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Consider Your Franchise…Terminated

terminator-salvation-flash-“Terminator: Salvation” opened this weekend stateside, but won’t be hitting cinemas in the UK and Ireland (and Australia too) until the first week of June. 

The Terminator franchise wasn’t necessarily something that needed such a drastic reboot: “Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines” wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t exactly the nail in the coffin that, say, “Star Trek: Nemesis” was to that franchise.

On the other hand, “Terminator: Salvation” just might be that last straw that it takes for the Terminator franchise to rust and turn to scrap metal. The most forgiving of fanboys and girls might be able to see past its flaws, but if the general reaction of the audience at the screening I attended is anything to go by, the rest of the cinema-going public might not be so forgiving.

I originally thought I’d grade things on an A-F scale, little thinking I’d be using anything lower than a D: I’ve since revised that, and I’m going to work off an A-D scale, with some plusses and minuses thrown in there for good measure.

On said scale, “Terminator: Salvation” gets itself a C- with the full review below.

When you’re making a sequel to two of the best action movies of the last twenty-five years, it better be good. “Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines” never quite met the standards set by either “The Terminator” or “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” It’s especially disappointing then that the fourth film in the franchise, an attempted reboot starring none other than Christian Bale, proves such a disappointment, doing more to ruin the franchise than to reboot it.

The movie takes place in 2018, where Judgement Day has happened, Skynet has become self-aware and machines now rule the world. Bale takes up the mantle of John Connor, an important part of the human resistance movement, rounded out by his pregnant wife Kate (Howard), pilot Blair Williams (Bloodgood) and a variety of generals leading the movement from a top-secret submarine (amongst them, Michael Ironside.) Meanwhile, the teenage Kyle Reese (Yelchin), the same man Connor will send back to the past to become his own father, saves Marcus Wright (Worthington) from an attacking Terminator: unfortunately, Wright doesn’t remember anything after his apparent death in 2003.

terminator-salvation-Christian-Bale

The storyline of “Terminator: Salvation” is exactly as awkward as it sounds, with so many different plot threads coming together that the film doesn’t take time to focus on any one sufficiently enough to make it interesting or important. With a running time of less than two hours, it’s a problem that extends to the characterisation as well. Bale’s performance is easily the most disappointing in the entire film, and much of his screen-time could easily be spliced together using footage from the cutting room floor of his performances in either of the Batman films or“Rescue Dawn.” Even setting aside his performance, the story itself gives us little reason to care for John Connor or recognise his importance: three films might have set him up as the future leader of the human resistance, and while “Terminator: Salvation” might show him getting there, we’ve no reason to think that Connor is anywhere near as important as we’ve been made to believe.

Even with some good actors inhabiting their skin, the supporting characters are surprisingly two-dimensional: Kate Connor’s pregnancy goes unmentioned throughout the film, leaving Bryce Dallas Howard to act around a belly; Blair Williams exists to help Marcus literally get from A-to-B; Star (the mute child that Reese is ‘babysitting’) exists purely to hand props to characters who have dialogue at the appropriate time; and even the character of Marcus Wright becomes redundant by the film’s close.

terminator_salvation1Wright’s characterisation proves especially frustrating since Worthington easily gives the best performance of the film, despite some amazingly dodgy dialogue and inconsistencies in terms of motivation (to the point where Worthington may as well be playing Marcus’ twin brother in some of his scenes.) The twists with regards to Marcus’ amnesia are so obvious that they’ve been painted clear in the film’s trailers (and the opening scenes) and while we won’t mention them here, are indicative of a plot with no surprises, no drama and no tension.

Much like McG’s previous direction of the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, “Terminator: Salvation” finds itself dragged along from one action scene to the next with little plot or reason. With a dependency on robots (both giant and human-sized), these action scenes try desperately to be effects-driven, but depend much more on reaction than anything else: taking its cue from “Cloverfield” and other such films, “Terminator: Salvation” features far more scenes of characters hiding from the bad guys than letting us see any of the bad guys themselves. It does little to create any sense of tension, rather pointing towards the obvious use of post-production effects.

For a summer action film, “Terminator: Salvation” may very well be acceptable to the same people that enjoyed “Charlie’s Angels” or want some mindless action from their summer blockbusters. That said, even the mindless action is disappointing and doesn’t deliver, since we saw more in the short flashes of the future that we got in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” Even Christian Bale can’t provide the necessary drama to save the film, and it might just be the case that his highly-reported angry outburst on the set is the best thing to come from the production.

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  1. May 26, 2009 at 7:57 PM

    Hmmm. I had some hopes for the film after all that seemed to be coming out in interviews and art work etc.. I’ve read some pretty positive reviews as well, especially regards the direction and action (and from sources I normally trust). But I worry as we seem to have pretty similar reaction to films going off your reviews so far.

    This film is going to suffer though from it’s many changes in direction. Being originally darker before the studio decided PG13, being rewritten to shoehorn Bale’s Conner into the script when it was originally meant to be about Marcus Wright and Connor was background noise only, then having the ending completely redone thanks to AICN. Add to the fact it is another in a long line of films this summer they just started shooting with draft scripts due to the writers strike.

    Oh well, I still live in hope. Perhaps Transformers can rival Trek for summer awesomeness. And damn you global concurrent release dates, come on studios!!!

    • burnallzombies
      May 26, 2009 at 10:07 PM

      I’ll know what Transformers’ll be like come the 15th June: I didn’t like the first one, but Terminator at least has me thinking that Transformers might not be terrible.

      There were points where I was just laughing at this some stuff seemed so ridiculous (as were the people I ended up sitting next to, who I don’t know, but I know work in Forbidden Planet) so I’m glad I wasn’t the only person sitting in the cinema thinking it was pants.

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