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  • Movie: Terminator Salvation
  • Reviewed Format: Theatrical
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Michael Ironside, and Helena Bonham Carter
  • Written By: John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris
  • Directed By: McG
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Series: Terminator Salvation


There's a Storm Coming In

By Rob Vaux     May 20, 2009


Terminator Salvation represents perhaps the most intriguing blockbuster of the summer season. On the one hand, the thought of reviving the franchise at this late date sends chills down the spine, especially with no James Cameron, no time travel paradox, and not even an appearance by star Arnold Schwarzenegger (although there's this… no wait, that would be telling).
 Furthermore, director McG--by his own admission--has some big shoes to fill, and fans may not be inclined to cut him much slack after the whole Superman debacle. On the other hand, star Christian Bale doesn't exactly go in for low-brow idiocy, co-star Sam Worthington is rapidly becoming sci-fi's It Guy, and the trailers promise a fascinating extended look at the one part of the Terminator mythology which hasn't been fully explored: life after Judgment Day. Which of its dual natures will come to the forefront?
In point of fact, they both do, transforming this fourth outing into equal parts blessing and curse. It does no lasting harm to the Terminator mythos--and it certainly might have, considering some of the endings they were pondering--but neither does it advance the storyline in any truly refreshing directions. It's a far more compelling world than a narrative, presenting an effectively grim exploration of humanity's war against the machines and yet failing to find that all-important spark which made Cameron's efforts so extraordinary. It works best if you simply immerse yourself in its surroundings without thinking too much about the pedigree.
As post-apocalyptic visions go, this one feels as convincing as any. The bombs have fallen and Skynet is busy trying to stamp out humanity like roaches on the kitchen floor. Remnants of the military are fighting back, governed by a junta of generals (including the great Michael Ironside) but inspired by the CB broadcasts of visionary soldier John Connor (Bale) who some people believe is a prophet. The status quo is interrupted by a pair of potentially cataclysmic events: the appearance of Marcus Wright (Worthington), an amnesiac whose last memory is being executed in San Quentin before the war; and Skynet's capture of a young rubble rat named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) whom it believes is important for some reason. Connor and his underlings have to piece together their significance even as the human leadership plans an enormous offensive.
McG and his team have thought through the nuts and bolts, applying an attention to technical detail which aptly reflects Cameron's relentless perfectionism. Skynet's 2018 mechanical minions feel of a kind with the later models of 2029--cruder, clunkier, but just as deadly. Terminator Salvation parleys them into some solid action sequences, the best of which entails a giant harvester robot that deploys a pair of sentient motorcycles in pursuit of its prey. The film earns further points with the dynamic between Bale and Worthington (the latter of whom is likely on his way to becoming a big star). Bale ably delivers Connor's seriousness and intensity, no longer unsure of himself but clear and devoted to his eventual destiny. Wright's appearance may disrupt all that, and Worthington has the screen presence to take full advantage of the opportunity.
McG's camera lends their environment a proper sense of grit--sepia tones and sand-blasted wreckage that, while hardly unprecedented, sell the proceedings extremely effectively. This is the Terminator universe without question, and one has no problems linking it to the events of Cameron's original films.
The difficulties come in the particulars of the scenario, which haven't received nearly as much attention as the bots and backgrounds. The central arc exists merely to provide impetus for the action: to ensure that we have some stake in this and aren't just playing out the string until Connor sends Reese back in time. It hangs together (more or less), but it doesn't inspire us the way earlier scenarios did. More importantly, it features some gaping logic holes. Skynet apparently knows who Reese is, for example, and has him in its clutches for a fair amount of time. So why not just put a bullet in his head while it can, before he has a chance to go back in time and knock Sarah up? It has its reasons, but they don't hold water… especially considering the emotionless robotic reasoning presumably behind it. Similar gaffes take place with distressing regularity, and the action, while efficient, becomes numbing after awhile. McG counters with some terrific imagery--notably a San Francisco Bay drained of its waters and now serving as Skynet's headquarters--but that trick eventually wears thin as well.
Having said that, the glass still remains about half full, which may be more than enough for its intended audience. The PG-13 rating doesn't diminish Salvation's intensity levels, and as popcorn thrills go, I fear we'll see a lot worse before the summer is out. But the franchise behind it demands uncompromising standards, and on too many important levels, the effort here fails to meet them. It may simply be that the Terminator story has been told: that we learned everything we needed from the first film and that T2 took the remaining concepts about as far as they could reasonably go. The leaves Salvation a little too late to the party and a little too threadbare to liven it up again. Resolute competence is about the best it can manage.


