Terminator: Salvation imagines, finally, the war with that machine enemy that John Connor has prepared for just about all his life for. A critical complaint was that Christian Bale pretty much played Batman without ears in this role. Well, what’s Batman but a man very damaged by one child-hood incident?
Connor was put through all manner of training by his mother in preparation for the war after Judgment Day, in addition to at least two attempts on his life by Terminators, putting all that training to the test, which Connor of course passed or he wouldn’t be here. Of course Connor is probably going to stop talking about his feelings the moment the first bomb dropped on Judgment Day.
T:S imagines a never-ending conflict through time and space in which an coldly calculating machine attempts to wipe out an insurgency by. . . sending back it’s toughest operators before the war even starts to kill the potentially toughest people before they are tough. More on the flaws in that plan later.
But first Skynet's worst plan is Marcus Wright, a character who is apparently supposed to be the ultimate sleeper agent, built at some point in the past and unleashed on an unsuspecting world in 2018, eleven years before a Terminator is first sent back to kill Sarah Connor. Apparently, Wright was cyborgified sometime in the past and kept on ice somewhere until he was necessary. At the end of the film, Marcus gives up his heart so that John Connor may live, probably because of the messiah-like fervor that now surrounds a man who has not only become the voice of the resistance, but is now (thanks to Skynet’s above average immediate strategic response) probably one of the most senior leaders of the American resistance.
As Reese said in the first film, sending a terminator back in time was an act of “desperation,” if computers can be said to be desperate. Making a half-man half machine from a pre-existing person seems not only desperate but exceedingly foolish. Even if you do successfully make the Six-Million Dollar Sleeper Agent, it’s an even bigger gamble than time traveling robot assassins with human skin. After all that, Skynet once again found a way to make Connor even harder to kill as Wright insists on giving up his heart.
Skynet, as an opposing force, has some other major flaws. First of all, when it sends a Terminator back in time, it runs a very, very high risk of giving up a ton of intelligence about it’s capabilities not just to the enemy, but to an enemy that does not yet know it’s an enemy, losing the element of surprise. Would you declare a war nearly thirty years before you even attack? Another problem with this sort of retroactive assault technique is that anyone who survives it is completely prepared for coming war, so essentially Skynet has potentially set its own self up for failure each time one of these Terminators goes back in time.
This is a supposedly self-aware super computer; at what point does it realize that trying to kill John Connor, something it has been doing for about a decade or so since it caused Judgment Day, is a wasted effort, as John Connor has been preparing and training for nearly 30 years to, at the very least, not be killed. Each time Skynet would send a Terminator back, John Connor would defeat it, and perhaps even gather intelligence on it and train just a little bit harder for the next threat.
Finally, does Skynet know anything about guerrilla warfare? It caused a world wide nuclear catastrophe, which while trimming the numbers of humanity significantly also has the side effect of only leaving the resilient, the tough and absurdly lucky behind. Skynet has pretty much ensured, having apparently never read Sun-Tzu (“Throw your troops into situations where there is no escape, where they will die before surrendering,”), not only that the enemy is harder than coffin nails, but will fight to the death.
While it’s never mentioned precisely how many humans are left after Judgment Day, if Skynet could just be a little bit more patient, it could have used population bottlenecking if the numbers were low enough. The lack of wide spread health care support could also spread common diseases, like wildfire.
However, the humans had enough man-power to provide close air support with A-1o Warthog aircraft, which suggests many of the survivors are not only hearty they are also military and fairly abundant.
Let’s say the population decimation is even world wide, for the sake of argument. Skynet is based in the United States; and it’s forces, while never tiring, are probably spread thin just dealing with the American insurgents. It may have just crossed the ocean at the time of the film, and probably isn’t doing very well, since it doesn’t matter how super a computer you are, in the mountains of Afghanistan you are just another empire making life difficult for some of the toughest farmers the world has even known.
Finally Skynet was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, which apparently designed it's trillion dollar war fighting computer to fight the villains of the 1940's, so essentially short-sightedness and poor design and planning will probably be the salvation of Humanity.