If I had turned off TERMINATOR SALVATION about 2/3 in I would’ve come to you and made a case for it being underappreciated. I mean, I think it is, it doesn’t deserve the worldwide wholesale rejection and scorn it gets. But it has such a crippling case of T.A.P.s (third act problems) that it’s hard to be excited about it after you get to the end.
But let’s talk about what’s good in it, because there’s plenty of it, and nobody ever talks about that. First of all, a good cast. John Avatar himself, Sam Worthington, plays the anti-hero Marcus, a death row inmate (we don’t actually know exactly how Riddick he is – “My brother and two cops are dead because of me” is the only explanation of his crimes) who gets the lethal injection and then wakes up in a post-apocalyptic battle between man and machine. On one hand, hey, I’m alive, and I’m free! On the other hand…
People probly still talk shit on Worthington but I like him. He just has that unquantifiable presence thing, I like watching him punch guys and drift occasionally into his Australian accent and fight monsters or robots and try to do the right thing. It’s funny that he seems to be typecast as unique individuals who are hybrids of two opposing races: man and machine here, man and Pandoran in AVATAR, man and god in CLASH OF THE TITANS.
Then you get Christian Bale as John Connor. I don’t think I properly appreciated him the first time I saw this. Now I really see the gravity he brings to the role, he does seem like a guy who’s had the weight of man’s future on his shoulders since before he had a driver’s license, and also like a guy who could convince everybody but Michael Ironside that he knows of what the fuck he speaks.
My favorite moment of Christan Bale professionalism: while rescuing the human prisoners from Skynet he sees Star (Jadagrace Berry), the adorable little mute girl sidekick of Kyle Reese, lingering to look for her friend. “YOU!” he yells, pointing at her. “MOOOOOOOVE!!!”
As young Kyle Reese we got Anton Yelchin (same year he played the younger version of a character from a less important sci-fi series), and I think he’s really good for it. Very likable as a crafty kid sneaking around the remains of L.A., setting traps for the crude early Terminators that hunt him. His resolve is more impressive than his exterior, but he’s got alot of skills, and Marcus teaches him a few more. Also he really sounds like Michael Biehn. I like it.
In a smaller role there’s Moon Bloodgood as beautiful tough girl resistance fighter Blair. I like her. I’m glad she gets more to do than Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor (part 3’s Claire Danes character, I believe?)
Here’s a philosophical question for you. Which Expendable is in the movie more: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appears in the form of a CGI double created from scans of his T1 bodycasts, or Terry Crews, who is physically onscreen playing a dead body? As a Resistance sympathizer I want to say the human, but having seen how the T-800 could be a better father figure to John than Sarah’s dirtbag boyfriends I know it’s really the computer. It has more screen time and makes more of an impression, even if it’s not made of organic material.
So there’s that cast and then more importantly there are some absolutely great action sequences. There’s the opening CHILDREN OF MEN-esque battle as John Connor dramatically enters the movie via helicopter, landing and crushing a Terminator with its pontoon and he casually fires into its skull (revenge for the famous shot of the Terminator stepping on a human skull – which happens again later in this movie because an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind). And in honor of T2 there is an excellent truck chase with guns, flames and a wrecking ball vs. flying Hunter Killer, giant robot and best of all two Mototerminators, aka Murdercycles, that come out of the giant robot’s legs. I know T2 is great for its action and story, and I’m not saying SALVATION meets the standard set by James Cameron. But actions scenes this good are very rare these days, especially in big Hollywood movies like this, so that deserves some respect.
Let’s try a little experiment. First, forget what movie I’m reviewing here. Think about something else. LA LA LA LA LA LA.
Okay, your mind is clear, right? You have no idea what this particular review is of? Good. Okay, now I want you to look at these screengrabs I made from an unnamed movie, and think about if this is the type of movie you like to look at.
Beautiful, right? I know what you’re thinking. “Whoah, what is this movie? I gotta see this!” Don’t know what it is yet? Let me give you some more hints.
This guy is in it:
No, it’s not a sequel to THEY LIVE. There’s not a sequel to THEY LIVE and what would be up with the helicopters and stuff. Here you go, here’s another guy that’s in it:
Yep, he’s a Terminator! A really fucked up one living in squalor. No, it’s not the upcoming TERMINATOR movie that hasn’t been filmed yet. Here’s another hint, it’s the one with this actor in it:
No, it’s not THE DARK KNIGHT TERMINATORS. Good guess, though. Here are some of the other people in it:
Hahaha motherfuckers, I tricked you! It’s TERMINATOR SALVATION starring Common! The much hated part 4 from director McG! And you admitted it looked amazing! It does, doesn’t it? I said it in my first review, but it’s worth repeating: good job, cinematographer Shane Hurlbut. I know you got yelled at, but you did good!
