SEQUELISED: Terminator Salvation (2009)

The Terminator franchise finally goes to war. It wasn’t worth it. 

Who made it?: McG (Director), John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris (Writers), Jeffrey Silver, Victor Kubicek, Moritz Borman, Derek Anderson (Producers), The Halcyon Company.

Who’s in it?: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin, Jadagrace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common.

Tagline: “We Fight Back.”

IMDb rating: 6.7/10.

The year is 2018, the sky is ashen, machines rule the world, and the only humans which remain (who’ve undergone a humour bypass) constitute “The Resistance.” That’s the simplified synopsis of the fourth instalment in the Terminator franchise; a dull, predictable, bloated exercise in CGI overload which could easily be mistaken for a Transformers sequel. While the previous three films offered glimpses into the devastated future world dominated by the self-aware SkyNet, Terminator Salvation is the first sequel to be set entirely in that future, which provides the series with a new look. It’s a shame, then, that it’s merely another trembling step backwards for the franchise, and an appalling buttfucking of a once-great series of time-travelling adventures. With awful dialogue, an uninteresting plot and mostly uninspired performances, the human element has (ironically) been drained from the franchise… The machines have won.

The narrative intentions of Terminator Salvation are simple: John Connor (Christian Bale) has to meet his father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), become the leader of the resistance, and get his scar. Meanwhile, Kyle is being held captive by SkyNet, and Connor’s superiors plan to bomb the complex with no regard for the human prisoners inside…which means Connor must launch a rescue mission. But the movie is more consumed with a secondary plot strand involving a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). He’s first seen as a death-row inmate on his way to lethal injection in 2003, but is suddenly resurrected in the apocalyptic 2018 with no memory of what has occurred in the years between.

Our brains logically tell us that this is John Connor’s story. The Terminator franchise has always been about Connor. So why does Salvation inexplicably focus on the character of Marcus? In fact, Connor is pushed into the background… he becomes the supporting player in his own series (in the original script, Connor had an even smaller role, but the part was made comparatively larger when Bale signed on). Salvation mainly suffers from countless story problems. For instance, SkyNet are shown manufacturing the T-800 Terminators (those portrayed by Arnie in prior sequels) when the human/terminator hybrid Marcus was assembled beforehand… Why would SkyNet begin with the complete package (as in Marcus) and then regress to the inferior Schwarzenegger-style T-800? The Terminator models are simply a joke in this film – there are Growlenators (seriously, the T-800s were growling), Throwenators (they just throw everything in sight instead of, ya know, killing their targets), and ready-for-humans-to-hijack Motorcyclenators. Adding insult to injury, there are even enormous machines which resemble the Transformers that stomped around in Michael Bay’s cinematic abortion of a 2009 summer blockbuster. Couple this nonsense with the fact that one of these Transformer-type machines at one stage manages to silently sneak up on a group of humans…

Terminator Salvation neglects the cardinal rule of action cinema – introducing human characters a viewer can care about. The film plays out like a video game tie-in to the original franchise, and even proceeds with video game logic. It’s set in 2018 when John Connor hasn’t become the leader yet… So why has SkyNet been hunting Connor for years? He doesn’t smash their defence grid until 2029, which is when SkyNet decides to send a T-800 back in time to terminate his mother. Moreover, how could SkyNet concoct an elaborate trap using Kyle Reese when it’s impossible for the system to have any knowledge that he’s Connor’s father? And if SkyNet knew Reese was Connor’s father, why not just kill him? Eventually Terminator Salvation culminates with an exhaustively moronic climax. To begin with, Connor frees a bunch of prisoners and tells them to run for “the transport ship.” He has seemingly forgotten that he came alone on a Motorcyclenator and that there is no transport ship. Oops…

The first cut for Terminator Salvation was apparently thirty to forty minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and the sloppy trimming is obvious throughout the entire film. This is felt most directly with the character of Blair (Moon Bloodgood) who nonsensically botches her allegiance to the Resistance in order to protect Marcus from justifiable execution after only one day spent together. Screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris may have been natural picks for Salvation considering they wrote Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but the duo also penned Catwoman and Primeval (that cheesy crocodile feature, not the BBC series). The dialogue is particularly appalling – the characters spout hackneyed action movie speak, while occasionally recycling trademark lines from earlier Terminator movies. For his tirade, Bale should have lashed out at the screenwriters rather than the cinematographer (who admittedly crafted a stylish, good-looking film).

