Eric D. Snider

Terminator Salvation

Movie Review

Terminator Salvation

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C

Released: May 21, 2009

 

Directed by:

Cast:

The climax of "Terminator Salvation" takes place in a factory where Terminator robots are made, and I believe Henry Ford will be glad to know that his assembly-line process still exists in the future. He'll especially like that the human workers have been replaced altogether, so that machines are being made by other machines. This Terminator factory is a marvel of efficiency. The factory that makes "Terminator" movies, on the other hand, seems to have gone haywire. It's cranking out stuff that doesn't even make sense!

The "Terminator" franchise turns a corner with this, the fourth film. While the first three took place in the present and dealt with robot assassins coming from the future to kill various members of the Connor family, "Salvation" is set in 2018, at the beginning of the events that those cyberkillers were so eager to prevent. Without the time-travel element or Arnold Schwarzenegger starring (I guess he's busy now, or something), it hardly feels like a "Terminator" picture at all. It stays faithful to most of the story's mythology, but honestly, who ever cared much about that? Unstoppable killing machines from the future were the main attraction, not minutiae about what year it is when John Connor meets Kyle Reese.

For the record, though, it's 2018. Skynet, a military defense system, became self-aware some years earlier and instigated nuclear war, wiping out much of humanity and bleaching all the color out of the cinematography. Since the apocalypse, Skynet-powered robots and other machines have been trying to kill the remaining humans, while pockets of resistance fighters -- including John Connor (Christian Bale) -- fight back.

Connor wants to find and protect Kyle Reese because he knows from the first "Terminator" that eventually he's going to send Reese back to 1984 to save Connor's mother's life and impregnate her. Reese is John Connor's father, you see. Or, rather, he will be, once Connor sends him back in time. If he doesn't do that, then Connor will never be born, the resistance movement will fail, and the machines will win.

At this moment, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) is a teenager hiding in the bombed-out hellhole that used to be Los Angeles. (The only difference, really, is there's no more smog.) He meets Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a fierce fighter who appears out of nowhere and seems to not know what's been going on the last decade or so. Marcus repairs a long-broken radio just in time to hear a transmission from John Connor, and they head north to find him and his group, accompanied by a mute little girl named Star (single-named Jadagrace), who serves no purpose in the story whatsoever.

The crux of the film is the resistance movement's attempt to destroy Skynet's headquarters in San Francisco. Hidden radio frequencies are involved somehow (I didn't quite get that part), and so is a submarine (see previous parentheses), which John Connor is able to locate simply by leaping from a helicopter into the storm-tossed sea and, I guess, swimming downward until he hits metal. There is also the matter of the mysterious Marcus Wright, and the fondness that resistance fighter Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) has for him, and whether that will turn out well for either of them.

McG, the goofy-named director, has taken a lot of heat for daring to take on this project when his "Charlie's Angels" movies weren't exactly the height of serious filmmaking. But he acquits himself very well, actually, with some killer action sequences, a fast pace, and an appropriate aesthetic for a summer blockbuster. I have no qualms about the direction.

The screenplay is another matter. Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris (the duo behind "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "Catwoman"), it suffers from pedestrian dialogue and a surfeit of bad plot devices ranging from the merely too-convenient (how come the Terminators always throw humans around when they catch them, rather than just ripping their heads off?) to the laugh-out-loud preposterous. In that latter category are major elements that would comprise spoilers if I named them, so you'll have to take my word for it. If you see the film, you'll know the parts I mean, because you'll be laughing out loud at them.

Ultimately, it's a gloomy, lifeless story in which, despite the abundant talent on hand, no one ever emerges as a memorable character. Except for the action scenes, it's a waste of a franchise. The film wants us to consider the question "What makes us human?" I say the answer is that humans have the ability to separate good stories from bad ones -- which goes back to my original theory about "Terminator Salvation" having been produced by machines.

Grade: C

Rated PG-13, a little profanity, a lot of action violence, nothing terribly graphic

1 hr., 55 min.

