Terminator Salvation – Review

Terminator Salvation   ReviewStarring:  Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, and Anton Yelchin

Run Time:  2 hr 10 mins.

Plot Synopsis:  In the highly anticipated new installment of “The Terminator” film franchise, set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Christian Bale stars as John Connor, the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind. 
 

I’ve always been a huge fan of the first two Terminator films.  I think they still stand tall as superior examples of sci-fi/action/thriller/dramas, and are still head and shoulders above similar films made today with superior film making technology.  James Cameron really cemented his spot on the brilliant director hall of fame with them.  I also found myself enjoying T3, though to a lesser extent than I did the first two films.  If you were to tell me that you were not a fan of the first two films, I’d call you a liar.  It’s something that I couldn’t possibly wrap my head around, how anyone could watch those films and not enjoy every single second.  I’ve spent many nights, and lazy Sunday afternoons just dreaming about the future war that was hinted at in the original trilogy.  Those short scenes, flash-forwards into the years after Skynet became self-aware, those all too brief glimpses into the future of humanity…  It was just too much awesomeness for my young mind to handle.  As I grew, up until the release of T3, I found myself wondering why no one had made another Terminator film.  In my mind, the next logical step was a film about the future war.  Oh the possibilities!  T3 came out, and while I was disappointed it didn’t feature the future war more prominently, I understood and appreciated it.  I knew that sooner or later, we’d get to see the future war on the big screen, and it’d be EXACTLY how I imagined it.

Flash forward to May 20th, 2009.  I am about to watch the film I spent countless hours dreaming about.  I set the bar impossibly high in my youth, and I realized this going in to the theater.  My goal was to watch Terminator Salvation un-objectively, and review the film based solely on what it was, not what I wanted it to be.  Familiar music rolls… and I am ready for the future war.  But this was not the future war T1 and T2 told us about…

This is proving to be the hardest review I’ve ever had to write.  To temper my rampant fanboy-ism and lofty expectations with a sense of realism, it’s been quite hard.  McG has been a target of my anti-T4 rants lately, and I’ll be the first to admit that.  Still, I went in to see the film expecting the worst, yet still hoping for the best.  What I found was very surprising.  I’ll admit right here, right now, that McG surprised me with T4.  He proved to me that he is not completely incapable of directing a big budget action flick.  There were times in the film where I was enthralled, shocked and amazed.  There were some amazing action sequences, most of which left me starring in awe at the screen.  However, for every brilliant action sequence there were three horrible cliches.  While McG proved capable of directing action sequences in short bursts, he proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he needs far more experience before he will be able to handle the directing duties on a film like T4.  Hopefully, the studio will recognize this and relieve him of his directorial duties, and replace him with someone more experienced.  Terminator Salvation was a film with loads of potential that went completely unrealized.  A more experienced action director would’ve done wonders with McG’sconcept of the future war.  I’ll credit him a brilliant vision, but fault him with poor, poor execution.  I’d recommend checking out T4 at some point in time, but I’d have a hard time justifying the $10 ticket cost on a movie that will leave you yawning, mind wandering, and wanting more.

**Major Spoilers Ahead**

For those of you wanting a little more explanation of why T4 was a failure, or why you shouldn’t watch it, you’ll need to be willing to read spoiler-ish material.  If you plan on going to the theater to check this movie out, you may want to skip the rest of this review.  Still with me?  Let’s go…

I have to give credit where credit is due.  McG had a great vision for what the future war should look like, what it should feel like, what it should be like.  The atmosphere was great.  It felt like a WWII film set in some sort of apocalyptic future, not what was described in the first two Terminator films, but still very cool.  It was believable.  The film had more than it’s fair share of darkness, as would be necessary in telling a story about an apocalyptic future.  Overall, the vibe was great.  The acting was, as most would assume, was solid.  Christian Bale was Christian Bale.  He turned in another rock solid performance as expected.  Sam Worthington seemed to come out of nowhere, at least for me, and was just as impressive in this film as Bale was.  The two had few scenes together, but the few they did share were electric.  I get the feeling that we are only now beginning to see what will be a long string of great performances by Worthington.  He is definitely a rising star to keep an eye on.  The rest of the cast, for the most part, were average; not a detriment to the film but not anything special. 

