Ian Schuelke time-travels backwards to 2009 for a film that jumps forward to the far-off year of 2018(!) with McG’s mess of a franchise reboot, Terminator Salvation.
Terminator Salvation was meant to be a sort of reboot. A new franchise, the first of a planned trilogy. Well, planned in the Hollywood sense, which means, “We’ll earmark some money for it, but nothing is actually plotted or written.” A series of mishaps and poor decisions doomed it, and further films were scrapped until someone said, “Hey, let’s retcon the entire franchise and make a terrible movie at the same time!” birthing the absolute mess that is Terminator: Genisys. Sort of like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant ruined the Alien franchise faster than George Clooney’s nipples killed Batman.
Instead of opening on the hellscape of post-Judgment Day life, we take a trip back to 2003 where we meet Marcus Wright, sitting on death row. A frail, clearly dying (they painted her white in case you wouldn’t get it) woman comes to see him. She wants his body. Not like that. Unless you were thinking as a science experiment. What kind, we’re not really told. Just that she “worries about the future of mankind.” Sure you do.) Despite feeling beyond redemption, he agrees to the deal for a single kiss. “So that’s what death tastes like.” Savage. Especially considering he’s about to get the lethal injection tasting flight. Not-so-subtly, the execution table extends his arms as if crucified, and the last thing he sees is the scarf-covered bald head of his new owner, I guess making sure they don’t damage the merchandise.
The next thing just baffles me. We get an opening crawl, explaining the background story for THE FOURTH FILM IN THE SERIES. I think we all know what happened with Skynet by now. We also learn that some people believe John Connor is the key to their survival, while others say he’s a false prophet.
We jump ahead to 2018 (!!) Where a team of resistance fighters descend deep into a machine stronghold. They’re on the hunt for something that could turn the tide of the war in their favor. John Connor’s just along for the ride, and even gets a verbal hand-swatting from his CO for looking at the information they’re downloading. They also find a bunch of humans in cages, and hey look it’s Marcus Wright’s dead body! Quelle Surprise!
John goes topside again, takes a chopper to chase a carrier full of humans, and gets front-row seats to his entire team being vaporized by a nuclear blast. Why none of them thought the machines would boobytrap this place is beyond me. A few hours later, who should climb out of the rubble but Marcus Wright. Naked, muddy, confused, and screaming. A lot. Let’s not dwell on the fact that he somehow survived a nuclear blast. Instead let’s point out another biblical reference, Lazarus of Bethany, who is resurrected by Jesus four days after his death.
What does make sense, and I think is kind of a cool conceit, is putting the resistance headquarters in a FUCKING SUBMARINE. The only thing that could jeopardize it is a signal they discover that can control the machines but is actually a plant by the machines so they can find the headquarters and blow it to Valhalla. Sorry, spoiler alert. Anyway, remember that four days thing? Probably not connected but they also intercept a machine signal that says everyone on the submarine is going to be dead in four days. Oh, and also Kyle Reese. WHAAAAAAA
Meanwhile, Kyle Reese is a plucky teen hiding out in the remains of LA with the blockbuster-required CUTE KID. He saves dum-dum Marcus from waving at an old T-600 terminator, saying, “Come with me if you want to live.” COME ON. WHY. Marcus teaches him some gun stuff, they listen to The John Connor Fireside Radio Hour in what’s left of Griffith Observatory, then Marcus hotwires a car and drags the two urchins along when they’re spotted by one of those annoying drones you see at the beach while you’re trying to enjoy some solitude but this thing is fucking buzzing over your head and some pasty (I can say that, I’m pasty) tourist with more money than sense is recording flyby videos he’ll never watch. Even the machines can’t just be in the moment.
John gets back to his base at some point, where we meet Bryce Dallas Howard with the most amazing post-apocalyptic hair I’ve ever seen. Like, fucking coiffed. This is some Johnathan Van Ness-level hair. Actually, we’re not really meeting her, as it turns out she’s Kate Connor, the same character Claire Danes played in Terminator: Rise of the Machines. I honestly didn’t realize this until after I rewatched this film a second time and started doing some research online. More trivia: Did you know this was written during the writer’s strike of 2007-2008? The same strike that began the slow decline of Lost.
There’s some chase scenes and some survivors met only to blow them up or take them captive. This is where the fatigue sets in. Long story short, Kyle and CUTE KID get captured, Marcus doesn’t, and some A-10 Thunderbolts show up to help out but are quickly blown up. One of the pilots, Blair Williams, survives, and she has even better hair than Bryce. Seriously, is there a blowout bar nearby or something? Creature comforts, I guess.