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This item has 37 comments

  1. Carrie says:

    Nerds care about the canon, Eric. Nerds care!

    I'm not a nerd, though, so I don't care. I will be forced to see this movie, and I will be sure to laugh out loud as I did with amnesia bullets.

  2. Kris says:

    McG is a Mcjoke, and the people who think hiring an MTV style director appeals to the ADD generation, need to throw themselves off a bridge.

    The storyline and script are so rediculously terrible the only thing its missing is a Terminator looking at the screen and telling you straight up "What difference does any of this make, you were gonna pay to see me the second the title started with Terminator"

    Id hide my real name to if I made something as rediculous as this. McG assumes were all from the Mcgeneration where some fancy explosions will makes us forget if you stab a human thru the heart with an iron rod he will DIE.

  3. Hellbinder says:

    Dude that is one of the "laugh out loud" funniest comments i have read in a while..

    "swims down till he hits metal" Oh man just typing that broke me into tears again...

    Classic.

  4. dale says:

    I just hope the terminators aren't as silly as the borg in Star Trek. You know... "duh... I'll walk just slow enough so that you can escape.. duh..."

  5. matt says:

    When long-standing R-rated series' drop down to PG-13, they seem to go to crap. Am I wrong in this?

    Examples!

  6. Jacob says:

    What, Matt, you didn't like "Live Free or Die Hard"?

  7. JERMS says:

    You didn't like Robocop 3? Or Alien vs. Predator? Or Police Academy 2? Or Caddyshack 2?

    That's right, kids. They made a Caddyshack 2, with Jackie Mason as Rodney Dangerfield, Robert Stack as Ted Knight, and Dan Aykroyd as Bill Murray. And it skipped PG-13 and went right to PG.

  8. Eric D. Snider says:

    Correlation does not equal causation. It could be that these franchises turn to crap not because they go PG-13, but because they're at their fourth or fifth chapters, which is when pretty much everything turns lousy. Or because they were terrible ideas to begin with. (Let's be honest, the later "Police Academy" films weren't going to be funny regardless of what they were rated.)

  9. Warner Brown says:

    I'm seeing this tomorrow..now if Paul Haggis & Jonah Nolan couldn't save the script by those two morons who did Catwoman, I maybe disappointed. But who can you blame in the end, them, or the producers calling the shots? Maybe they should all be fired and replaced for the next sequel

  10. Turkey says:

    It didn't surprise me back when I heard they were coming out with a new one of these. If filmmakers can make a buck somehow, they will. But I was surprised that Christian Bale jumped at this. What? Why? He has usually been known for picking pretty good stuff, Disney films aside. This just looked too low-brow for him to take on, especially at this point in his career. What what he thinking?

  11. Ray says:

    Turkey, you obviously haven't seen Equilibrium.

  12. Matt says:

    Crap! I was hopping that this would be good for 2 reasons. I like good movies, and I've really enjoyed the now canceled tv series. I was hoping if this turned into a blockbuster (which I guess it still might) some station would renew it. It seems like it would fit well on the WB, with that superman show I've never watched...is that still on?

  13. Kaydria says:

    Holy crap, Helena Bonham Carter is in this movie?! I must watch it!

  14. Turkey says:

    Ray, I liked Equilibrium. I own it. I can always go for a good dystopic story (well, close to it in that case anyway). At least there was a human element to that with the main character. But this....

  15. Matt says:

    Yeah, the point I wanted to make isn't that you can't make an exciting PG or PG-13 movie. It's that the drop in rating often seems like a desperate attempt to hedge your bets on a movie you're not confident in by opening it up to a larger audience.

    It's sad, though. This could have been a Batman Begins or Casino Royale- style reboot to a flagging series. Kin I a shame.

  16. Matt says:

    "What a shame." Stupid ipod touch.