For all of Bale’s public insistence that McG is more talented than his moronic stage name suggests, he’s still the guy who directed Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. With not much of a story to worry about and no complex characters, there wasn’t much preventing McG from crafting kick-ass action sequences. Except, uh, lack of skill! As painful as it is to say (well, not really), the explosive, epic battles between man and machine are dull. The future war scenes imagined by James Cameron in the first two Terminator movies were murky, petrifying and dark. 200 million dollars were blown on this movie, but nothing matches Cameron’s masterful work (not even the set-pieces in the original film should feel threatened… and they were produced on just less than a $7 million budget). The only positives of Salvation (amazing CGI, great production design) are merely superficial – if a turd is coated in gold, it’s still a turd… just a shiny one. The biggest action set-piece of the film feels like something from Transformers, and other highlights feel as if they’ve been lifted from other films (shots of helicopters landing resemble Apocalypse Now, the Motorcyclenators look like something from The Dark Knight, some shots from prior Terminator films have been replicated, etc). Bear this in mind as well: Salvation is a Terminator movie directed by a producer of The O.C. The technological lethargy even extends to Danny Elfman’s score, which only reminds a viewer just how terrific Brad Fiedel’s original music was.

All the sound and fury of the powerhouse action sequences can’t make up for the studious lack of humanity. The characters are one-dimensional ciphers who never evoke passion or enthusiasm. A viewer will only root for these characters based on their appearances in prior instalments (another huge issue, since some consider this a “reboot” of the franchise that’s independent from all other Terminator films). Playing John Connor, Bale unleashes his Gotham Growl, but he’s sullen and tedious. Worse, he doesn’t feel like the kind of guy who would fire up anyone, let alone the remainder of the human population. For his famous on-set rant, Bale displayed more drama, emotionality and variety than anything in the actual film. Worthington, on the other hand, is passable – it’s just a shame he’s never given a chance to truly test his acting ability. Meanwhile the supporting cast is miserably wasted. Helena Bonham Carter is embarrassing, Michael Ironside is hopelessly flat, and Terry Crews is reduced to… a corpse seen in a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s much-discussed CGI cameo is hardly convincing; he looks like the product of a below-par Pixar movie.

The unforgivable problem with Salvation is its PG-13 rating. Terminator is an R-rated franchise, and this toned-down, kid-friendly sequel is neutered beyond repair (there’s nothing more unsightly than a man being mowed down with a mini-gun before merely slumping over). The visceral nature of the first two movies generated by heavy violence and profanity made an audience feel that the protagonists were in genuine danger. In Salvation, it feels like the characters are merely going through the motions and are never in real peril. A talented director given a better-written R-rated script and the same budget could have turned this into another classic. As it is… this is Terminator Castration.

Compared with James Cameron’s two thought-provoking action classics, Salvation is a powerfully dumb film. The first two movies offered sprawling stories, visceral thrills, deep drama, and well-defined characters. This film strains credibility with epic unlikelihoods and tries to camouflage them with nonstop paroxysms. It doesn’t matter how awesomely-designed the robots are; without gripping drama, characters to sympathise with or even an ounce of humour, Terminator Suckvation is a dumbed-down, soulless summer offering – the commercialisation of the Terminator franchise which might as well have been Transformers 3. It’s also far worse than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was no classic but deserves a bit more credit than it receives.

“Best” Scene

Long before Genisys, we got our first taste of CGI Arnie right here.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Old recordings of Sarah Connor are played in the film, with lines nearly word-for-word from The Terminator (1984). Linda Hamilton voiced the lines herself in an uncredited role.
  • Special effects wizard Stan Winston died during filming, making Terminator Salvation the last film he provided visual effects for.
  • Christian Bale later stated that before the film, he expressed the same concerns to McG that the Terminator fan-base was expressing about him taking over the franchise. Bale told him that “Nothing in your (McG) filmography suggests that you have what it takes to do this movie properly.” McG ultimately convinced Bale to give him a chance so he could “evolve” as a director, but as of 2014 admits that the film “didn’t work”, insinuating that it was ultimately McG who blew it, and stating that he would never work with McG ever again, though he wishes him well.
  • The first Terminator film to receive a PG-13 rating (the previous films were R).

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