Some of the best parts of the film were the scenes with the T-600’s and T-800’s.  Pardon my French, but screw the rest of McG’s stupid Terminators.  The only models that were even slightly interesting to me were the 600 and 800’s.  Not only did they look great, but they were scary and bad ass.  The early battle between Marcus/Kyle Reese and the T-600, and the final showdown between John/Marcus and the T-800 featuring a very fake looking Arnold CGI face, they were intense.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that in terms of cool factor, the final showdown in this film is better than the conclusion of any of the previous 3 films.  McG’s T-800 was intimidating, intense, and immensely powerful.  It was a lot of fun to watch.  Unfortunately, McG tried too hard to be “creative” and he just ended up ruining his movie by over-saturating the film with flashy new Terminators that were not even close to being as cool as the basic 600’s and 800’s that were already shown or hinted at.  Far and away my favorite sequences from the film, and the only ones that kept my interest entirely, were the ones featuring the tried and true model Terminators.  I hope that if McG does move forward with another Terminator film, he learns a lesson and decides that the most effective way to recapture the magic of the first films is not to overwhelm the senses with flashy F/X and new Terminators, but with the same ones that captivated audiences over the course of nearly two decades, spanning across three films.

Now, on to the negative critiques…  I loved Anton Yelchin in Charlie Bartlett, but he was horribly miscast as Kyle Reese.  I wasn’t expecting to see someone who looked like Michael Biehn, but the actor who was cast as John’s father should be able to channel the original character in some way, and also believably be a guy who could grow into a bad-ass Human resistance soldier that John had enough faith in to send back in time and protect his mother.  I could see that Yelchin was trying, but he came across as just a whinypre-pubescent who had plenty of attitude, but lacked a sense of strength.  I just don’t buy him growing up to be a tough resistance fighter. 

Finally, and most importantly, I found Terminator Salvation to be nothing more than a generic action film riddled withcliche’s and “I can’t believe I just saw that” moments.  The dialogue was terrible.  It felt forced and rushed.  At times, all I could do is just roll my eyes and sigh.  Now, I wouldn’t have a problem with that if the film was acknowledging that it was full of lame dialogue and cheesymoments, but the film was trying desperately to be serious, and the cliches came across far worse than they should have been.  Classic Terminator lines, like “I’ll be back” or “Come with me if you want to live” were nothing more than played out moments that were more “ugh” than “oohh, cool!”  I was, and still am, very frustrated that a professional screenwriter tasked with relaunching the Terminator franchise in the form of a new trilogy, could possibly write such garbage.  More over, I’m shocked that Christian Bale, a man known for his fine film choices, would be willing to be a part of that.  He has enough star power to get parts of that film changed if he really wanted.  I have to believe it was something in his contract, preventing him from “flexing his muscle” so to speak.  Perhaps that’s why he went nuts on the poor sound guy?  It’s all starting to make sense.

I guess if I had to sum up the film in one line, I’d say that “Terminator Salvationwas a film loaded withpotential for greatness, but one that ultimately failed to grow to anything other than cool action sequences with sporadic cheesy dialogue.”  I was wrong about McG, and I’m man enough to admit that.  But I was not too far from what he showed himself to be.  He is capable of working in the action genre, but he fails to sustain quality action and falls flat on his face when attempting to capitalize on the inherentdrama of the story.  T4 was supposed to be a war movie set in the future, showcasing the struggle between man and machine, for the fate of humanity.  It’s supposed to be a tragedy at it’s core.  All of this, not from my mouth, but from McG himself.  This movie was amazing in small, sporadic doses, but I can’t help but leave the theater disappointed.  If the future of the Terminator franchise lies in McG’shands, it stands no chance to succeed.  Just like a resistance fighter withtwo broken legs trying to escape an encounter witha T-800 with his life, it would be crushed under a heavy metal foot.  My childhood dreams may have been unrealistic, but I still deserve to demand a proper future war film, just like all of you do.  Thanks McG.  Thanks for nothing.

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Comments

  1. says

    What made T2 so great was the character devlopment and functional story that did not centre or focus on the graphics (which at the time were cutting edge, and paved the road for much of the graphics and CG we have in film today). I loved T2 and T1 to a lesser extent and thorughly enjoyed T3 (lamblast me if you wish).

    I honestly did not expect too much from T4 with McG at the helm. If the WB wanted to revive this franchise and make some solid green, first approach the man behind it all James Cameron, and when he turns you down (which would have certainly happened), you look for someone with credibilty and the ability to take an action film and have be charater driven, Ridley Scott, Zack Snyder, Peter Jackson, Del Toro are a few directors with such credientails that come to mind. You don’t go with someone who started out making music videos and shitty Charlies Angels films to his credit. The WB really missed the mark on that, in my opinion.

    However, I am not saying I will not see T4, because I will, i will just take my time doing so.

    Great review Jon, as always!

  2. says

    I will be watching T4 tomorrow, hopefully.

    I am not quite a terminator fan boy, but there were things that just bugged me about the whole idea behind the film, especially the lack of arnold. You may have mentioned this in your review but I had to refrain from reading until I see the film.

