There are few series in film that have been as influential as The Terminator franchise. James Cameron’s 1984 film catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom and the 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is still held in high regard amongst Schwarzenegger, Cameron and general action film fans. Six years ago (and 12 years after T2) someone not named James Cameron decided that it would be a good idea to resurrect the series and unleashed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was a mediocre film at best and after having seen Terminator Salvation, the series probably should have ended there.
That’s right Terminator Salvation is a bad movie. Worse yet, despite having everything you would expect from a Terminator movie (including Arnold) it never feels like a Terminator movie and that is where I feel the film really fails. The continuation of the series after T2 completely destroyed any sense of continuity the films had but where T3 at least resembled a Terminator film, Terminator Salvation is something else entirely and it doesn’t work, at least not as a Terminator story.
On its surface, Salvation is everything fans of the series have been asking for. It takes place in the future during the war with the machines, that is only briefly glimpsed at in the previous films. Salvation reintroduces us to John Connor (Christian Bale), whom despite 25 years of film history stating the contrary is not the leader of the resistance against the machines. (Or maybe he is because he has a Ham radio, who can tell). The real leaders are all hiding out on a submarine in the Pacific Ocean because honestly the machines (whom have, or at the very least will figure out time travel) can’t figure out how to pinpoint a nuclear sub off the coast of California. To be honest Connor is kind of pointless in this film and that is one of my main points of contention with it.
The film actually revolves around Marcus, played superbly by Sam Worthington. Marcus has a secret, and I won’t spoil it for anyone but if you’ve seen any of the trailers leading up to the films release you can easily figure it out (being as it is revealed quite clearly in them). Marcus hooks up with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Chekov from this year’s Star Trek) and both set out to find John Connor and ultimately their destinies, as nothing in the Terminator universe is up to free will or chance.
Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris (whom both worked on T3) took a big chance shifting focus from John Connor to a new character and Connor’s eventual father, Reese, and it doesn’t entirely pay off for them. To be fair Worthington’s Marcus is a far more interesting character than Bale’s Connor but without Connor as the focus the film doesn’t have the touchstone to hold on to and the film nearly spirals completely out of control on numerous occasions. Furthermore the film spends almost all its time trying to get viewers to accept Marcus and then does something completely off base that very nearly throws any good will this film had built up (which wasn’t much) down the drain, although it may set up for possibly better sequels.
Outside of the plot, a lot criticism can be levied at the writing in general. The dialog is cheesy at best and while some will claim that The Terminator and T2 had their fair share of cheesy dialog, that dialog was completely appropriate for the era and setting of the film. Terminator Salvation is not set in modern day, it is set in a grim and desolate future and the cheesy dialog just seems completely out of place in it. And don’t even get me started on the throwbacks to previous entries in the franchise because they weren’t cool, they were distracting and cringe worthy except for the “You Could Be Mine” bit which was at least smirk worthy.
I’ve spent a lot of time trashing the writing, and rightfully so, but it isn’t the only area that had a poor showing. In fact I could probably spend all day talking about how Christian Bale (one of my favorite actors) was a horrible casting choice as John Connor. How Anton Yelchin is completely unbelievable as the future one night stand of Sarah Connor that creates John Connor. How the action scenes, while nicely paced, are overly cartoony and not extraordinarily exciting. How the film continuously craps on the continuity of the previous films and ultimately proves that despite those films continuously telling us we have a choice in our future that we don’t. How if John Connor wasn’t such a whiny bitch and didn’t care more for his own hide than humanity in general he could easily stop the war with one well placed shot to the head of a certain individual. How Arnold is single-handedly the best part of the film and he is computer generated. But ultimately I think you get my point. Terminator Salvation just is not very good, we can only hope that this time they let the franchise rest in peace and don’t try to resurrect it again.
2 out of 5.
Jay, Nick and Joe spend about 45 minutes talking about the film, amongst other things on the latest episode of About 12 Minutes, give it a listen.