So yeah, I liked Terminator: Salvation. It was flawed in a lot of ways, but it gave me what I wanted most, what I have been waiting twenty-five years for: staying more or less within the bounds of canon, I got to see a story about how John Connor finally met his father, Kyle Reese.
And the movie really does honor canon. It happens in the year 2018, roughly eleven years earlier than 2029, the year Kyle goes into the past to defend Sarah Connor in 1984. The John Connor we meet is in his mid-thirties, which would make it reasonable to believe he was born in 1985 (the first movie takes place in May of ’84, so add nine months, John was born in ’85). Kyle Reese is about seventeen, which is what you might expect in 2018 if he is in his late twenties when he goes back in time. We never see or hear reference to the time technology in this film because it hasn’t been invented yet.
I do sort of wish we could have gotten the tale as told in T1 of John emerging as an inspiring leader in the death camps, but the movie allows us to safely assume that has already happened. John Connor is already a legend, he is just not the head of the resistance yet. Also, again, what you’d expect given the way T3 ended–John was safely ensconced in a deep fallout shelter, and one has to assume some of the actual military leaders of various nations were, too, elsewhere. Those are the people that take charge of the war against the machines initially (they show Asians and Russians among the leaders, I noted).
John Connor is one of their soldiers, and they mock him a little as a symbol to the resistance, but, after all, not one of them.
Connor is married at this point, to the woman who I assume is Kate Brewster, although she doesn’t get any action scenes in this film because she is very pregnant. She is still one of the leading people in John’s cell of the resistance, though, and a medical doctor.
The movie deals with John hearing about the existence of Kyle Reese, and searching for him, and finally locating him at a death camp that is also the regional headquarters for Skynet. John Connor must defy the leaders of the military in order to rescue his father. The military leaders want to bomb the facility now that they have a way of rendering the Skynet technology inert, and they see the civilian casualties as “collateral damage”–a necessary evil for a greater good.
John, of course, has a larger view of the value of his father’s life, but as he starts a series of radio broadcasts to use his celebrity to influence the scattered members of the resistance, we get the obligatory humanistic plug about how we should “rescue the civilians before we bomb, otherwise we are no different than the machines.”
The world military leaders, conveniently enough, sneak around together in a submarine (a nod to the TV show). Before they have a chance to launch the attack, they are targeted, discovered, and killed by Skynet (you think they forgot the one about not putting all your eggs in one basket?)
These leaders were on a list of primary Skynet targets, as are John Connor and Kyle Reese, and here’s where we get to one of movie’s flaws: Kyle Reese is captured by Skynet, identified in the death camp, and then held prisoner rather than shot on sight. They obviously know who he is. The movie never gives a good explanation for his imprisonment.
Kyle and John are united towards the end of the movie when John storms the Skynet facility and saves all the civilians, including his father. John is wounded during this fight in a battle with a terminator who starts out as a very naked Governor of California. And if any of my flist with medical experience who haven’t seen the movie are actually reading this, just FYI–there are some parts towards the end that are insanely unrealistic, including jump-starting someone’s heart with a live wire and a battle-field heart transplant.
But all of this enables John to remain leader of the resistance, now with a new ally by his side, Kyle Reese. *Beams the beam of ‘shipper joy*
Now onto what I consider the biggest flaw this movie has: the character of Marcus Wright. Take note, any of you kids out there who are aspiring fan fiction writers–this is textbook example of a Marty Stu. The movie starts with him, a man from the pre-war time during the pre-war time, a prisoner on death row who decides to donate his body to Science (well, technology, technically. Cyberdyne Systems, specifically).
We catch up with Marcus fifteen years later when John Connor, a mere soldier in the resistance, enters a Skynet research facility where they are obviously experimenting with developing cyborgs. Marcus is just another body in storage at the facility. John is sent above ground by the military commander of the mission, and luckily so, because a moment later, the place gets All Blowed Up.
And yet somehow, Marcus is the other sole survivor, with barely a scratch on him.
At that point, he becomes the Character of Invitation, the person from our world we travel with as we see this strange new world. This is of course totally unnecessary, because thanks to the flash-forwards of previous movies and the television show, we are familiar with the post-apocalyptic world of the Terminatorverse. The movie then shifts between scenes of John Connor soldiering and Marcus wandering and finally encountering a terminator. He is almost Dead Meat when he becomes the lucky recipient of an outstretched hand and the words which appear in every film, “Come with me if you want to live.”
It was probably after the first or second extra-long action scene with Marcus in it fighting at Kyle Reese’s side that I decided he was an obvious Authorial Stand-in. Fan-boy producer/director wants to be part of the Terminatorverse and wakes up in that world and gets to be part of the action with one of its signature heroes–over, and over, and oh, as for example, OVER.
I knew due to the previews that at some point Marcus becomes a cyborg, what I didn’t know was that he already was one. Unlike the cyborgs we’ve met before, he has retained a human heart and partial brain. Part of his brain is a machine brain. At the point we and he discover this, I thought, “Well, OK, maybe he’s not the Authorial Stand-in after all.”
But then I changed my mind again when he’s the one who tells John where to find Kyle and he’s the one who infiltrates Skynet headquarters and he’s the one who saves John Connor’s life, twice, once by stopping him from being killed by a Terminator, and then again when he heroically offers him his human heart.
And don’t even get me started on how he’s the one who teaches Kyle Reese how to holster a rifle.
Now, Marcus Wright does have a role to play in the movie. One can easily imagine as Skynet was starting to experiment with cyborg infiltration units, they started out making cyborgs who were still partially human and believed they were human so they could enter the human resistance cells without question. Then the programming would kick in and they’d carry out a deadly mission. It is also easy to imagine that Skynet quickly discovered this approach wouldn’t work, and started building the Arnie Schwarzenegger models instead. Sarah Connor never gets told about this model because they weren’t in use very long. And, if Skynet can manage to hang onto one of its units after the explosion, it is plausible it might send it after the other survivor, John Connor.
So maybe, if I didn’t know so dang much about Mary Sues, I wouldn’t cringe at Marcus, but really, truly. Textbook case, take notes.
And what about Sarah? One criticism I have seen leveled against the movie is that it is “all about the boys,” and the concomitant testosterone and Sarah Connor is forgotten. I don’t think that’s the case. True, the action scenes go on way too long and many are completely gratuitous, but that’s a signature part of the whole movie series I’ve learned to live with. And true, Sarah is dead, but that is canon–both the movies and the television show mention her dying of cancer before Judgment Day. John hasn’t forgotten her by any means; we see the Linda Hamilton photo from T1 taken when she was pregnant with him, the photo that will one day go to Kyle Reese. We see John on multiple occasions, when he is feeling most uncertain about his next move, listening to the tapes his mother made for him to gain strength and insight. They are not in Linda Hamilton’s voice, but that’s probably because we hear other passages besides the one we know from the end of T1.
All in all, if a sequel leaves me able to watch its prequels without thinking they’re now completely moot, and has me writing fan fiction in my head, it’s OK in my book. I give this movie a solid “B”. Won’t be every Terminator fan’s cuppa tea, but it falls heavily into OMG Could Have Been So Much Worse.