  17. Matt says:

    @matt

    Hey now, I went with the capital letter M so as to distinguish myself from you. If you are taking over the capital Matt name, I'm gonna have to come up with something better.

  18. Paul says:

    I want to find a way to go back in time and stop myself from seeing this horrific film earlier today....

    This summer, save "Star Trek" is looking quite awful....Transformers 2...holy crap does that look awful.

  19. Jacob M says:

    Turkey, Bale got in this one so he could play a second JC character. The first one was in "May, Mother of Jesus"!

  20. Ian Cook says:

    Crap!
    I was expecting a better review.
    Truth be told, I have always been more interested in the Terminator mythology than the Terminator movies. The second two Terminator movies were basically different versions of the first one, only the first one was interesting.

    I still think i'll like this movie.

  21. Cameron says:

    You know, Eric's points are valid, but I think his rating was too harsh. There was nothing -- save a few odd bits of dialogue -- that took me out of the movie and made me think about the writing/directing/acting instead of just enjoying the experience. The only thing I really remember thinking was exactly what Eric already mentioned "Why do these robots keep throwing people? The T-800 walks up to a minigun-wielding T-600 and RIPS IT IN HALF without stopping, so why does it keep punching Christian Bale and co.?" Other than that, it was exactly what I expected it to be, and I was entertained throughout the entire movie. Sure, it wasn't an "A" movie, it wasn't even as good as Star Trek, but I think "C" was too harsh. I'd say it's a solid B-, or whichever rating Eric has that means "Don't go out of your way to see it, but if you're at the theater and it's playing in five minutes and you've already seen everything else once or twice, it's not a total waste of money" or whatever.

    My biggest problem with it was one of the main revelations in the movie (concerning Marcus Wright) is given away in the trailers. It actually ruined a bit of the experience for me. And the scene leading up to it made it seem like that point was exactly when the director wanted everyone to find this out. But, of course, anyone who has seen any of the trailers over the last year already knows, and so it builds up to...nothing. I've noticed that for the last ten years or so, trailers are containing way too much content of the movie. They, themselves, are mini stories, complete with plot, character development, conflict, climax and resolution. I don't even need to see the movie in some cases. I would love it if whoever's cutting these together only used footage from the first 30-45 minutes of the film, and left the rest alone. I don't know. Long story short, this movie really wasn't that bad. Better than that inhumanly-awful "Wolverine."

  22. Turkey says:

    "Don't go out of your way to see it, but if you're at the theater and it's playing in five minutes and you've already seen everything else once or twice, it's not a total waste of money." I always thought that's what Eric's C grades meant.

    Harsh, Jacob. :) But probably totally true.

  23. Fritz Stephey says:

    I mostly agree with what Cameron said, especially on the Marcus Wright giveaway in the trailer. That could have been a great twist...I think Eric got a little harsh on it (...than again, I'm a huge Terminator fan...and don't deny my bias towards it). Point is...Eric gave T3 (which was just a crappy re-write of T2, with a hot chick replacing Robert Patrick...)a B...and I thought this was miles better than T3. Most of the other people I know who caved in and saw it, liked it as well.

  24. dimka says:

    After all it turned out to be a good show. Worth every penny i spent in the theater. This review is a joke. Critics are worthless jockeys making name on other people work..

  25. ColeTrain says:

    I completely agree with Cameron and Frit. This was a decent movie. A little bit of strange dialogue, some of the action being a tad off (the whole bit of terminators throwing and punching,) and the way too reveling trailer brought this movie down. As far as the franchise goes this is tons better that T3.

    This is a classic no brainer popcorn movie, nothing more, nothing less.

    As far as the from R to PG-13 thing goes this is the best title that has done that. AvsP was complete garbage even the unrated, The Chronicles of Riddick was crap, Caddy Shack 2 = pure rubbish, and Robocop 3 was worthless. This movie and Live Free of Die Hard are the best movies to make the change.

