Terminator Salvation Review

There’s a shot in Terminator Salvation that tails Christian Bale as he commandeers a helicopter (and subsequently crashes it). The camera follows him running up to the helicopter, watches the ‘copter take to the sky from a distance, then swoops up and into the backseat, staying fixed there as the ‘copter flies around, shaking violently due to a nuclear blast, then climbs out along with Bale after they crash. All of it's perfectly seamless in one long take, but we know that to be impossible. The effect is of a neat magic trick, but one that’s completely superfluous, blatantly fake and adds absolutely nothing to the scene. It takes away from the point just so it can show off.

All this aptly describes what Salvation is to the Terminator series.

After three movies of protecting John Connor’s future potential, we finally see him actively pursuing his prophecy of saving mankind during the war against the machines, but he’s a completely different person from the John Connor we knew in the previous movies. Aside from the cute fact that he still jams to Guns N' Roses, Bale’s Connor is a humorless hardass who retains no trace of the lively spirit we remember him most for. It’s not surprising to learn that in the early drafts of the script, Connor was a background player whose role was expanded once Christian Bale signed on. His character is utterly perfunctory, on the table only for some action scenes and some dramatic screaming (Bale’s good at those, apparently). We know Connor’s supposed to have matured during the war, but did he have to botox away his personality, too? It makes for an extremely boring hero, especially with Bale playing Connor as a generic military man. It goes without saying that he doesn’t get an emotional thumbs-up moment.

The true protagonist of the story is Marcus, played by the bulky yet effective Sam Worthington, a Pre-Judgment Day death row inmate who signed his body away to Cyberdine for cancer research and wakes up in the future as a Terminator who thinks he’s human. Through Marcus, the film introduces the existential question of what makes someone a human being, but skirts around the issue for most of the movie and answers it later in the most cheeseball possible way. At the screening I attended, the answer drew fairly big laughs from the crowd—partly from the awful delivery, but perhaps mostly because it’s a load of crap—closing the film on a laughable note, which was ironically the most reaction it got out of me.

It’s unfortunate because they already provided a great answer early in the film. Jonathan Nolan rewrote the script, but since he didn’t change enough of the plot (he really, really should’ve; because this one’s really, really dumb), he is uncredited as per WGA arbitration rules. You can tell he left his mark, however, as the dialogue is full of The Dark Knight’s self-elevating pathos. “You know what separates us from the machines?” asks Anton Yelchin, playing teenage Kyle Reese. “We bury our dead.”

Simple and succinct, yet the film has to go and ruin it with Marcus’ halfhearted “Who am I? What am I?” routine for the rest of the movie. Doubly embarrassing is his crappy romance with the sexy Moon Bloodgood that blossoms in fast-forward purely out of plot convenience. The intention is sweet, but the notion that a trained soldier who’s seen her world ravaged by machines would still trust one to the hilt even after being deceived, just because she has a crush on him/it, is not only idiotic but also insulting. It’s odd that John Connor, whose father figure was a machine, would be the paranoid and hardcased one.

It felt like there was a three hour film somewhere with all of its themes carried across, but either McG or Warner Bros decided that they needed a fast-paced empty action flick instead, so they cut out all the interesting Terminatoresque ideas to make way for pop kitsch. McG makes a solid effort at copying Children of Men’s gritty camerawork in certain scenes, but they feel arrogantly juvenile when they’re punctuated with stylish compositions and CGI battles better fitted for one of his Charlie’s Angels hooplas. The slick gloss negates any effort in Salvation cementing the apocalyptic tone it clearly wanted. Even a human cattle farm scene that deliberately draws upon images of the Holocaust looks about as harrowing as waiting in line at the DMV.

What’s the difference between man and machine? Same as the difference between a good movie and a bad one, I guess. Emotion, charm, character. A sense of purpose, maybe. Take your pick. Whatever it’s called, you won’t find it here.

"Terminator Salvation" opens May 21, 2009 and is rated PG13. Action, Sci-Fi, War. Directed by McG. Written by John Brancato & Michael Ferris, Jonathan Nolan (uncredited). Starring Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Christian Bale, Common, Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Alexander, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood.

May
21
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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