those in other films – the Terminators are ruthless killers – why are they taking prisoners? If they are supposed to kill Kyle Reese and John Connor why do they not do so given the ample opportunities that are handed to them? And why are the buildings of Skynet designed to accommodate humans? The actual terminators, the human shaped variety, are rare, and even then, they do not look like terminators, the exoskeleton covered in rubber skin or rags of clothing, until the grand finale.
There is also the introduction of new character Marcus Wright (played on film by Sam Worthington). Considering the filmmakers let the cat out of the bag about his character’s metallic biology in the trailer, the film takes an epoch to get to the ‘surprising’ reveal. There could have been an excellent opportunity here, had he been introduced to the leader of the resistance, John Connor (Christian Bale) earlier on, forcing them to work together. Instead, we follow both Connor and Wright on different paths, the scriptwriters unable to decide who is actually the main protagonist, both heroes of their own storylines, the script divided rather than pitting them together. This is perhaps a result of the script undergoing several rushed rewrites weeks before filming (by, among others, The Shield’s Shawn Ryan and The Dark Knight co-writer Jonathan Nolan). It has been suggested that that Bale himself was the element that got John Conner’s role beefed up, and that he was previously a character kept in the shadows, a voice on the radio (a very interesting article is up at CHUD – http://www.chud.com/articles/articles/19577/1/EXCLUSIVE-WHAT-WENT-WRONG-WITH-TERMINATOR-SALVATION/Page1.html)
While Marcus Wright has the more interesting storyline than John Conner (perhaps for the reasons mentioned), to have a Terminator film without Connor as its focus seems odd. To introduce a new character who just happens to meet Kyle Reese of all people is a massively glaring coincidence, who then just happens to meet John Connor and tell him. Oh, and he just happens to be part machine. All these factors make the facts themselves harder to swallow.
Add to that the raft of other characters not doing very much. Kate Conner (Bryce Dallas Howard), Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), the soldier Barnes (Common) and surprisingly Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) whom the writers seem to forget about during the second half of the film. Blair serves as an object of affection for Marcus, but her character could have been cut out, and this affection directed at Kate Conner, thus creating a love triangle, which could lead to a very important question – what is more important to John; saving his wife, or saving his father?
In summary, the problems were:
• Events needed to be tied by character motivation rather than coincidence, especially those surrounding new character Marcus Wright
• John Connor needed more to do / a better storyline
• Kyle Reese needed a better storyline, or purposely removed for part of the film.
• Cut out characters with little or no consequence.
• Make the world of the film more credible to the logic of those gone before (i.e. more barren, poisoned, wasteland, more terminators).
TERMINATOR: SALVATION – ALTERNATIVE STORYLINE
THE PRESENT – MARCUS WRIGHT, awaiting execution. We see why he is on death row – he had witnessed the Terminator (in Terminator 2) and it drove him insane – he started believing people were terminators, and killed them (perhaps they were innocent CyberDyne scientists). He signs away his body (“you killed these men, it is only fitting that you give your body so their work may continue”). We see him executed…
THE FUTURE (2018) – JOHN CONNOR sends out a radio broadcast, over which we see a montage of small resistance bases across the world, surviving like scavengers. John gives useful information, where to aim to kill a terminator, behaviour modifications they have seen. He ends asking if anyone knows where Kyle Reese is, to get word to the resistance. John’s wife, KATE CONNER, a fighter and medic with the resistance, repeats her warnings of the risks of the broadcast. He says he has to find him.
RESISTANCE UNDERGROUND – John and Kate are at a small meeting in the underground. It is a series of sewer tunnels, a dirt hole filled with refugees, dogs, and them, a small band of fighters. They have no computers etc, lighting is shaky as their generator struggles to stay on. Their leader, ASHDOWN, an army sergeant in his past life, draws on the walls a plan to infiltrate a SkyNet base in the desert, they’ve noticed a lot of activity, taking human prisoners (which is a surprise to everyone). After the meeting, a smart mouth sceptic (BARNES) asks John if he’s heard from his dad yet, and openly mocks John for the time travelling story he has told.
SKYNET FACILITY – the rebels make their slow way out to the desert, and infiltrate the base guerrilla style (no helicopters etc) led by Connor. They discover the Terminators experimenting on human subjects, trying to replicate skin. They find a few human subjects alive, one of which is Marcus Wright! They escape, but John and Marcus are separated from the others, and feared dead after an attack by terminators.
DESERT WASTELANDS – The duo fights their way through dark and frightening wastelands, bonding. Marcus does not reveal the last thing he remembers, but having seen the terminators attack, knows he is not crazy, or perhaps he is dreaming, he is not sure. Perhaps he nearly shoots John, who knocks him out and carries him part of the way, but they meet a terminator, and it is Marcus who saves John.
