Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Directed By: McG

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Michael Ironside, Helena Bonham Carter

Plot Synopsis:

Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale) is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind. [Warner Bros. Pictures]


Let me rant for a second.  McG is a stupid name for a director.  I don’t care if it’s your Frat Boy nickname or whatever.  If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, ditch the first name only names.  Let alone a name with no vowels.  The Rock changed his name back to Dwayne Johnson for movies.  Rappers-turned-actors are my pet peeve.  Whenever I see names like Common or 50 Cent appear in credits, I roll my eyes.  Now we have a McG film.  Dude, are you a rapper, a frat boy or a director?

Stupid names or not, Terminator Salvation delivers on action, great effects and sound, but is sorely lacking in a compelling lead performance or a compelling plot.  For the most part, this is a fun, brainless thrill ride with some fun action sequences.  It’s a good looking film and I don’t doubt all the money is on the screen.  Terminator Salvation looks great and sounds great on the big screen.  Just don’t prepare to get your mind blown.  While I don’t think it’s as bad as most critics are saying (and most are being extremely unfair), this isn’t the best movie of the summer.

The Good.

McG knows how to direct action and combines practical effects with CGI pretty impressively.  The post-apocalyptic world is stark and the digital re-creation of a post-nuclear Los Angeles is pretty stunning.  The action is thrilling and a lot of fun with explosions that are on par with any Michael Bay film.  I had a lot of fun with the Moto-Terminator chase sequence and the last act in the Skynet factory.

See Terminator Salvation in the theater at least to experience the visuals and the sound design.  Explosions rumble, bullets whiz by your head, the robots are threatening.  I loved how they gave the T-600s kind of a gutteral growl.  Also the plasma canon on The Harvestor is just plain cool sounding.  Loved it.

On the acting end, only 2 actors really stand out and save this movie.  Anton Yelchin as young Kyle Reese is captivating.  He’s totally channeling Michael Biehn‘s performance from the original Terminator and you believe every second of his performance.  With Star Trek under his belt and now Terminator Salvation, Anton Yelchin is a young talent to watch.  I know he’s now on my radar.

Also, Sam Worthington is great.  Although he occasionally slips into his Australian accent (how did the ADR folks miss that?!) he emotes convincingly and proves that he can out-act Christian Bale.  I’m looking forward to seeing him in James Cameron’s Avatar and also the remake of Clash of the Titans.

I need to mention Danny Elfman‘s score here.  People have given him a lot of crap for the score, but I think it’s great.  While nothing can touch Brad Feidel‘s scores for Terminator and Terminator 2, it’s not Danny Elfman’s usual sound.  This is a plus.  It’s a subdued score, that fits right into the story and doesn’t call attention to itself.

The Bad.

I really, really wanted to LOVE Terminator Salvation.  But, while I came out enjoying the ride, it just seemed like the screenwriters really missed an opportunity.  While the plot isn’t the weakest link of the film, it just seems lazily written.  It’s safe, sterile PG-13 action which feels like a Cliff Notes version of a bigger, more complex film.  Everything is spelled out, dialog is kept to a minimum and the main driving force of the plot is been-there-done-that.  I’m not sure how much was left on the cutting room floor when Warner Brothers decided on a PG-13 film after Watchmen tanked, but it feels like a Director’s Cut could remedy a bunch of problems.

For example, one minute Moon Bloodgood and Sam Worthington are getting ready to establish shelter from the rain and the next scene there’s no rain and 4 baddies are confronting Moon Bloodgood.  Also, I guess in the future it doesn’t take much to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  One character makes it there on FOOT.  For another character it’s a quick motorcycle ride.  I really hope there’s about 20 minutes missing from this film that will make up for the editing here.

Along with the simpleness of the script, it seems that all humor has been ejected from the series.  While they were intense Sci-Fi Actioners, the Terminator movies all had some sort of sense of humor.  Here, everything is dard and drab.  Hell, even Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List has moments of humor in them.  There is nothing for us an an audience to grab on to emotionally so we could invest in the characters in the story.

Finally, Christian Bale turns in the worst performance of his career here.  He’s one note, boring and talks in his low Batman voice for most of the movie.  I feel another actor could have done more here.  Actually, if Sam Worthington had been John Connor it would have been an entirely different film.  Maybe even a better film.  It’s a shame, because I am a total Christian Bale fan.  Here, though, he doesn’t emote at all.  He gives us no reason to care about him.

While filled with stellar effects, great sound design and score combined with thrilling action set pieces and a couple of really great performances, Terminator Salvation falls flat.  The PG-13 cut takes all gravity out of the story, but even with an R rating and the cuts put back in, I’m not sure how much better it will be.  As mindless spectacle, Terminator Salvation delivers.  It’s a billion times better than Wolverine and better than Terminator 3.

It’s a shame that such a technically well done film is undermined by it’s lead actor and the script.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language.