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Movie Review - 'Terminator Salvation'

Terminator Salvation

Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, and Anton Yelchin
Directed by McG
Rated PG-13

t4poster.jpg It's 2018. John Connor (Christian Bale), the prophesied leader of the resistance against the continuous waves of machines built on destroying humanity, is coordinating his independent groups of fighters along the Pacific coast to launch an attack on Skynet's San Francisco headquarters.

When we last saw Connor, he was watching the beginning of the end of civilization some 15 years earlier, an event engineered by Skynet, but his role in this revolution was preordained. He was born to lead the resistance, according to his mother, and he's always known this day would come.

In one of the more interesting science fiction narratives the motion pictures have ever produced, this is one of its more compelling chapters: When John Connor becomes John Connor. So how in the world could Terminator Salvation fail so miserably?

There are a few culprits. Obviously, with any bad movie (especially one that should be good), you look at the director. McG is not known for this kind of film, and when he was announced as the director, purists took great exception to the former music video director and the man behind the camera for Charlie's Angels putting his hands on Terminator. But this is not solely McG's failure, and as far as the direction goes scene-by-scene, it's actually decent. He does not, however, manage his film and its parts very well.

The screenplay by Michael Ferris and John Brancato (who also wrote T3) is almost non-existent. Indeed, for entire sections of the film, no script is even required or evident. Where the screenplay is involved, Ferris and Brancato have concocted dreadful dialogue backed by very little motivation.

The film has two primary plots, the first of which is finding Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who will be a stranger to you if you've never seen the first Terminator. Reese is John Connor's father, the man Connor himself will send back to the 1980s in a future installment of the series to save his mother from the Schwarzenegger Terminator. Reese, of course, can't know Connor's his son, but that's hardly the point here. We just need to find him.

The other thrust is the only real salvation in Terminator Salvation, a death row inmate named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who wills his body to science in 2003. Fifteen years later, Wright wakes up, not realizing he's been dead or that he's now mostly machine. He's a more human character than Bale's John Connor, and Wright would be destined for a big breakout even if he didn't have a few other major projects on the horizon, beginning - oddly enough - with James Cameron's Avatar. Think a younger, slightly more empathetic but slightly less polished Russell Crowe.

It's hard to blame Bale for being such a letdown in this. He's given almost nothing to work with, outside of finding Kyle Reese and yelling about Skynet and machines. The character is just so incomplete. Still, it's ironic that Bale's much-publicized outburst at director of photography Shane Hurlbut comes on a film where the cinematography is several steps ahead of Bale's performance.

There is a signature action scene in Terminator Salvation, a terrific 15- to 20-minute sequence, and you have hope at that point that conditions will improve. But none of the action after that matches it for gusto, intensity, or purpose, and the story has already thrown just about everything at you it can.

The real problem is that merely finding Kyle Reese isn't enough of a movie. Anyone who has watched the previous films in the series knows that answer already. So there is no suspense in saving Reese from giant robots, and the story doesn't put anything else out there for John Connor to do. Again, the Marcus Wright subplot is much better, although it doesn't have any connection whatsoever to the John Connor arc, at least not organically. So Brancato and Ferris wrote themselves into a corner that Bale's intensity can't get them out of.

Reader Comments (22)

Wow Colin you really railed against this one didnt you...

For months prior, me being a loyal follower of this site, thought you were in total support and admiration of the film, but apparently the film didnt meet your expectations.. uhmm im surprised to be honest but any whoo..

"Still, it's ironic that Bale's much-publicized outburst at director of photography Shane Hurlbut comes on a film where the cinematography is several steps ahead of Bale's performance "

--OUCH! lol ... nice little jab there!

One question though, are you really comparing newcomer Sam Worthington to a younger Russell Crowe????
--can you elaborate on that a bit because that is a very BIG comparison, and quite a compliment I would say, so I was wondering if you can elaborate more, by responding to my post! : )

and what do you mean less polished?


PS ... oh yeah I must say I love Anton Yelchin, he has a lot of experience on film and made a lot of connections, and is very young what 20 or so? he has a huge future and is very talented in my opinion, great actor

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSean

1 - Being wowed by trailers is a completely different kettle of fish. It's pretty easy to separate the two, actually.

2 - Worthington has a real muscularity in her performance here, and even though he's only 5'10" (like Crowe, oddly enough), he fills much more of the screen than that. Crowe is one of the more naturally gifted guys in the business, and he's been able to put that to good use over the years when he's up to it. He's a real craftsman. Worthington just isn't there yet. He's raw, slips on his accent a lot, stuff like that.

