A prologue set in 2003 introduces death row prisoner Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) as he grants his body be used for research. A brief rundown of the current situation in 2018 during the opening credits tells of Skynet having humanity on the brink of extinction, but a resistance is fighting back. One of its leaders is a familiar character to those following the Terminator franchise, grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale) who resides in war-ravaged Southern California.
After a botched operation that John alone escapes from, Marcus awakes and tries to make his way in the world. In Los Angeles, he stumbles across a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who in 2029 John will send to the past to save his mother from a Terminator-800 as chronicled in The Terminator. Kyle wants to find members of the resistance and join them while Marcus is determined to head to San Francisco. After an attack by a multitude of Terminators of different shapes and size, their plans gets crisscrossed and Kyle is taken prisoner with a bunch of humans to the Skynet facility in Frisco, while Marcus ends up meeting the resistance.
Marcus informs John about Kyle’s predicament. John doesn’t trust Marcus, but if Marcus were telling the truth, the ramifications would literally be life-altering for John and everyone still alive. What complicates the matter even further is a plan by the resistance leaders to bomb the Frisco facility, regardless of the human life it will cost.
With Salvation, director McG delivers an over-the-top, frenetic, action-packed movie. Most of the effects looked great, particularly stunning were the humanoid terminator models. John wrestling with a damaged terminator in the opening sequence and another one during the climatic scene will likely lead to the late Stan Winston honored at the Academy Awards next year. However, those looking for more substance will be disappointed. The conflict loses its suspense because the franchise’s storyline has already guaranteed the survival of some characters as mentioned above.
Another issue is the movie suffers from a number of distractions that take the viewer out of the moment. First, there are too many references to other movies. Homages to earlier Terminator movies work for the most part, but Salvation is unfortunately almost Tarantino-esque in its references, signaling a lack of imagination by the creative team. Some of the terminator models look and act like Transformers; there is a fiery explosion similar to Apocalypse Now; and not only does some of the driving look straight out of The Road Warrior, but there's also a mute kid running around. Another distraction is the poor CGI of Arnold Schwarzenegger's face. A brief cameo would have worked well and it makes sense storywise, but the longer the image appears the more obvious how phony it is. It was also curious that John didn’t seem to recognize the T-800 when they had in essence previously met in Terminator 2. Because of the tabloids, I found myself wondering what emotional scene Bale had his infamous, and rightful, blow up at director of photography Shane Hurlbut.
My last complaint, although this is more for the industry as a whole as of late, is the steadicam work. The camera needlessly floats around too much, adding nothing with the disorientating images it records. Why won’t anyone pay for a tripod on these multi-million dollar movies?
Salvation seems to be an adequate continuation of the franchise to see on the big screen, especially if like SCTV film reviewers Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok, you like to see stuff “blow'd up real good!” It moves the story along rather than repeating itself like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines did.