  26. Jared says:

    Re: #2

    Just for the record, I resent the negativity displayed towards those of us with ADD. Just because we have it doesn't mean we can't recognize a good movie. It's simply a matter of taste.

  27. Matt with a capital M says:

    !Semi-SPOILER!

    @ Jacob, Fritz, dinka, and Cole. I completely agree with Eric's grade, and initially would have given it a C-. I don't think any movie where a woman snuggles up to an almost complete stranger moments after being assaulted, telling him she just want "body heat," deserves anything higher than a C. The dialog was awful, both the content and the delivery. The effects were good, but thats not enough, especially after Darknight, Iron Man, Star Trek, etc. I am a huge terminator fan, but this movie just wasn't very good.

  28. Adrienne says:

    Not sure why everyone bagged on this movie; is the plot a little holey,sure; no Arnold (which didn't really do it for me in T2 or T3) boring, blah blah blah. If you take the movie for what it is, a reboot, revamp, another story, then the movie is good on its own. Certainly better then T3. Don't believe all the rants and the reviews-go see it. I am a huge fan of T1 (I have every DVD that comes out every few years "remastered"} and know the movie verbatum and if I liked T4, it's got to be better then most of the junk movies they have been shoving down our throats all year.

  29. Heather says:

    @Matt with a capital M:

    I totally agree with your "body heat" assessment. I think the reason you instinctively wanted to further downgrade this movie to a C- was because the "body heat" was supposed to come from a machine.

    I have three older brothers who made me watch all the classic dude movies. One of the things I liked about T1 was how strong the female lead was. Sarah Conner was awesome, but in T4 they took her away and gave us two lame women, who are not actually characters as much as they are devices for advancing a really weak plot.

  30. Travis says:

    Eric gave it a C??

    Christian Bale and I are done professionally.

  31. need coffee says:

    Terminator Salvation might have made Christian Bale a lot more money, but it definitely did not help to establish his reputation as a dependably good actor

  32. warren99 says:

    the movie was ok ......action wise,but i was hoping the movie would make logic......i wanted to cry when i saw 50 foot bots grabbing people one by one and dropping them in cages....i think it would appear with reason to have T-600s arrest them at gun point..... an force them in transports of some type....then you had the matriex looking worms in the lakes.....the motorcycle bots on the roads....it just sucked......would of love to seen more hunter killer tanks....and the technics used in applying human organs to terminators....by the way does every T-800 need to look like A.S.....if i wasnt for the cute china girl....i would of walk out

  33. suzanne says:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_17390_5-reasons-terminator-franchise-makes-no-goddamn-sense.html

    I think this Cracked article summarizes the movie perfectly hahha

  34. Cristina says:

    During the whole movie I was wondering, "whats going on?" To me, it just seemed like during half the movie there wasn't any real plot, and I could predict everything that happened. Especially that stupid end scene.

  35. john doe says:

    I enjoyed the movie enough, probably would've given it a C+ or B-. That said, I can't disagree with the complaints. I expected better, but it wasn't bad. Better than T3, IMO.

  36. Fritz Stephey says:

    Having read the official novelization of the movie by Alan Dean Foster (Which is miles better than the movie), I can see where Eric is coming from on the criticisms. The book (along with a series of books spinning off the Terminator Salvation name), actually fills in a lot of holes and questions the movie leaves you with. The books explain why Resistance Headquarters was in a nuclear sub floating somewhere in the ocean, the short-wave broadcast signal that terminators operate on, how Connor could manage to find headquarters, how marcus wright works (and, more importantly...what he's thinking the entire time)...etc.

    The film doesn't capture it as well as the books will, namely "Terminator Salvation" by Alan Dean Foster and a spinoff "Terminator Salvation: Cold War" by Greg Cox. The latter is action packed, and gives major backstory to the Resistance Leaders in the movie.

  37. nintendo dsi r4 says:

    If this movie is any indication, this franchise needs a great deal of work to improve and salvage a series that the studio should have terminated after "Judgment Day.

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