3 - Yelchin is OK in this, but he doesn't have a tremendous amount to do. I'm sure that'll come down the line, though.

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

Marvelously accurate.

You may want to correct the misspelled "prophesied" on the first line, though...

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Bravo, Colin.

Explaining why a move works or doesn't work is the most essential part of a film critic's job.

Making a good action movie requires a lot of IQ and EQ to make the audience invest emotionally in the characters and story.

There has been a huge trend to put style over substance, which rarely works for any type of genre, but especially not for films that require suspense to work.

Also, I am still at a loss to understand why people have not realised that Christian Bale is the most overrated actor in his generation. He has been up-staged, over-shadowed and out-performed in every film he's made since The Machinist.

How can he become celebrated for not delivering the goods?

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLengthy Johnson

so see it cause I'm a fan and expect an ok movie. Maybe I'll wait until the dollar theater.

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterorinn

Wow. Sounds like they should've kept the leaked ending.

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

I completely disagree with this review. Wow. The movie was an extremely fun experience!

Friday, May 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThornrage

Spot-on assessment. The script was terrible, and it was not wrong to be overly excited going in, because the trailers are showcasing the mostly solid visuals and not the story. I agree that McG is not completely at fault, but you have to also point out that maybe he's not so good at directing actors.

Friday, May 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMRPigg

Eh, I was entertained. I think my only MAJOR beef with this movie is how much was probably edited out to make it PG-13. I don't mind it being PG-13, I just wonder what was dropped to lose the R rating. I am hoping the Blu Ray (pfft dvd...) is a far superior edit than this. I was entertained, but I could have been drawn in alot more than I was.

I have to say, the STRONGEST actor in this is Yelchin...that kid made me see nothing but Reese. Not even a hint that it didn't look, sound, and act like Biehn's Reese. I also quite liked Worthington's Marcus. He made it feel like Bale didn't exist in this movie. that guy HAD to have been edited. Not a damn thing for him to do but look angry. Really? That's all for him? Personally, Howard as Kate was horrible. I cringed when she was on screen more than not.

Spoilerish if you haven't seen it: I was truely hoping that, knowing this is supposed to be a trilogy, they would have hinted at the time travel in closing this episode. I feel like they ended it with a simple "Welp...lots more Skynet out there". Somewhat ended flat to me. I'll be waiting in line for the next midnight showing of this installment without question, but I sure hope they bring more to the game next time.

Friday, May 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwhitewolf2k3

I only have one real problem with the PG-13 edit. I believe Warner Bros. probably panicked after Watchmen didn't return much second weekend business, going so far as to say they wouldn't have any more R-rated comic book movies. A different genre here, but a ton of shared audience. However, what percentage of this film's target audience is 13 - 16 years old? How much more money will it make off that crowd than it would have being at least a slightly superior rated R movie?

I think this one came back to bite the studio.

Friday, May 22, 2009 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

I disagree with this quite a bit. I enjoyed the hell out of this. I wanted fun. I got fun. The Marcus story was intriguing, and a great setup for the evolution of the T-800. Howard was no better or worse than Claire Danes, who she replaced from T3. I think she was fine, and not featured enough to judge. Common was somewhat wasted and underused. Bale was fine in my opinion. Conner would be very consumed and internalized having gown up with nothing but Skynet shoved down his throat his whole life. He was obsessed with the damn tapes in the movie. That made sense.

Nobody looks for Oscar gold with something like this. You look to be entertained. I was. The nods to the previous trilogy were fun, and the most important line in the series, "Come with me if you want to live," came full circle in this edition through Reese.

As far as the ending goes, I remember another recent trilogy whose opener had a non-ending. It was Lord of the Rings. When you know for sure that more will come, I think that's okay to do, but that's just me.

Friday, May 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin


While I agree with your review, I think the film has one major flaw that you didn't touch on - there is no villain. You mentioned that "merely finding Kyle Reese isn't enough of a movie," but I would take that one step further and say that the film lacked a real antagonist.

The Resistance was just going up against a bunch of faceless robots. It wasn't until they had the CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of the film that there was even an identifiable robot attacking them. I think having the Arnold Schwarzenner Terminator or some other, earlier version of a Terminator coming after Connor and Reese much earlier in the film would have added a lot to it. (Even making Marcus Wright a bit more conflicted about what side he was on might have added something to the film.) As it is, the action scenes fall flat because there is no one to root against.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoel Murphy

This movie was fine. After Terminator 3, does anybody really expect a great movie that will become a classic in this series? No, the Terminator series is now just another dumb fun summer franchise. One thing that annoyed me though. Christian Bale is about five years older than that last guy who played John Connor, but the new girl (Ron Howard's not so talented daughter) who played his wife is younger than Claire Danes who played Kate in the last movie.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharcole

I think people need to stop looking at the first 3 movies and start looking at the new experience that it was intended to be. I'm so sick of hearing it can't hold it's own against T2... I agree T2 was a master piece but it's time for something new and T3 totally spoiled the present day storyline, so the only logical step was to move to Salvation post judgment day.