  3. 790 says

    Overall the film was entertaining to a degree, if you have never seen a Terminator film before you will prob dig it. But for die hards, well we get a visual taste of what could have been a great epic story but came out retarded in the end. I know “Terminator Salvation” is a science fiction movie but it seems to be stuck in comic book age level writing mode. The film also has a ton of dynamic (that’s bs) moments. Some are explained in the fact that Cyberdyne wasn’t destroyed as it seemed to be at the end of T2. I liked that but if Skynet is that smart why would it enable its (Marcus) unit to override its systems so easily and Skynet had 0 HK defenses around its supposed mainframe. You would think the CPU of Skynet would have some flying protection,,, maybe?
    ^
    Then there’s the humans living above ground with almost unlimited supplies, protected by land mines and bob-wire? Cars with tires and batteries that haven’t really aged in 18 years. Harvesters with poor motor skills, moto-terminators that are more than happy to give you first shot. Skynet security is taken out MacGruber style. There was a scene where Connor jump starts Marcus that was just hilarious. Wrap all this up (and there’s more) with some really cheesy comic book writing and this is mcg’s Terminator Salvation……. Eat it !!!!!! Lol…
    ^
    On the creative side, (SARCASM) the opening titles were a total lift of Terminator 1, and the final act inside Skynet minus the (Arnold) cameo was almost shot for shot the final act in T2. One of the scenes of Arnold I swear was lifted from T2 or possibly T3. (But It looked fracken great and that was the highlight of the entire film.) Then it turned into a total recreation of the battle in the steel mill of T2, It looked great but it was comical. I won’t even go into the heart transplant. Like I said, “comic book writing.”
    ^
    The acting by Bale was Bale, nothing new to report. Worthing and Yetchin did great jobs. The rest were forgettable except Kate, but only because she looked like she had just left the Macys make up counter. (Come on its 2018) I did love the “Stay the course and we will die!!!!” line, if the film had a great line that was it. The “All be back’s and “come with me if you want to live” are baked guy’s, done!!! The T-800’s looked totally awesome!! Did I mention Worthington was awesome,,,,, kinda cool how Connor got his scar from T2,,,
    yeah I’ll get the dvd, I hope it has some cool bonus features/deleted scenes but overall the film could have been so much better…
    ^

  4. Jon Stephens says

    Stan – **Spoiler Warning** Arnold was in the film, in the end. I was disappointed that when John encountered the Arnold terminator trying to kill him, he didn’t even flinch, like he didn’t recognize the face that was such a huge part of his childhood.

    It’s just like 790 said, and what I tried to say: Weak writing was the downfall of this film. Solid concept and the vision was good, but it failed in exectution and would’ve been infinitely better with a solid writer and director. There were just too many weak moments that were clearly just thrown in as a chance to show something that looked cool but made zero sense. The car chases were cool, sure, but are we really expected to believe that cars are still in that condition after the bombs dropped, not to mention years and years of wear and lack of use. Cars degrade over time.

    If you can look past the glaring holes and lack of common sense, and like 790 said, if you’ve never seen a Terminator film before, you’ll enjoy it. I was just immensely disappointed

  5. 3B says

    I’m a fan of the Terminator films. Not quite as hardcore as the rest of you fellows but a fan all the same. I thoroughly enjoyed T4. I thought the action sequences (and there were plenty to go around) were very well done, and while the acting wasn’t oscar worthy, it was belevable. If you want to nitpick about the cars still running, what about all the nukes that were detonated on Judgement Day? Shouldn’t they have converted every piece of electrical equipment on Earth into paperweights? Where do they get electricity? Surely the machines have strategicaly destroyed any power plants. Generators you say? I suppose they use the same 15 year old gasoline for the generators that they use in their vehicles. And why do these ultra-advanced robots miss their targets far more often than they hit? You’d think they would have some sort of competent targeting system. I mean, even with their “I’m gonna shoot thata way over there” attitude, their odds of a kill are pretty good with a mini gun that fires 500 rounds per second right? I’ll tell you why all of this is possible. Because it’s a movie, and it would take a damn good writer to come up with a “realistic” movie about machines that are hellbent on wiping out the human race. You could go on and on pointing out things that can’t really happen, and you know what you would be left with? Previews and end credits. I’m not trying to step on any toes or anything. I know I’m not as fluent in film speak as most. I’m just giving the laymans point of view. My only qualm with T4 was that Arnold got too much screen time. I think it would have been cooler if when John and Kyle were in the Terminator assembly area, they should have showed an Arnold face being installed on one of them. Just for a second and maybe even just in the background. That would have been cool.

  6. Jon Stephens says

    Sounds good to me 3B. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before about this film, along with many others:

    Being a fanboy can be a hard cross to bear. It’s a curse sometimes, because rampant fanboy-ism can completely ruin many movies I might have otherwise enjoyed.

