Home > Reviews > Thoughts on TERMINATOR SALVATION (spoilers)

Thoughts on TERMINATOR SALVATION (spoilers)

I came upon the DVD of Terminator Salvation at the library, and decided that since it was free, I might as well take a look at it in the name of completism, despite having read a lot of negative reviews.  I don’t intend to add in-depth to that catalog of reviews, but I figured I’d write down a few thoughts.

Basically, the reviews were right.  This isn’t a good movie.  It might make a good video game, since it puts all its effort and attention into action and spectacle, but has little interest in character, dialogue, or story.  The first half-hour or so of the film is almost monosyllabic, as if they were paying the actors by the word and trying to cut costs as much as possible.  It got somewhat better in this regard later on, but it sure as heck wasn’t a film driven by dialogue.

The film failed to do the most important thing it should’ve done, which is to make John Connor convincing.  Christian Bale’s Connor is just plain unsympathetic, and the film never showed me why anyone would follow him.  It’s like they just expected us to buy him as the leader because he’s John Connor.  Which, okay, is exactly what Terminator fans would expect, but what about the characters in the movie?  What’s their reason?

The one really engaging performer here is Anton Yelchin as the young Kyle Reese.  Despite the limitations of the dialogue, he manages to come off as the kind of charismatic, natural leader that John Connor should be.  This performance just underlines for me what a terrific casting job they did on Abrams’s Star Trek.  Yelchin was the most effective cast member here, just as John Cho was on FlashForward.

Given that Sam Worthington was the star of the film, I don’t really have much to say about him.  He was there, and he yelled a lot.  Moon Bloodgood did okay, but her character had no real personality; she was just The Girl, and she developed an insta-rapport with Worthington’s Marcus because the script told her to.  Michael Ironside was wasted as the one-dimensional obstructionist cliche in charge of the resistance.  Bryce Dallas Howard was… there.  Helena Bonham Carter was… briefly there, then briefly there again as an avatar created by Skynet to provide convenient exposition to Marcus.  (Why would Skynet bother to talk to one of its own drones?  Having it communicate in a human way at all really diminishes the basic inhumanity of it and is really cliched.)

And could that stuff about Marcus’s “incredibly strong heart” have been any more contrived and silly — and any more predictable, once Connor was injured in the climax?

Basically it felt like going through the motions.  They threw in all the lines, “Come with me if you want to live,” “I’ll be back,” “No fate but what we make,” without regard to whether they fit.  They threw in the basic bits, Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, the birth of the T-800, and it felt more obligatory than inspired.  After a year and a half of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, this just feels lifeless and shallow by comparison.  It is kind of a wild idea doing a story that is simultaneously a sequel to Terminator 3 and a prequel to The Terminator, but the execution doesn’t live up to the potential.

One thing I will give it: in the 7-11 sequence with the big harvester thing, they managed to avert a few tiresome action-movie tropes, at least to an extent.  The action-movie cliche is that any time a gas tank is hit by a bullet, it instantly explodes — something that essentially never happens in real life, as the Mythbusters showed, unless you use tracer rounds and the tank is already so full of holes that there’s enough air and gasoline vapor to allow combustion.  But here, Marcus shot at the tanker truck’s detached tank repeatedly and got no explosion until the little mute kid gave him a flare to ignite the trail of gasoline.  Now, here’s where a mythical action trope didn’t get averted, because the tank really did blow up, rather than just burning as it more probably would have.  But allowing for that conceit, they got the next part right, which is that a liquid-fuel explosion isn’t very powerful, so it didn’t really do any substantial damage to the harvester.  All in all, a surprising bit of credibility in the way the sequence was handled, allowing for a certain amount of poetic license.

Although in the rest of the film, physics was pretty much on vacation, as you’d expect in an action flick.  Connor was unharmed by impacts that should’ve shattered his spine and explosions that should’ve perforated him with shrapnel.  And the whole “blowing up the nuclear fuel cells” thing at the end was wrong on so many levels.

So now I’ve seen Terminator Salvation.  And it just made me appreciate The Sarah Connor Chronicles that much more.

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