Being the Terminator/Cameron fan that I am, I’m naturally inclined to go into a movie like Terminator Salvation wanting to 100% hate the film. Cameron’s films hold up on many levels today, not only because of the spectacle, but also the compelling characters, scripts, and of course, the world they created.
It’s that world (Terminatorverse, if you will) that I hold on to, near and dear. In my mind, it only exists in T1 & T2. There is nothing after that. No 3rd movie. No series. Nothing. What I saw of the Future War in T1 & T2 was all I had wanted to see. I can leave the rest to my imagination.
But of course, my imagination won’t satisfy most moviegoers out there (yet), hence Terminator Salvation. I’ll be going into mild spoilers, so if you want the quick of it, here ya go:
While a competently made sci-fi action film, Terminator Salvation is still a typical exercise in how hollow dilemmas and characters can take the power, weight, and urgency out of otherwise good action and great effects.
(Forgive me if this review feels like I’m bullet pointing, but my memory is fading fast, and I have to get this out, before all memory is… terminator. Ugh, sorry about that)
What I realized watching this (and it mirrors my feelings on X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is that I found myself not liking fundamental parts of the story, instead of just nitpicking the nerdy aspects on why this wasn’t T2. To clarify, I was surprised that I surrendered to the idea of what they wanted to do with the story/characters, but just didn’t feel it was all that compelling or well done.
Sam Worthington, I will say, is the star of this film. His Marcus Wright is the true heart of the story, and it’s his arc that carries you though. Despite Christian Bale being the bigger star, his John Connor is a weak character (always questioning, but never finding answers) & over-played, and his subplot (involving the possibility of controlling the machines with some special thing-a-ma-jigger) doesn’t really go anywhere, and feels tact on. It’s like “hey, we’ve got Christian Bale in our movie! Let’s give him something to do!”
Back to the Marcus character, I really wish there was more time spent developing him. After coming across a downed Resistance pilot, Blair (Moon Bloodgood), Marcus decides to accompany her to her base of operations, about a day or two away. After saving her from some horny thugs, there’s a quick scene of “let’s get warm by the fire!” (No, that’s not an allegory for sex. That’s literally what happens. Pervs.) Cut to a tad bit later, when she discovers his “secret” (psst, he’s a cyborg! Oh, wait. The trailers tell you that), and everybody wants to kill him, that magical moment of hand-warming comes in to play, as she’s ready to possibly jeopardize humankind, because “he has a good heart”. I mean, at least give them more than 5 minutes of screen time together, before asking the audience to take that leap.
I think that bit is what summarizes the film for me: I’m more convinced that there are actual robotic killers on the screen, than I am of there being actual human characters.
To not be all negative, I love the look of the film. How it was shot, designed, etc. are all top-notch. Even Danny Elfman, who has become a bit stale over the years, delivers a score that honors the themes of the 1st two, and still adds some new energy into it.
And there is one absolute moment of greatness (spoiled everywhere but here), that I gotta admit, got me thrilled.
As for the “controversial ending”- there is none. From what I’ve read, they’ve changed their original ending, and while this ending certainly leaves room for the next in the franchise, it lacks any lasting impact. This feels more like “hey, remember that time with Marcus?”, instead of it having any lasting affect on the characters.
I hate to say it, but even T3 had that.