    All those “holes” you pointed out 3B were fine examples, I merely didn’t list them because I didn’t want to write a massive post listing ALL of my complaints with the film. I agree with what you said about them. Too many wholes. I get that it’s a movie, and that was my point about taking itself too seriously – If you’re gonna do stuff because its a movie and that is the ONLY explaination, then don’t try to be too serious or too realistic. Terminator tried to hard to be serious and “realistic” when it had no business doing so. Had it embraced that over the top ridiculousness and even made the occasional *wink wink* to it, then I wouldn’t have had the problem with it that I had. I believe there were ways to explain away some things, certainly enough to add elements to this movie that’d make it longer and more interesting. Set atomic bombs off and not everything will be completely destroyed, just ground zero. After that, you have a radiating effect. Farther from ground zero the better the condition and likelyhood that life survived. Bombs weren’t going to cover every inch of the world. Hell, they didn’t even have to detonate atomic bombs to do all the destruction. It could be a mix of atomic and otherwise, causing equivalent destruction to what we’ve seen while also explaining the existence of certain things.

    The existence of Skynet and it’s survival and ability to thrive after the attack were because the system was strategically located and set itself up so that it could survive after the bombs went off, making preparations by sending terminators back in time similar to what we saw in T: SCC.

    All I’m really saying is that there are ways, and that’s why I didn’t like it. But I never said it was pure garbage. It flashed brilliance, and I was just disappointed it wasn’t any better. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m certain there were a lot of people who did. Just like with Wolverine, my fanboy-ism helped ruin the movie for me.

  7. 3B says

    Since I’ve started frequenting Movieguys.org I have always admired and respected your knowledge of film John. I wish I knew half as much about the movie industry as you do, but I can deffinately see your point about fanboy-ism. I suppose I should be somewhat grateful of my mild ignorance. I can see how a film I would consider spectacular might not rate as high for you. But in the same aspect, I might not be able to fully appreciate a movie you give top marks. Six of one half a dozen of the other I suppose. In any case, keep up the good work John. You are an excelent writer in my book.

  8. Jon Stephens says

    Thanks 3B. It’s definitely a two way street. You’re right about that.

    Still, sometimes I wish I could go to a movie and just enjoy it for what it is. Blessing and a curse I guess

  9. says

    I’m a fan of the first 2… but nowhere near your level!

    A friend took me to the cinema to see T2 before I had ever seen T1. You can imagine my confusion as to why Sarah was running away from the man trying to help her!

    To your post…
    It’s a passionate review which you can feel is written from a fans point of view. Parts make me want to see it, and others make me want to wait and watch it on DVD.

    I chose not to read the spoiler part as I still want to see this film – I’m especially interested in watching Christian Bale in this roll.

    *****

    P.S Wadrick gave a shout-out for the Movie Guys over on the GritFX blog. Check it out if you’ve got time :)

  10. Jon Stephens says

    Thanks Manz!

    I’d definitely recommend you check it out and see for yourself. I’ve always thought that if someone wanted to see a film, they should see it no matter what reviewers thought. As to Christian Bale – he was Christian Bale. The guy is simply an amazing actor.

    Things have been so hectic for me lately. Thanks for the heads up on the shout out! I’m headed there now!

  11. 3B says

    I'm a fan of the Terminator films. Not quite as hardcore as the rest of you fellows but a fan all the same. I thoroughly enjoyed T4. I thought the action sequences (and there were plenty to go around) were very well done, and while the acting wasn't oscar worthy, it was belevable. If you want to nitpick about the cars still running, what about all the nukes that were detonated on Judgement Day? Shouldn't they have converted every piece of electrical equipment on Earth into paperweights? Where do they get electricity? Surely the machines have strategicaly destroyed any power plants. Generators you say? I suppose they use the same 15 year old gasoline for the generators that they use in their vehicles. And why do these ultra-advanced robots miss their targets far more often than they hit? You'd think they would have some sort of competent targeting system. I mean, even with their “I'm gonna shoot thata way over there” attitude, their odds of a kill are pretty good with a mini gun that fires 500 rounds per second right? I'll tell you why all of this is possible. Because it's a movie, and it would take a damn good writer to come up with a “realistic” movie about machines that are hellbent on wiping out the human race. You could go on and on pointing out things that can't really happen, and you know what you would be left with? Previews and end credits. I'm not trying to step on any toes or anything. I know I'm not as fluent in film speak as most. I'm just giving the laymans point of view. My only qualm with T4 was that Arnold got too much screen time. I think it would have been cooler if when John and Kyle were in the Terminator assembly area, they should have showed an Arnold face being installed on one of them. Just for a second and maybe even just in the background. That would have been cool.

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