Terminator Salvation is an entertaining film, as long as you don’t think about it. The special effects are splashy the action is fast-paced and fun. Even the characters are, with the exception of Bale’s somewhat blank John Connor, interesting and well acted. Anton Yelchin in particular, who you may have noticed a couple of weeks ago as Chekov in Star Trek, really shines here as Kyle Reese. In fact, forget John Connor. They should have given us an entire movie focused on him. No the movie’s problems have nothing to do with anything that happened on set during the film’s making, they’re much deeper and more ingrained than that. It’s the script. It’s the entire premise on which the film is built that’s at fault and there’s really nothing the movie’s one-named director McG, even if he’d been allowed to deliver the R-rated movie this franchise deserved, could have done to fix that.
Since it’s the premise that’s the problem, there’s really no way to discuss this without minor spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t want it ruined for you, jump ship now. If you’re still here, then let’s get right to the heart of this problem.
The problem is the movie’s villain, Skynet, which is far from the unstoppable, viciously intelligent machine force we’ve seen evidenced in previous movies. The entire film is built around a complicated plot from Skynet, everything is set in motion by that plot, everything happens because of that plan, and that plan is utterly stupid. Here it is: Skynet captures Kyle Reese and uses him to lure in John Connor so that it can kill him. Skynet knows John Connor will come to save Kyle, because Skynet knows that in his future Kyle becomes John’s father and Connor needs him if he wants to be born.
Kyle Reese is bait. John Connor is the target. Um… why doesn’t Skynet just shoot Kyle Reese in the head? Game over. John Connor is dead.
Instead of doing that, Skynet only makes the whole thing even worse. To get John Skynet constructs some sort of human cyborg and sends it after him. The cyborg believes it’s human, and in fact it has free will and thinks exactly like a human. Why Skynet would build such a creature is beyond the realm of any sort of machine logic I can conjure. It sets something loose that it can’t control, completely confident that it will still do exactly what it’s told, thought there’s absolutely no reason to believe it will. Even when given proof positive evidence that its cyborg creation has switched sides, Skynet doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything to stop it. Instead our cyborg MacGuffin walks off unmolested and goes to work undoing Skynet’s stupid plan. Maybe by then Skynet, like everyone in the audience, had realized how dumb its plan is in the first place and simply decides it’s no longer worth the trouble.
Terminator Salvation is built on a ridiculously shaky foundation and there’s simply no way to save it from such brain-dead construction. Yet there’s fun to be had in it, as long as you don’t spend more than a second thinking about the logic in any of it. Unfortunately for Salvation, Terminator fans aren’t used to this kind of plot stupidity and will almost certainly, go into it with their heads still attached.