I was more excited to see Terminator: Salvation than I was for any other movie this summer. I’m a gigantic fan of the first two movies (let’s just forget about that third one), I loved the show, and I even collected the 90s comics from Dark Horse. When I read McG was directing Terminator Salvation, I was worried, but the guy seemed to “get” the Terminator mythology and said all the right things during interviews.
McG seemed more concerned with exploring the themes presented by the first two movies; he wanted his film to have depth and his characters to have gravity. Unfortunately, it was all lip service and my initial impression was correct. While not a total disaster, Terminator Salvation is incredibly disappointing and a sure sign that the glory days of this franchise have been left in the past. Spoilers ahead.
First, let’s get the good stuff out of the way. It shouldn’t take too long, because frankly, there’s isn’t too much of it. Sam Worthington is excellent as Marcus Wright, a man sentenced to death who signs away his body to Cyberdyne just prior to his execution. I’ll be looking forward to watching him in Avatar. McG – to his credit- does know how to shoot an action scene, and some of the early sequences are breathtaking. The war between humans and Skynet feels like an actual war, with troops from both sides waging battle on land, in the water, and in the air. There’s even some cool dogfights in the skies. Finally, McG presents the concept of Connor as a messianic figure, with his followers making up The Resistance, and his doubters making up, well, everyone else. Sadly, this is merely glossed over, as is the eternal question “What does it mean to be human?” and all we’re left with is a disjointed, disappointing film that poses questions without even attempting to answer them.
The great thing about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is that it felt like it was a part of Cameron’s Terminator universe. The writers “got” Terminator and wrote creative, compelling stories that fit nicely in the already-established larger context. Terminator Salvation, conversely, feels more like fan fiction. Much of the plot involves Connor and The Resistance attempting to breach Skynet and rescue Kyle Reese (more on him in a bit), ensuring Connor’s and humanity’s existence. In a movie about Connor’s rise to power, leadership, and the survival of mankind, is a Back to the Future type of story really the best one we can tell? Early in the film, Connor discovers plans to build a T-800, and I thought that perhaps the story would center on his attempt to stop this advanced, particularly lethal model of Terminator. It was merely a cute wink at the audience – and there were too many of these, many of which elicited groans – and the actual plot was little more than a generic breach-and-rescue. The story isn’t completely awful, but its execution is, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of McG.
Bale went with the Batman voice for this film, and at times, John Connor seems more like a parody of Bale than the savior of humanity. Anton Yelchin is a fine actor, but was horribly miscast as Kyle Reese. I don’t believe that anyone could have played the role as well as Michael Biehn did, but Yelchin’s Reese felt far too upbeat and idealistic. Like I mentioned above, Sam Worthington was terrific, but unfortunately he didn’t have any chemistry with the rest of the cast. In fact, during some of the more tender scenes between Marcus and Blair (played by Moon Bloodgood), many audience members laughed. I can’t say I really blame them. Egregiously, there was a little kid that followed Reese everywhere. I know I should probably suspend disbelief when I’m watching a movie about machines warring with mankind, but watching a little kid handle weapons and help destroy Terminators (as opposed to crying and sh*tting her pants) makes me cringe. Worst of all, though, was Skynet itself – using the face of Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) on a computer screen – explaining to Marcus its plan to trick and ambush human soldiers. A man twirling his mustache and bwa-ha-ha-ing would have been more appropriate.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s nowhere near the cliffhanger McG claimed it to be. It’s somewhat generic, and if the point was to make audiences pumped for Terminator 5, I imagine it failed miserably. The “fake” ending that was leaked onto the Internet – you know, the one where Connor dies? – would have been much better. At the end of Terminator Salvation, though, not much has changed since the beginning of the film, which is perhaps the movie’s greatest flaw. Sure, Connor is in a higher position of leadership, but his character arc is non-existent. He hasn’t changed as a person, the war between man and machine hasn’t changed much either, and I realized I had experienced a vapid special effects extravaganza masquerading as a Terminator movie. Look, this wasn’t Wolverine bad, but if you’re a fan of the Terminator franchise, that won’t really matter.
Two out of five stars