After the skidmark on the Terminator franchise that was Terminator 3, many franchise fans were hoping that Terminator Salvation (could have made a shit pun there about the film being the franchise’s salvation but didn’t—I earned a cookie) would return the series to Cameronian heights. Director McG (I’m still unconvinced that you can have a real name without vowels) sets the film after Judgement Day, when Skynet nuked half the earth, killed off most of humanity, and kicked a puppy in the face (probably). Sam Worthington is the lead, a death row inmate who donates his body to a dying scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) to experiment on (not like that).
He then wakes up in 2018, having napped through Judgement Day, and sets off to discover what happened to him. Along the way, he runs into Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), fated to be John Connor’s saviour and father, and a mute girl Star (Jadgrace Berry). Christian Bale is on growling duty, keeping his Batman voice to star as John Connor, prophesized leader of the human resistance.
Not that Christian Bale’s a bad choice, but I know who I’d pick to lead my resistance
One of the first things you’ll notice is the look of the film. Set after Judgement Day, earth has mostly become a wasteland, and McG clearly spared no expense to make sure that the post-apocalyptic landscapes look great, making the film look as gloomy and foreboding as a PG-13 film can be. The Terminator factory at the end is a personal favourite, and I’m also very thankful that there weren’t hundreds of naked Arnie Terminators being mass produced.
Most of the acting in the film is up to snuff as well. Although Bryce Dallas Howard is almost criminally under-utilized as Connor’s wife, Worthington and Yeltin both deliver solid performances, while Bale is dependable as ever (just don’t mention any cinematographers.)
Several of the action scenes are fantastic, with a memorable car chase and the obligatory Terminator in a factory fight being highlights. McG has a real flair for directing action, and the varieties of bots introduced, such as a huge human collector robot, allow for some spectacular set pieces. When the action gets going, expect something to blow up about every minute on average and lots of people to SHOUT REALLY LOUD WHILE SHOOTING!
“SHOUTING MAKES BULLETS MORE EFFECTIVE!”
Once you get by the visuals, you’re left with the story, which is pretty slow and dry. It’s typical Hollywood fare, with the rebels finding an ‘ultimate weapon’ and preparing to launch an attack on Skynet. The film misses a lot of chances for good story telling, perhaps the worst being the fact that Worthington is a cyborg. Relax; that’s given away in the trailer. And it’s pretty obvious anyway. This could have been a great opportunity to introduce some conflict over loyalties, human or machine, stuff like that. Instead, this is all glossed over, with Worthington being a modern, slightly less friendly and less badass Tin Man. After using up their trump card, the film desperately lacks a key plot point or twist to keep it really engaging.
If the kid had turned out to be a Terminator, I would have proposed to McG
The dialogue is also stiff, with plenty of lines like “My men died down there!” “Aw yeah man, the signal works! It’s beautiful!” and the always excellent “If we do that now, we are dead! We are all dead!” The film also misses no chances to recycle classic Terminator lines, dutifully going through “Come with me if you want to live,” and “I’ll be back.” The only thing missing was Arnold. Until he appeared. Naked. (With convenient smoke keeping the film PG-13).
Perhaps the aspect which holds the film back the most is the lack of characterisation. The whole way through the film, I found it very difficult to care about any of the main characters, even John Connor, who we’ve had three films to build up (granted, one of those was crap). When I said that Bale was good in the film, it’s true: he’s as good as he can be with the material he has to work with. Part of the problem is that I think Connor should have already been made leader of the resistance. We’ve waited years for a film where Connor leads humanity to war against Skynet, and after all of this time, we’re still waiting. The relationship with his wife is just tacked on as well, serving only to eat up screen time. Also, the Batman voice doesn’t really help.
You’re going to need just a bit more drink. Not because the film is bad, but rather you’ll need it to overlook all of the things that just don’t make sense. Although plot holes are to be expected in a film where time travel is such an integral aspect, there are plenty of things which don’t add up. Why did Skynet build water robots? *Minor spoiler* When Skynet catches Kyle Reese, why don’t they just kill him instead of using him as bait? And seriously, who thought that the silent kid was a good idea?
Although if she’d been a Terminator…
While Salvation is a solid action film overall, it just doesn’t live up to the standard set by the first two Terminator films. Although it is better than T3, that’s not exactly hard. However, it’s not bad by any means either. Salvation is just middle of the road action, bumped up by the fancy explosions and the Terminator name in its title. And CG Arnie.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever a classic Terminator line is shamelessly re-used
Take a Drink: whenever a Terminator shoots with less accuracy than a Storm Trooper
Take a Shot: whenever you wish Cameron was still directing