Marcus rescues Blair, then rescues her again, then traverses a minefield with her to get into the resistance base. Oh, by the way, the mines are magnetic. GUESS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MARCUS WALKS PAST A MINE. Big boom, Marcus is rushed to Bryce for surgery, and holy shit this dude is a machine! John thinks he’s sent to kill him (it’s always about you, John. *eyeroll*) and orders his execution, but Blair isn’t buying it. I mean, she knows he’s a machine cuz his metal endoskeleton is in clear view on his chest, but he’s not, like, a machine, you know? He has a human heart and stuff!
What follows is an epic rescue/escape that can only be described as a mix of the final round of American Gladiators and a paintball tournament, with a dash of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape thrown in for shits and giggles. Blair is caught, but Marcus makes for the water while John Connor goes Apocalypse Now on the surrounding foliage. John brings his chopper close to the water, just close enough for some eel-type machines to jump up and tear the shit out of everything. Is this the end of John Connor? Tense! Marcus shows up and goes HAM on the TerminH2Or (I’m trademarking that), promising John he can get them into Skynet to save Kyle. There’s a great moment where John shouts “What are you?!” Marcus slowly backs into the water, like a reverse James Bond in Casino Royale. “I don’t know.” Cool. Glad we worked that out.
The clock is ticking, as Resistance HQ has plans to nuke the ever-loving bejeesus out of Skynet. John’s fight for more time is met with refusal and a demotion. Double whammy! Of course, he’s all, “Fuck that I’m going in.” Kate asks, “What shall I tell your men when they find out you’re gone?”
Oooh, can you guess? I’m not even gonna write it. You know. He hotwires one of those cool motor-minators (yeah that’s mine) and heads out to save Kyle.
Meanwhile, Marcus casually walks into Skynet, sentries ignoring him cuz hey, machines gotta stick together, amirite? Then proceeds to sneak around the complex for some reason. Dude, they all but rolled out the red carpet. Work that runway! Finally, he finds the control room, which is weirdly pristine and white. Star Trek-reboot white. Pretty sure the machines aren’t concerned with decor, seeing as how the rest of the place looks like an abandoned power plant.
Cue bald lady! Well, onscreen anyway. She’s here to drop the big-ass bombshell: Marcus was made by Skynet to infiltrate the human resistance, and wouldn’t you know it? It worked! Mocktails all around, fellas! Oh, also that signal they found that shuts off the machines is actually a tracking device so say goodbye to Subquarters. (I’m trademarking that, too.) Marcus rips some stuff out of the back of his head that I guess connects him to the machine network, then throws a chair through the screen. A chair? Who’s sitting? Do robots just need to take a load off sometimes?
(sidenote: turns out the entire third act was reworked, removing several scenes including a hybrid terminator manning the controls in this fancy room. So at one point it did make sense.)
John reaches a fancy lab (again why is this stuff so nice looking?) and finds Kyle locked away. Why Skynet wouldn’t just kill him outright is beyond me. Solve your problem right there. I guess if they did that, John wouldn’t exist to come save Kyle and give us the big awesome reveal of ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER THE ORIGINAL TERMINATOR OMGGGGG. Okay, actually it’s a body double and a bunch of CGI that actually looks pretty decent, partly because Arnie never says anything and just has the same intense look on his face the whole time.
Kyle escapes and we get a rehash of the finale of the original film, with Christian Bale taking on the role of Sarah Connor. Marcus comes to help John and is punched so hard in the chest his heart stops. I guess they moved into the forge cuz John ends up dumping a big ol’ vat of molten metal on the terminator, then shoots a steam pipe? I mean, it looked like a steam pipe, but it cooled the metal. Is steam a low enough temperature to freeze molten metal? Let’s just go with it, I guess.
John does a jumpstart on Marcus but pays the ultimate price for not watching horror movies and MAKING SURE THE BAD GUY IS DEAD. Schwarzenator (seriously don’t steal these) drives a big piece of metal right through Johnny’s chest, and from the looks of it his heart. Oh, I guess not, seeing as how he and Marcus walk right out of the place. They board a chopper where CUTE KID is waiting with the detonator. Boom goes the dynamite.
We cut to the resistance base the next morning, and John is barely hanging on. (NO SHIT.) His heart just can’t take it. He’s a goner. Hmm. Unless…Anybody have a heart lying around? Anybody? No? Oh wait that’s right! Marcus steps up and says “Everyone deserves a second chance. This is mine.” I mean you just blew up Skynet and saved a bunch of lives, but hey who needs a heart, right? Marcus does, and he dies when they take it out.
Of course, John survives and gives one more Fireside Chat to the troops, letting them know there’s still room for sequels cuz obviously there’s terminators all over the world, right? Happy ending or whatever. I can barely care at this point.
Oh yeah also the whole film is now irrelevant in the canon. James Cameron has regained the rights to the franchise. He’s making a new film. One that ignores all the films after Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Which, honestly, is the best thing they could do. Let’s just forget this film was ever made. At least for another ten years.
— Ian Schuelke