Terminator Salvation Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated September 30th, 2009 at 9:55 am,

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.

salvation Terminator Salvation Review
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…)


t 600 terminator salvation Terminator Salvation Review
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 terminator salvation Terminator Salvation Review
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 terminator salvation Terminator Salvation Review
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

« 1 2View All»

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. @Pachi
    Yeah, this movie is a netflix rental, even though it is entertaining. But Worthington is really what this movie is about, not Bale. I also, respectfully, disagree about the Batman prequels; I thought they were very character driven and less CGI than the other Batman movies.

  2. Spot on Review!!!! u nailed man, this movie was lacking that something.

    I have to come forward and make an affirmation in saying that u need James Cameron to “Get it Right”, i find T2 several orders of magnitudes more interesting than this movie.

    I have to stand behind u and agree that Bale, regardless he being one of the best actors around, was actually a miss-cast for this movie.

    Am sorry but i thing they should had considered casting if not Michael Biehn (rejuvenated via sfx ala Ben Button) for the Kyle Reese character or at least someone who looked like him.

    Also, there was no clear imminent and unstoppable menace throughout the whole movie, i mean, s***, they should had take out the ——– at the beginning of the movie.

  3. It’s seems to be really hard to get a Balanced Review this days. Movies with big expectations all seem to develop a group of people who for nothing else but to slag that film off.
    Finally I saw it last night and, even though, it’s certainly not breaking new grounds I found it perfectly enjoyable. MCG is no gifted director and added nothing to it, a better storyteller would have made a difference. MCG must have friends in high placed to be allowed to work on this after Charlies Angels crap. I would like to give it a 7/10 even though, for the long wait, they should have delivered at least a 9, so it’s not ground breaking like the first, it’s just a decent sequel. Final mention for the terrible terrible Trailer revealing the key plot! Editor should b sacked !

  4. Just one addition to what James says above me about the submarine scene. Yeah that was utter bollocxs but I choose to quickly put it behind me. I can pass one minor flaw, if I am that unforgiving I will never enjoy any movie. As I said, fun but not great.

  5. I could forgive Star Trek for its myriad plot holes – this just had too many significant ones to ignore.

    Much as I like Bale, he didn’t do much for me in this, and in fact I thought Sam Worthington would have made a much more convincing John Connor. Yelchin was better than I expected – one scene towards the end in Skynet where he looked uncannily like a young Michael Biehn, too.

    Danny Elfman’s score was terrible. That “Dah Dum Dum DAdum” theme (for want of a better way of putting it) should hit you between the eyes like a jackhammer; this version was like being slapped round the face with a wet gym sock. Sappy acoustic guitar pieces here and there as an attempt to reprise that part of Brad Fiedel’s T2 score, but where that worked in the T2 gas station scene as an emotional reinforcement to the juxtaposition of the images of the kids playing with guns and the Furlong/Arnie dialogue, this just sounded jarring and out of place. Hellboy II all over again.

    Similarly, the many attempts to throw in little crumbs of T1/2 lines and imagery just seemed forced and unnatural. Ultimately as tiresome as the Star Wars prequels having to work in the “I have a bad feeling about this” line. Didn’t push my buttons anyway. With Aliens and T2, James Cameron showed probably better than any other director how to reprise little aspects in a sequel without it appearing formulaic. Linda Hamilton, for example, basically becoming a human terminator in T2, was one of the most original (and entirely logical) turnabouts for a character I’ve ever seen. Pink dress to black-clad assassin: beat that!

    Did like the idea of the large carrier serving as a dropship for the HKs and the folded-up harvester, which in turn spat out the two mototerminators. I’d always imagined the inside of Skynet to be more…alien, though. Not just a T2 metal foundry – something utterly machinelike and inhospitable. There’s a scene in Colossus: The Forbin Project where the Colossus mainframe (basically Skynet in 1970) is activated in the massive hollowed-out interior of a mountain, and even that sends a shiver up the spine more than these Skynet interiors.

    On the plus side, beautiful cinematography. The scene at the beginning with the truncated terminator crawling after Connor, and the helicopter crash, was the only one that even came close to recreating the sense of menace of T1/2.

    Less than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts, sad to say. Better than T3 though. As Vic said, something of a soulless, heartless excercise.

  6. Pretty much sums it all up Dentist. Well said, I’m glad I’m not the only one that thought the music sucked for the movie compared to the music from T2… The music from T1 was just amusing in its own corny way, stupid 80′s… lol

  7. Don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but isn’t there THREE previous Terminators? You keep saying theres only two…

  8. @Mr X
    I think everyone is discounting the terrible T3.

  9. 3rd terminator may have lacked action but it was still a good movie…better than salvation i’d say. For 1 the John Connor they picked was a better choice than Bale and the movie actually took some time to segway from T2 and explain to us what had happened since then. I dont understand what was wrong with teh 3rd aside form lack of action…other than that I thought it did a GREAT job…Salvation was a fairly done too but with Salvation there were just too many flaws

  10. @tasouli: T3 had a lack of action?! WHAT?! It had some of the coolest action sequences I had seen (up to that point) and many felt it probably had too much action.


  11. T3 had action, but thats ALL it had,the story was rediculous……it contradicted the first two films and itself, the roles were miscast(especially who they got to play Connor), the “TX” was weaker than the T-1000.

  12. What I mean when I say it conradicted itself and the first two films was that the theme of T1 and T2 was “The future is not set, there is no fate, but what we make for ourselves”, but T3 pissed on that and says the it is set and if so then sending a terminator back in time to kill Connor wouldn’t change anything.

