A Review of Terminator Salvation

I had high hopes for this one.  Even with McG as a director, I desperately wanted to like this.  I do admire the Terminator series.  I am one of the (probably few) people who is disappointed by the fact Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will not be getting a third season.  This was going to be a new way to continue the franchise.  People have been discussing the future war since the release of the first film.  Well, here it is.

But watching the film I,…well, my God.  My hopes were more than dashed.  They were dropped from the Empire State Building and obliterated upon the sidewalk.  McG demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge in the material, and frankly a complete lack of knowledge in the art of film.

The film starts with a scene in a state penitentiary.  Marcus Wright (played by Sam Worthington) is an inmate on death row who signs his remains over to Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter).  She works for Cyberdyne.

I am going to stop my recap right here.  This is the first scene in the film, and thus is one of the most important to set the tone for what is to come.  But this is one of the worst opening scenes I have ever scene.  The acting is so wooden it makes a sequoia jealous and gives away what could have been a major plot twist if in the hands of a more talented filmmaker.  In addition, virtually nothing is accomplished in this scene.

We then cut to the future.  Judgment Day has occurred, and John Connor (Christian Bale) is on a mission.  He recovers a signal that could potentially disable Skynet and stop the war.  General Ashdown (Michael Ironside) sets up a quick mission to use it.  Their intel has found a list of the people that Skynet seeks to eliminate in that time period.  Number two on the list is Connor.  Number one is a teenager named Kyle Resse (Anton Yelchin).

Once again, I am stopping my plot synopsis.  At this rate I probably won’t be finished with it.  But this is nothing but a huge glaring error.  How on earth does Skynet know who Reese is?  If it does, then why didn’t it eliminate him before?  I have heard people time and time again complain that Skynet should have sent a Terminator after Sarah Connor when she was an infant.  I can’t respond to that, but I can respond to this.  After all, at this point, Skynet is in complete control.  It kills people by the literal truckload.  Surely it can be bothered to hunt down and kill one individual.

Anyway, the film then follows to Marcus reemerging from….somewhere.  He meets Kyle and they go off north for…some reason.  Kyle gets captured and Marcus discovers that he is in fact a Terminator.  Later, he and John both go to try to rescue Kyle before Ashdown can start the bombing run.

OK, one last thing.  Marcus is a solely underutilized character.  He is never given a chance to react to his true nature.  I was reminded of the Philip K Dick short story “The Electric Ant.”  There, man discovers he is a machine and attempts to change the way he perceives the world.  That story accomplishes more than anything the film does.  How would you feel to discover you were a robot?  I imagined you would at least react to the fact.  Marcus does not.  It was frustrating.  It could have been an opportunity to explore the overarching theme that was the blurring between man and machine.  But no, I guess that would be expecting to much.

Howard Hawks used to say that a movie is “three good scenes and no bad ones.”  Salvation offers the inverse.  There are no good scenes and three (as I have shown above) bad ones.  That alone should be enough to stop the film dead in its tracks.  But there is more.  Oh there is so much more that will make fans and even casual movie goers irate.

Let’s start with the design. Remember the wonderfully atmospheric glimpses of the future in the first two Terminator movies?  Giant machines rolling over literal pathways of skulls while a few humans huddled inside the sewer struggling to survive?  I am glad you do.  McG doesn’t.  His design of the apocalypse looks like Baghdad after a bomb run.  Where there was once style now just exists a design that could be used as a level in a video game.  The machines no longer even look like Terminators.  They look like…I can’t even describe it.  They look like Hummers with legs.  This is not how it is supposed to be. This is not something to stir the imagination.  This is something that will be forgotten quickly once the new Transformers film comes out.
And the supporting characters are atrocious. They barely exists.  A girl accompanies Kyle, but I didn’t ever learn her name.  She is useless except as a fanny pack.  Seriously, she just exists to hand characters things.  Connor has become an absolute nightmare.  Bale plays him as Batman without the mask, which means he yells a lot.  He can also change intelligence on a whim and seems to have forgotten all of his training.  Kate Brewster is useless, as is Ashdown.  Really, the center should have been Kyle and Marcus.  The film actually felt intriguing during those scenes.  Not good, mind, but intriguing.  So of course the characters get separated and that whole item is forgotten.  This sort of thing should not be accepted.  Didn’t they realize what they were onto here?

Also, the way McG ignores cannon is bizarre.  I feel like a comic book geek he goes online and rants about a superhero’s costume being changed.  I have never really sympathized with them before, but here it is just glaring.  There are references to things that shouldn’t exist anymore (Cyberdyne) and zero references to items that should (Kyle’s brother Derek). What is going on?  Plus there are a lot of references to the previous incarnations that make it that much worse (such as the line “I’ll be back”  and the inclusion of the song “You Could Be Mine.”) Someone did some research somewhere.  Couldn’t they be bothered to do more?
It was clear why this film was made.  The studios are hoping that kids will flock at the promise of explosions so they can milk the franchise for another sequel.  But that was not what this franchise started out as.  Cameron was passionate about his characters and cared about them.  He let them evolve.  He helped them grow.  Here, no one cares.  All they care about is the take at the box office come the end of the weekend.  Frankly, the series should die before it is tarnished even more.  I am sorry if the review felt like a rant, but it was the only way to express my utter dissappointment.  Having something exceed your expectations is marvelous.  Having something not even reach them is devastating.

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