So the question was likely, "Can we make a Terminator movie without putting 'Schwarzenegger' over the title?" That question was more probably "Should we?" after the lackluster box office of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but a hint to the answer was also in a well-received but Governator-less and ultimately cancelled TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. An even better question is, "How many damn times is Skynet going to send back killer robots after it didn't work the first three times?"
The answer is to finally set a movie entirely after "Judgement Day", when the rogue Skynet AI nukes humanity into mechanized barbarity; scenes in previous Terminator movies of the war with the machines were exciting, nightmarish and memorable, and Salvation does a decent job of continuing that.
John Connor has finally grown into Christan Bale (in full-blown grim mode - the only mode he's allowed to use anymore, it seems). Connor is not yet the leader of the human Resistance, but he is its heart and soul. Connor thinks he's the sole survivor from a machine research base that Skynet self-destructs, but there is another: Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), who is just as confused as the audience, as the last thing he remembers is being executed by lethal injection in 2003 for multiple murders.
Wright falls in with a teenaged Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin)- yes, Terminator fans, the guy who will eventually go back in time and become Connor's father - and a mute young girl. In trying to meet up with Connor's main Resistance force, Wright's two new friends are captured for experiments at Skynet Central, and Connor finds he has to team up with Wright to get his future father out before a major Resistance offensive blows Central into oblivion, which would prevent his birth.
Don't worry. Time travel stories are supposed to make your head hurt.
The major flaw in the script is that it takes the audience nearly a half hour to figure out who's the protagonist of the story, and then it still never becomes entirely clear. Wright has a hell of a redemptive arc that never truly catches fire. The first two Terminator movies were successful in that they had genuine emotional cores - alas, the last two Terminator movies do not, although Salvation does come close. The special effects are impressive and wonderful, but if a little of that attention could have been somehow spent in the direction of the characters, this chapter could have joined the first two as - well, not art, but great entertainment.
As it stands, it's merely a pleasant time-waster, and there are more enjoyable means to do that out there.
Outside of the flimsiness of their new boxes, the WB disc is beautiful, as one expects from Warner Home Entertainment, but stark and spare. The menu itself is a single illustration with music, which should prepare you for what you get:
The disc starts with the mandatory Blu-Ray ad (the Blu-Ray version of Salvation has the Director's Cut, but I doubt the restored two minutes has the missing emotional core), and non-anamorphic trailers for the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes, the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game, season two of The Sarah Connor Chronicles box sets, and the Salvation graphic novel for iPhone and iPod.
And that's it. No commentary, trailer for the movie itself, nothing. Maybe Skynet got it. Maybe Warner is just desperate for the video sales to finally break even on this flick, and wants the quick sell-through (There was certainly never a deluxe edition of Terminator 3 for double-dipping purposes).
Ultimately, none of that matters. Terminator 5 is already in development for a 2011 release, and Skynet seems unable to stop that, either.
Dr. Freex, 12/6/2009