REBEL BASE – John and Marcus make it back to the base, Kate thanking Marcus for saving John, taking a fancy to him. John debriefs Ashdown about the facility, and explains SkyNet’s need for genetic skin – they cannot time travel without it. Even with Kate backing up his stories of time travelling terminators, Ashdown has a hard time believing it. Barnes chimes in with the scepticism:
BARNES: Why do they need to go back in time? To kill you right. It’s always about you.
JOHN: No, not me, not the first time anyway.
BARNES: Oh yeah, I forgot, your father’s from the future as well. What’s his name?
JOHN: Kyle, Kyle Reese.
BARNES: Yeah I’d forgot it, seeing as you only mention it every time you broadcast. Anyone know a Kyle Reiss (Met with silence). No, I didn’t think so.
INCITING INCIDENT – They receive a communication via radio. John discovers the whereabouts of his father, fighting a battle in the ruins of a big city – NEW YORK CITY.
Ashdown tells John he cannot go, they have to find this time travelling device. Kate begs him not to go, but John says he must. She grudgingly says she will go with him. Marcus volunteers. Barnes surprises everyone by volunteering, saying he wants to meet the infamous Kyle Reese.
John’s plan is to take down a Terminator HK (Hunter Killer) without affecting its ability to fly, and then jetting to NYC to find Kyle Reese. They manage to do so, but Kate nearly dies in an explosion. She is only saved by Marcus, who jumps in front of her, taking the brunt of the explosion. It is now revealed that Marcus is part machine, but not a terminator, the interrogation happening while they are being attacked. They manage to escape the attacking HK.
They tie Marcus up in the HK and head for NYC, while John, Kate and Barnes debate what to do with him. For once, John and Barnes are in agreement – put a bullet in him and throw his body out, but Kate opts to keep him, mend him. She argues they have never seen or heard about anything like this. John, against his better judgement, agrees.
Kate mends Marcus, forming a bond, and then John interrogates him. Marcus is open about his past, how he came to be executed, how he awoke in the lab. He seems relieved more than anything – it explains so much, it means he is not crazy or dreaming.
As they approach NYC, the HK is hit by resistance fighters, and crashes in the city. Barnes is injured. They cannot fix the HK, and abandon it to find shelter. They hear a battle nearby, and go, hooking up with the rebels, finally meeting Kyle Reese. Barnes dies soon after from his injuries.
Kyle is a natural leader even so young, and John realises he has become disjointed from humanity, distanced by his past experiences.
Marcus’ machine parts are revealed to Kyle’s squad, who want to kill him, but Kate defends him. Marcus wanders off, and Kate goes after him. Marcus is overly emotional, saying he can still feel his soul, but wonders if he is just a ghost in the machine. Kate kisses him to prove he is not. John sees this.
John tells Kyle that the resistance leaders need him alive, demanding he return with him, but Kyle’s team have been planning to take down a major SkyNet production facility for months, and they finally have the advantage (perhaps because of the crashed HK taking out something that prevented them). Kate and Marcus join the team. John grudgingly decides to help them as well.
They lead the assault on SkyNet, but Marcus goes rogue, trying to find out what they did to him. He meets a human scientist, working for the machines, who was present at his execution. The scientist attaches a device to Marcus that allows SkyNet to control him. He is sent to kill Connor, against his will.
John discovers the T800 in production, with the synthetic skin now working. John hacks the system and finds out what Skynet’s plans are – he discovers where the time travel device is being built.
Marcus, now rogue, goes after John, but ends up finding Kate, while the T800 has trapped Kyle, who will surely die. John has to choose between Kyle and Kate. Marcus tells John to save Kate, that he cannot control himself, but John shouts that he is sorry, and chooses to save Kyle instead. Marcus, although he tries to stop himself, terminates Kate.
Kyle is mortally wounded by the T800. John stops the T800 temporarily, then hacks into Marcus, who defeats the T800.
Kyle will die unless he gets medical attention. Using the facilities in the SkyNet lab, and with the help of the scientist who created Marcus, they scan Kyle’s body, revealing his heart has been damaged. Marcus tells them to take his, that his died when he killed Kate, and he will never fit into either world. The scientist performs the procedure, made possible by the equipment at the facility. Before Marcus dies, he asks John to make sure his body is destroyed, so he cannot be subjected to this again.
With Marcus dead, John kills the scientist. He and Kyle escape the facility, destroying it. They are confronted by a group of terminators, who are subsequently destroyed by Ashdown and a team of soldiers.
Afterwards, John and Kyle share a poignant, silent scene like veterans coming home, only there is no home to return to. There is only the next mission.
John informs Ashdown of the location of the time travel machine. They plan a route, and head out.