Review: Terminator Salvation Can't Be Salvaged

"The biggest problem with Terminator Salvation is the fact that nothing happens."


It brings me very little joy to report that this version of the popular Terminator franchise is silly, obtuse, and pointless. Christian Bale's talents are wasted, the plot is full of stilted dialogue and cringe-worthy sequences, and the whole thing feels much more like a marketing experiment than a full-fledged feature film. I'm not sure where the ideas got lost, or how one could begin picking up the pieces, but sadly we're left with a film that looks great while being largely less filling. It's all kind of a bummer, actually.

The film starts with McG's longish opening credits, heavily stylized and completely devoid of action. So we're off to a rough start. We're then introduced to Marcus (Sam Worthington), a guy I'm gonna go ahead and give some credit to for being somewhat redemptive. He doesn't make any obvious missteps as a "back-from-the-dead" executed murderer. He's an interesting guy to watch, and he does the most with his time on-screen. Helena Bonham Carter has a small role too, and she's suitably creepy, as she was asked to be. The problems start with Christian Bale's John Connor. Clearly Bale is one of our tremendous talents, but giving him this script was akin to only driving your Ferrari in school zones laden with speed bumps. He's simply helpless to transcend the illogical and plodding material he's given.

The film does look quite good, gritty though crisp, and the action sequences flow well. However, McG goes to the well far too often on a technique I can only call "fire and rain." It's when it's raining hard (so you know things are BAD) while random fires are also blazing (so you know things are DANGEROUS). I counted four separate sequences of fire-rain -- see if you can do any better. It's a really heavy-handed method that shouldn't have been needed. The throttle should have been kept firmly on the action pedal; instead we're treated to huge helpings of melodrama and 'roided up grimaces. A decent non-spoiler example I can give you is Moon Bloodgood's entrance into the film; she takes off her fighter pilot's helmet to reveal ... three solid feet of flowing black hair. It looks nice, but it's completely sugarcoated and silly. Are we to imagine gals look like "ready to rock" supermodels in the post-judgment day future? And why do we need the slow motion? It's as if McG purposefully attempted to appeal to the part of our cortex lacking any and all complex reasoning. It doesn't fit in a film that should be about termination. And terminating.

But the biggest problem with Terminator Salvation is the fact that nothing happens. Yes, there are a few great scenes of peril, where the robots and the humans are squared off in consequential fury, but that's only about 15 minutes of a film that runs over two hours. The rest of the time is spent on various idiotic subplots. Will the troops listen to John Connor? Who is this Marcus character? How is the timeline going to work given the participation of Kyle Reese? Arrgh, it goes on and on, and none of it is remotely interesting. The sound is great, the explosions are great, the look and feel could have been turned into something special. It's the words and plot that are huge negatives here.

So, no, I can't recommend this to my dear Internet friends. I understand if you want to see it anyway -- it's a summer action movie, and thus almost a prerequisite of your participation in the film community. Sadly, you're probably going to end up where I did. Wishing it was as good as Star Trek and thanking your lucky stars that Wolverine wasn't nearly as funny.

Grade: D+