- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Though entertaining on its own terms, “Terminator Salvation” jettisons the philosophical quandary that made prior entries in the series so intriguing.

The question raised by the final five minutes of 2003’s “Terminator: Rise of the Machines” and its successor is this: Can you show Judgment Day and the war against machines while simultaneously maintaining the central philosophical question of the “Terminator” series?

John Connor, of course, likes to say there is no fate but what we make. However, if the bombs fall and the machines take over no matter what humanity does, the future is predetermined, is it not?

Fate beats out free will if nothing can be done to change the worst from occurring. Indeed, all Connor and company can do is try their hardest to make sure the future plays out as prophesied. That leaves us with “Terminator Salvation,” a more simplistic action picture than its predecessors; stylish, perhaps, but devoid of the deeper debates that made the first three films in the series so interesting.

“Salvation” opens on a prisoner facing execution a few years before Judgment Day (the day on which Skynet launches a nuclear war against humanity). Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is bad to the bone, an unrepentant killer about to get a lethal injection. Before he makes it to the killing room, he’s asked to donate his body to Cyberdyne - the creator of Skynet, you’ll recall - for scientific experimentation.



We then jump ahead to 2018, when John Connor (Christian Bale, the third actor in three movies to play humanity’s savior) is leading a commando group on a raid in an attempt to harvest valuable intel from a Skynet mainframe: a short-wave radio signal that will shut down the machines.

Located in the same bunker into which Connor and his team crawled is Marcus. Whatever Cyberdyne has done to him, he’s still alive, 15 years after his execution. He wanders out of the desert and into Los Angeles, where he finds a teen by the name of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Mr. Chekhov in the new “Star Trek”) and his younger, silent compatriot (Jadagrace). They are all that remains of the resistance’s Los Angeles branch.

“Salvation” jumps between two parallel stories - John Connor’s attempt to rescue his father-to-be, Kyle, and destroy the machines and Marcus Wright’s struggle to figure out what he is now - which creates a number of problems, first and foremost being a failure to invest seriously in any of the characters.

Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard) is reduced to little more than a worshipful spouse who appears to be pregnant (it’s never discussed) while a new character, Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), is introduced as a love interest for Marcus but never really explored. The only actor who brings any depth to his character is Mr. Yelchin: He plays the young Reese as a child forced too quickly into adulthood, a kid nearing the breaking point in a world gone mad.

Mr. Bale and Mr. Worthington spend most of their time on-screen growling at whoever is in their path. The audience is given little to care about unless they’re already heavily invested in the “Terminator” mythology. Even then, that only applies to half of the movie: It’s simply hard to get too interested in what happens to Marcus.

(It’s also hard to tell what actually happened to Marcus after he signed his body over to Cyberdyne. Despite a five-minute scene in which Skynet literally tells him how he came to be and what his relation to Connor is, it’s so nonsensical that the mind has trouble following.)

Though the set design, action sequences and special effects are very good to great, it’s hard to think of “Terminator Salvation” as anything other than a wasted chance. It’s almost a prequel: Instead of moving the story forward, director McG seems more interested in showing us things that characters in previous installments have told us will happen in the future. Fans of the series will have a good time, but newcomers will be at a loss.

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TITLE: “Terminator Salvation”

RATING: PG-13 (Intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language)

CREDITS: Directed by McG, written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

Web Site: https://terminatorsalvation. warnerbros.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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