  13. IMHO, T3 didn’t have a lack of action, it had a lack of acting. I thought the guy they got to play John Connor was horrible; and I didn’t think much of the actress destined to be his wife. I felt the T-1000 was far better than the TX. And I enjoyed Salvation more than T3.

  14. I wonder where my comment went where I said the music was awful! They should have gotten John Powell for this one.

  15. @Matt Keith,,,
    “The future is not set, there is no fate, but what we make for ourselves”,
    I think Connor told Reese that to inspire Sarah, not as a template for the franchise to run on. T3, didn’t piss on that as the future Skynet still wants Connor dead because is sees Connor as a future threat. How the war starts is irrelivent and hardly ruined T3 for me. If anything I was impressed Mostow had the balls to start Judgement day at the end.

    Did anyone expect Skynet to fade away after T2 ended. Come on evil finds a way.

  16. @tasouli

    I’ll also have to disagree, T3 didn’t lack action, in fact it was too much. The action was completely unbelievable, like the super extended pointless chase scene that was only inserted to take up time. T800′s “power pack” EXPLODING from any little damage (wouldn’t that be a huge vulnerability???) even though in T2 his power source was completely ruptured by the MASSIVELY SUPERIOR T1000 (over the TX13, I threw in the 13 to further the coolness…) yet it didn’t explode at all, and even going into the molten metal, that would have ruptured his secondary power source, and that didn’t explode either…

    I admit, Bale was miscast as Connor in Salvataion, but come on, the guy they picked to play John Connor in T3 was the weakest, lamest, loser I’ve EVER seen, and he was supposed to save humanity?? In that case, WE’RE DOOMED! Not to mention the acting was just horrible…

    Anyway, just had to ditto on what Katt Keith and John had to say…

  17. Great rant. You hit it on the nose.

    It’s sad. Some critics still can’t understand that T2 had a heart… although, different from The Terminator… it’s there. The Terminator and T2 are separate films. Things have changed so much in 10 years (Sarah Connor especially) that the sequel is gonna feel differently. And Sarah’s transformation in T2 is VERY logical. Linda gives one of the most dynamic performances as a female hero in film history if you ask me. She doesn’t shoot Dyson when she has the best, easiest shot in the world (through the scope of her sniper rifle)… so you should know, she’s gonna kill him when she has to face him. It’s a brilliiant piece of drama if you ask me. I mean, look at the look on her face. She has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but her conscience is winning out in that one moment.

    T2 and Aliens are brilliant continuations of the original films… especially in the character development department.

    But, T3, Alien 3, Terminator Salvation… the filmmakers behind these crap films just don’t understand what made the originals (Alien, Aliens, The Terminator, and T2) so damn great. And even those complaining critics will never see the strengths of Cameron’s sequels. They know so much about film right? lol

  18. Sarah is NOT gonna kill Dyson when she’s looking at him, face to face* My bad.

  19. I could’nt agree more. I felt that all I have heard over all the Terminator films was how bad ass John would become. The film does a good job of showing how bad ass he is but the film didn’t follow in his footsteps. There are far too many plots that are not explained or inhanced on. I give it a three in a half out of five.

  20. I don’t understand why everyone bags out Alien 3. It is easily my second favourite (behind Scott’s Alien) and has the gritty, hopelessness feel to it. The prisoners, especially Morse, offer humourous instances.
    I’m sick of Cameron bagging out David Fincher when Aliens was plain and boring and full of all this marine macho stuff.
    As for Salvation, they could have done worse BUT they could have done a lot better. It seems unlikely that Bale will by dropped for someone who looks like Connor in T2. And the Arnie cameo was terrible. There were no large scale battles or any insight like Hamilton would provide through voice-over. It was just a stupid hollywood cash cow.

  21. I liked T1 better than T2.

    In order to solve this problem, they’ll have to abandon salvation and work on a revamped T4. Forget Bale, put in Edward from T2 or something. Need LOTR style wars with thousands of terminators and humans battling out vientam style. Waddaya think??

  22. Terminator Salvation is a very good movie. It is obvious that terminator can be stand-alone movie, without Schwarzenegger. The action scenes are awesome.

  23. I watched this yesterday and am furious (okay, maybe disappointed) about this film. What a crock. I’m sorry, I’ve read a few of the previous posts and I don’t want to go over any previous ground but:
    If I was a state-of-the-art self-replicating self-improving world-wide sentient computer system tasked with the job of removing my biggest threat (man), then I wouldn’t be building several-story high metal robots with claws to knock down buildings… Unless, of course, I figured my genocidal mayhem might play well to any of my surviving targets who had taken time out to watch a recent ‘Giant Robot’ blockbuster.

    And: all the other stuff that has been said; I’d either agree or disagree – whatever you said.

  24. This thread is still alive? Sweet! I love terminator!

  25. The only good part of this movie is Arnold’s cameo, and Helena Bonham Carter was great as well, but overall everything about this movie is pretty bad. Sam Worthington blew Christain Bale out of the water acting-wise though.

  26. “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?”

    Having a controlled death, leaving behind a body perfect for her use, would be very different than using a body that had been ravaged by disease or broken up in a car accident. There are only so many executions in this country each year, and most are old, so the stakes for her to get this one guy to agree were very high.

    But this kind of thing is meant to be obvious, it shouldn’t need explanation.