I’m amazed that somebody somewhere along the line didn’t veto the beginning and ending of Terminator Salvation, the fourth and least successful film of the 25-year-old franchise. How could anyone involved with this project watch these two sequences and not vomit from their pure putridity? Director McG starts and ends his film so badly that it sucks much of the life out of the ever-important middle part.
Salvation isn’t so bad that I’m done with Terminator movies. There’s some interesting stuff here, and while Christian Bale is given relatively little to do as the new John Connor, he’s a good actor who might be able to do something more with the role in future chapters. My vote would be to keep Bale, but jettison McG and his writers. While McG makes an interesting-looking film, it lacks soul and suffers from mundane, sloppy storytelling. Seriously, the intro and outro feel like amateur hour.
Things start off horribly with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate in the early 21st century, getting visited by an ill scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) requesting he donate his body to science. The dialogue exchange here is so awful that it left me with a true sense of dread heading into the picture. Was the whole thing going to be this bad?
The answer, thankfully, is no. The film has its moments and features some good looking man vs. machine battles. The action picks up in the future after the nuclear war that devastated the planet at the end of the mediocre but slightly superior Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. (That film should’ve been titled Terminator 3: A Slight Hint of the Machines because they barely played a part in that chapter.)
This film, in contrast, has machines aplenty: the iconic metallic skeleton robots, motorcycle terminators, and big Transformer-looking bastards snatching up humans for nasty reasons. It could be said that there are too many machines in the film because the human element is almost lost.
Bale’s performance features him shooting at things, yelling from time to time, and listening to an old-school tape recorder playing his mother Sarah’s (still the voice of Linda Hamilton) rambling warnings. (Don’t you think Connor would’ve transferred these treasured tapes to something more durable?)
Bale’s character is more of a plot device than an actual human being. Worthington’s Wright is given some of the film’s only true depth for reasons that the advertising campaign has no problem revealing. I will refrain from explanation in case you don’t watch television and have a chance to be surprised.
There is a ballyhooed cameo appearance by a certain California governor-type, thanks to an old body mold made by Stan Winston during production of Terminator. The moment he appears is arguably the film’s best, but it is short and not enough to hold up the movie as it heads into a lousy conclusion. Anton Yelchin has the film’s best potential element as Kyle Reese, the man who will eventually become John Connor’s father. While Yelchin is very good, the script fails him and shoves his character off to the side.
If you visit internet movie chat groups, you probably read of the leaked ending, and how the director allegedly changed it to throw off the gossip mongers. I can’t say whether that’s true, but I can tell you that the alleged leaked ending seemed better than what ultimately transpires in this film. The conclusion of this movie is hokey, misplaced, and poorly conceived.
So get rid of McG, get somebody like Ridley Scott or J.J. Abrams, and get this franchise back on track. Terminator Salvation is a good-looking but empty-headed entry from a director who favors style over substance. Some action franchises require a better balancing act, and Terminator is one of them. I want to see a fifth chapter, but if McG pilots the next one, I’ll watch it with much trepidation.