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hanso 5/20/2009 2:39:16 PM

I've yet to see the film but I've read many reviews. From them I have learned what deep down I've always known to be true. No man should ever attempt to follow up anything that has been done by James Cameron for they shall fail.

McG you suck! Seriously, you and me we're fuckin done professionally and I will trash your lights!!!

SgtTechCom 5/20/2009 4:30:09 PM

IF people want Jim Cameron then someone should have kissed his ass to make another Terminator. I mean for real why the heck not since he's the " so called master" .

LOL He's screwing around doing other crap.

Least someone had the balls to step up and make a Futuristic Terminator movie.  I've learned by the reviews that are on here that they don't mean a dam thing. The Bank Roll this weekend will tell the tale.

I will see it either late tonight or tomorrow and can't wait.


joeybaloney 5/20/2009 4:37:19 PM

LOL. Dammit! I was really pulling for this one. I'll still be there at some point this weekend. Hopefully my diminishing expectations will make for an enjoyable however many minutes. Worked charms for me on Ghost Rider.

Y’all should include runtime with these.

JarrodSarafin 5/20/2009 5:04:28 PM

Noted, Joey. We'll give that suggestion some thought.

ponyboy76 5/20/2009 5:25:18 PM

I`m taking this review with a grain of salt because frankly I tend to disagree with a lot of Rob's reviews especially the TV ones, but I'll definitely make up my own mind when I see it. I'm not going to use this review as an "I told you so" ehem bro hanso. Damn right I was worried when they put McG in charge but everything I have seen is telling me this could be a good flick. Maybe the C grade is warranted but Vaux does tend to grade pretty low on most things

Darkknight2280 5/20/2009 7:11:22 PM

I really hope you guys are smarter then this!  Glad to hear you are taking it with a grain of salt Ponyboy. I'm not one to base my outlook/opinion on movie i havent seen on a reviewer! Very sheepeish if people just follow what another person has to say about it. Hold judgement and see it for yourself...dont be a bunch of blind followers guys. You are all better then that!

Looking forward to seeing this Friday! :)

conundrum 5/20/2009 7:32:22 PM

Maybe McG (and what the fuck kind of name is that...use your real name asshole) should try directing something original instead of riding the coat tails of other's prior work.  McG is nothing more than a director for hire to make a conglomerate cash because the youth of today are too bloody stupid to appreciate good films.

Brodee 5/20/2009 8:24:47 PM

His last name is McGinty. People have been calling him McG since he was a kid. He has gone on the record with this story many times. He's not trying to be a Hollywood dick - that's just what he has always been called.

Tonebone 5/20/2009 8:38:08 PM

Has anyone on her hatin on the movie and McG actually seen the movie yet?


Furthermore, I could care less about reviews or critics feelings on movies. Titanic (whether anyone on here liked it or not) was lambasted by critics. And what does it do? Go on to become one of the highest grossing movies of all time and no, it wasn't just giggly lovesick girls who helped out on that.

Further, I've been subjected to movies that seem to be critical and movie snob darlings that are just god awful.

I will see the movie tomorrow and judge it on what I think

Bryzarro 5/20/2009 9:35:47 PM

How exactly is he riding the coat tails of other directors when he was SELECTED to do Terminator.  And of course he is a director for hire.  I have yet to see the one who would work for free.

Lame ass comments.  I with Pony.  I am very lukewarm to Rob's reviews all year so I will see this and judge for myself.  I mean what else can you do with Terminator?  Thats what I'm curious to see.

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