I understand James Cameron’s sentiment that it’s stupid to make a TERMINATOR movie without Schwarzenegger, but also I think you can only do so many of that type of story before it starts to feel like a rehash. By that I mean you can only do two great masterpieces and then the third one directed by Jonathan Mostow will be fun but somewhat empty and obvious, although the end is kinda cool. So I respect that this one doesn’t follow the same template, it’s a really different type of movie, it’s not about a Terminator and/or person traveling through time to kill and/or protect Sarah or John Connor. And there’s not a new, more powerful, more CGI-morphable Terminator they have to deal with. Those pictures above I think show the aspects of the movie I really love, that it can create this totally different world but with echoes of the type of action that make it a TERMINATOR movie.
Of course, there are some references to the other movies too, lines of dialogue and what not. I forgot that one of those references is when John Connor is disobeying his superiors and going on a rescue mission, and Kate asks what she should tell them if they find out he’s gone, and he says “I’ll be back.” But I love it, ’cause it comes at an exciting moment of the story but also is a natural thing for him to say, and he doesn’t say it like he knows he’s saying something cool (which, honestly, is how Arnold would say it). Also that was the better line to bring back because it would be rude if he said “Asta la vista, baby.” That’s only for if you want to shine them on.
And the line leads right into a badass scene that’s full of T2 homages and still works. He plays “You Could Be Mine” on a boombox to attract a Mototerminator, which he catches, pins down, plugs something into, overrides the computer and rides it. It works for me because I believe that he would still ride motorcycles, that he would still hack machines like he did with the ATM machine as a kid, and this time I realized that the boombox was set up earlier in the scene where Marcus discovered that playing music attracts the killer machines.
I like this Marcus character and it’s kinda cool that at the beginning he wakes up naked and has to steal someone’s coat, mirroring what the Terminators do after time travel. I like that he sees himself as a human so therefore he fights for the humans. There’s a nice moment where he plans to enter Skynet to help John Connor get in and rescue the captives. He figures that because he’s a machine they’ll let him in. He walks right up, holds his arms out in surrender, a machine scans him and okays him to enter. And instead of just storming right in as planned he pauses to have this look on his face that says “oh shit, I really am one of them.”
But just like the first time I saw it I think it’s too divided between these two main characters to give either of them their full due. At the end when Marcus asks to be given a “second chance” – not to live, but to die and give his organs to somebody – it doesn’t feel like he’s earned that crazy decision. He’s only done part of that journey, so it’s more weird than sad. (Also I’m surprised that everyone is so confident in post-apocalyptic heart transplants.)
There’s a great long take scene at the beginning where John sees the machines taking off with a load of human prisoners. He tries to go after them in a helicopter but gets hit, crashes, and ends up just staying on the ground fighting one legless Terminator to death. This is maybe symbolic of the movie as a whole, because it has good intentions and ambition but gets off track and doesn’t accomplish that much. The point where I turned on it is when Marcus goes to Skynet – which yes, is now an actual physical location, which is weird – and it fucking tells him what the deal is and explains its whole plan to him! And in the form of Helena Bonham Carter on a screen!
This is just a terrible idea. It’s like that deleted scene from part 3 where Arnold plays a funny redneck guy who the Terminators were modeled after. It kind of offends me that they believed in that scene enough to actually film it. This is the same thing, everybody involved in the production in any capacity should’ve known from the script stage that it was not a good idea to turn Skynet from the mysterious unseen force it was in the other movies into the cliche of a talking head on a screen, explaining its intentions like a James Bond villain.
And by the way, why did Skynet even built a room that people can walk around in and look at screens? Did they build this for Marcus and other Terminators to come in and look at screens? Why don’t they just talk to them through their brains, since they’re all connected? Skynet in general seems to be pretty stupid about building all these factories based on a human paradigm, so that humans can come in and sabotage shit. I don’t want to give Skynet any ideas but shouldn’t it be manufacturing Terminators out of an underground tube or something so the rebels don’t keep getting in there? Or at least don’t put doors on the fuckin place.
Anyway, if for some reason the filmatists felt like they had to give Skynet a face and a voice they should’ve tried to come up with something really bizarre, and they would have to somehow top how they dealt with that issue in THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS.
That’s a thing I kept noticing this time too, that it suffers a little bit from post-MATRIX existence. We’ve always been told that John Connor is the leader of the resistance in the future, and I can understand why it makes sense dramatically to have him before then, when he still has to prove himself and when (like his mother) most people think he’s crazy. But they should’ve known how much this feels like a rehash of THE MATRIX RELOADED, where we thought Neo was “The One” but then all the sudden he’s the bottom of the totem pole and he has to deal with this military bureaucracy that doesn’t believe in the prophecy. Later, the humans penned up like cattle overseen by a glowy-eyed Terminator is a scary idea, but I couldn’t help but think “oh yeah, but at least they’re not naked in a bowl of goo plugged into a machine that makes them think they work in an office building so their body heat can be farmed for fuel.”
And the robotic snake things, those were kinda Matrixy, you gotta admit.
Anyway, it’s too bad. Some of it really is great. Four years later I stand by my conviction of liking some of it.
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other movies that came out that summer: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, STAR TREK, ANGELS AND DEMONS, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, PUBLIC ENEMIES, HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, DISTRICT 9, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, THE FINAL DESTINATION
highest grossing movie that year: AVATAR
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.