I haven't seen the movie yet, it's coming out on the 4th of June here in The Netherlands which totally sucks cause I'm just dying to see it.

I think people need to stop comparing everything to other movies in the Terminator universe and see this movie as a new chapter. I've been going through reviews and footage and I think from what I've heard and saw so far this will blow my mind because it has what I wanted to see.

I'll take the new trilogy as I took Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The previous Batman movies were terrible after part 2... Batman 1 was a classic but Batman Begins brought something totally new to it and blew my mind with The Dark Knight... If you compare Batman Begins with the Dark Knight then Batman Begins is not even half of what The Dark Knight was... So looking from that perspective I think it's only fair to look at it different and not judge this new Terminator movie by what we saw in the first 3... it's a new universe and I'm expecting great things.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDakota

I have seen the movie. I guess it is not like the batman. The movie is full of special effects... Too much of them, I would say, but not a lot of story to be "Terminator".

It might have been for the script, the director, and marketing (e.g. PG-13 editing) that made this movie become less than it could be. Anyhow, it is a fun movie, if you don't care about Terminator that much and just want to have fun.

So, I guess you go see it in the movie for sound and sight, but come back to review it so that the next Terminator will be better.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjackm2211

It is always a welcome opportunity to read a review where the author had entered the movie theatre wholly obsessed with ignoring the movie..... still, they do say that "those who can, do...those who cannot". Perhaps it should be a conditionality for any movie reviewer that they have actually contributed to movie production in one way or another. It relates to their credibility. So, did the reviewer i) Produce any movie, ii) Direct any movie, iii) developed a screenplay for any movie, iv) contributed to any movie in any way or form, or v) none of the above.

According to basic research, v) applies to the reviewer - perhaps they should stick with watching (say) the Cartoon Channel for something which would stretch their imagination.

Monday, May 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRock Gypsy

I actually enjoyed this movie a little better than T3. I would have preferred it stuck to the original premise of focusing on Marcus Wright, but I thought it was a good movie.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJP

Dearest Rock Gypsy -

Was there a point behind your entry? Did it contribute in any substantive way to the discussion? Did it provide an insight or raise a perspective like Joel Murphy's comment that there was no antagonist (although, truth be told, the theme of the movie - man vs. machine - is one of the basic narrative conflicts in all of drama)? No, you're just grousing about me. And that's fine. But here's the problem with your argument: It infers that people who make movies for a living know what it means (and requires) to make a good movie, and if that were inherently true, there would be no such thing as a bad movie.

And, for the record, only idiots say, "Those who can, do...those who cannot," because only idiots speak in incomplete sentences like that. You're wrong about the credibility of the critic when it comes to audience expectations: The audience decides what my credibility is. If they like me, I'm credible. If they disagree with me all the time, I'm not. It has no basis in my education, formal or vocational.

Next to, "Did you read the book," the frustrated filmmaker approach is the most hackneyed argument of someone who disagrees with me. But here's an idea you might want to try: Counter the argument. Tell me where the arc is, tell me where the memorable dialogue is, tell me why a character other than the only one who died had any impact on the audience.

But maybe I'm asking too much. After all, those who can, do. Those who can not...change the subject, I guess.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

the best part of Terminator Salvation had to be the visual effect (big surprise), the detail was pretty amazing

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterneed coffee

the author of this review seems to be pissing against the wind go to internet movie database 23,000 people have voted to an average of 7.3 out of ten( sorry had to cut your legs off there)

Friday, June 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbrad

Yeah, I'm sure Warner Bros. would rather have the millions more they anticipated at this point when giving Terminator Salvation a $200 million budget instead of those 23,000 IMDB voters. The fact is, this thing needs to make about $600 million worldwide to be considered a success, and that's by Warner's own standard. It's about a third of the way there with only about a dozen more international markets to play. It's a failure to audiences and to the studio because it simply isn't a strong enough story.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

Terminator Salvation is a very good movie. It is obvious that even without Schwarzenegger the movie can be good. The action scenes are top-notch.

Sunday, August 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterintrospective

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