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.