Short version: Terminator Salvation is great for the don’t-expect-much-except-action-out-of-a-summer-movie crowd, not so great if you’re looking for a worthy successor to the first two films.

Screen Rant reviews Terminator Salvation

For the record, I am not a McG hater, nor am I holding Christian Bale’s set meltdown against him. I realize that McG will be forever haunted by the fact he directed Charlies Angels – but I had really high hopes for Terminator Salvation… I wanted it to be great.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Why did I think that this long awaited addition to the Terminator movie franchise had even a snowball’s chance of being awesome? Because I had the sense that McG wanted to prove he could do it. While many people think that his film We Are Marshall isn’t all that great, I really enjoyed it and it demonstrated to me that he could actually do a film with characters you could care about.

But sadly, that’s exactly what’s missing from Terminator Salvation.

The film opens in 2003 with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) in a prison cell on death row, hours before his execution. He’s visited by a scientist who has cancer (Helena Bonham Carter) and wants him to donate his body to science. She seems desperate to get him to sign, and he’s not very cordial to her despite her situation and his.

The first problems in the film surface right at the start – why is she so desperate for him in particular to donate his body? Don’t scores of people have organ donation cards in their wallets? And then there’s his mysterious background – he’s responsible for the death of his brother and two police officers… neither of these is ever explained in the film (nor in the prequel novel for that matter, which I did read).

From there the film jumps to some serious actiony goodness in 2018. I won’t give anything away other than to say we get to see Christian Bale as John Connor almost immediately and he’s involved on a mission that does not end up going very well. At all. Very satisfying first look at the future including some fantastic action and cool visuals/camera angles.

The upshot is that the resistance (not led at this point by Connor) has found a way to defeat Skynet. Connor volunteers to test it on a small scale before the big move against Skynet central. However that plot line becomes secondary to the story of Marcus Wright and his involvement with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). For the non-fans out there, Reese is the man who was sent back in time to save Sarah Connor and is the father of John Connor. At the point this film takes place that hasn’t happened yet (does your head hurt yet?).

Marcus doesn’t seem to have aged at all although 15 years have passed, and there is a mystery surrounding him. He runs into Kyle and the young girl he’s taken under his protection and very grudgingly goes along with them since he doesn’t really know what’s going on – and Reese did keep him from being killed by a T-600 (that’s the bigger and bulkier predecessor to the T-800, aka the Schwarzenegger Terminator).

The film eventually brings together Wright and Connor via resistance pilot Blair (Moon Bloodgood). There’s an issue of trust and conflict between the two that becomes the major issue in the film.

(continue for the verdict…)

A scary looking T-600 from Terminator Salvation

So what was good?

The action scenes are impressive – I especially liked the fact that (as far as I could tell) a fair amount of physical models and props were used in the film. Of course there was certainly a good amount of CGI, but overall I found it well done – not like the apparently under-rendered effects in Wolverine. I also loved the look of the film… washed out tones and a true sense of a world in which the joy has been removed.

And what about the variety of Terminators? Personally I liked them. It made sense to me to have a variety of different robots for different tasks… and actually in view of that, the Terminator model that made the LEAST sense in the film was the T-600. It was too big to be mistaken for a person, had rubber skin, and most of the ones we saw didn’t even have much of that. I suppose you could say that Skynet was “practicing” until it got it right with the T-800… In any case they WERE intimidating and it was great to see them functioning in their own element, out in the open.

I thought Sam Worthington was one of the best things in the film, but even with him there were problems (which I’ll get to shortly). There was one other thing that was great but I don’t want to give away anything else.

Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood in Terminator Salvation

What wasn’t so good?

This movie just didn’t have any soul. Beyond Worthington’s character, I didn’t connect with, or really give a damn about anyone in this movie – especially John Connor. I have no doubt that Christian Bale is a good actor, but he seems to be stuck in permanent Batman-mode. Even when he’s supposed to be showing emotion he seems cold and distant, and that Batman rasp in his voice seems to be lingering. I might even venture as far as to say that he was miscast in the role.

Think back to Terminator 2 where they did the brief flash-forward showing Connor on the battlefield in the future (that was Michael Edwards, if you’re wondering) – sure he looked tough and battle-scarred, but for the brief moment we saw him he seemed… thoughtful. Like kind of a brainy guy who had been thrust into the position and had lived with it for a while. Bale just comes across as a badass and he just didn’t work for me.

Christian Bale as John Connor

Then there’s Marcus Wright. He’s the character you’ll most likely actually end up caring about, but he’s also the character that feels shoehorned into the mythos and that doesn’t belong in the film at all. We never get a clear explanation of his background or the details surrounding how his mystery came to be in respect to the existing Cyberdyne/Skynet technology.

What about Anton Yelchin as Reese? He did a decent enough job and I was surprised at how I was able to buy him as a teenage Kyle. However here I think the problem lay in the script – there just wasn’t enough there for us to get to know him or connect with him. As a matter of fact through the entire film it seems like all we get are brief sentences of dialog from most everyone. There was also Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor, John’s wife… she served as no more than window dressing, and seemed to be in the film for no other reason than to demonstrate the continuity established in Terminator 3.

Oh, and she’s pregnant. It’s obvious visually but it’s not even really addressed or acknowledged in the film. Try a “how do we raise a child in a world like this” or something. If you’re not going to say something significant about it, why bother to have her pregnant at all?

If you know how I feel about Transformers, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of mashing together juvenile humor and serious action, but in the previous films they managed to fit in a bit of appropriate humor here and there. It’s missing from this film completely – just serious and depressing all the way through.

Rapper “Common” was barely in the film long enough to register any sort of note regarding his performance, but at least we got a little something out of Moon Bloodgood.

Finally, the film doesn’t really resolve anything by the end. Sure, I understand keeping things open for sequels (which frankly, I hope at the very least will have different writers), but at the end of the movie I was left thinking “so what was the point?”

So if you go in just looking for your typical summer blockbuster action flick you’ll probably enjoy it – but if you’re looking for a film that lives up to the first two, I think you’re going to be disappointed by Terminator Salvation.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5