I came into this movie with fairly high expectations and I certainly felt justified in feeling so. After all, with 2 hugely successful films in the “Terminator” archives being trampled over by a third subpar sequel, why add to the mess unless you’re going to pull a “Batman Begins” and completely restore as well as rejuvenate the franchise. Unfortunately, “Terminator Salvation” is more like the “Batman & Robin” of its series as it enormously disappoints fans by serving them a shallow, disjointed attempt at a “Terminator” movie that only strives to promote its relevance in the mythology. That’s right, everyone. “Terminator Salvation” is entirely irrelevant to the series.
First off, let’s talk about the story. When McG spoke at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, he made an effort to quell fans’ doubts about the film by stating that it would not have been made unless there was a story worth telling. He continued to say that “Salvation” would be primarily story-driven and even spoke to director James Cameron about his motivations for the series to introduce a film that would actually bring audiences into the future war versus the machines. Bullshit is all I have to say to that. The problem with “Salvation”‘s story is that it lacks story in the first place. John Connor (Christian Bale) is a lowly member of the Resistance seeking out to protect his future father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), so that he can preserve his own existence and subsequently save the fate of mankind. Along the way, he meets fighter pilot Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) and Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), who is revealed to be half-human half-machine, but with a superhuman heart. Connor ventures out to SkyNet headquarters to rescue Kyle Reese who has been captured by the machines, while Marcus sorts out his identity crisis and decides whether he still possesses a human conscience to aid Connor. That’s the story and guess what (No, there’s really nothing worth spoiling here)? He saves Kyle Reese and the war continues. Whoopee. Also notice I did not mention Kate Brewster (Bryce Dallas Howard) or Barnes (Common), who were completely pointless characters, but we’ll get to that later.
“Terminator Salvation” is a poorly-written script that offers very little exposition and insight into the mythology, while trying to make up for its deficiencies with homages to the first 2 films. While it presents an abundant amount of engaging, decently-directed action scenes as well as plenty of impressive CGI, it lacks any tension or momentum to drive the film forward. Yes, there are two narrative cameos by Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, played through audio tapes as John Connor listens in. There is also a spontaneous and highly unnecessary battle between John Connor and a T-800 with a digitally mapped face of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, none of these cameos add anything to the story, but rather appear cheaply and ineffectively written in just to attract audiences. They are forgettable in the end. Classic lines such as “I’ll be back” and “Come with me if you want to live” induce eye rolls from audiences as they come out more as desperate nods to the series instead of applause-worthy nostalgia. The only reference that I enjoyed was a scene where John Connor alerts a Moto-Terminator by playing on an old stereo, “Guns N’ Roses'” You Could Be Mine, which you might remember from the 2nd film where Connor works on his motorbike in the garage. However, “Salvation” relies too heavily on these references to bolster its lackluster plot, without introducing anything new or potentially classic to the franchise.
The characters in “Salvation” are practically as flat as the stacks of cellophane film that were unfortunately wasted on this project. Believe it or not, this may possibly be one of Christian Bale’s worst films to date as not only does he have a mediocre script to work with, but he also tends to overdo it with an intensity that’s often without precedent. With Marcus Wright being a slight exception, the remainder of the cast is incredibly undeveloped with little to no background or character development to help the audience identify with them or better understand their agendas. Connor’s wife, Kate Brewster, who was introduced in the 3rd film literally does nothing in this movie as well as Barnes, who is simply a freedom fighter whose brother was killed by the machines. Absolutely nothing is known about Moon Bloodgood’s character Blair Williams, only that she’s a fighter pilot who sees the humanity in Marcus Wright and helps him escape from the Resistance base. Anton Yelchin gives a respectable performance as Kyle Reese, but once again, we learn very little about him besides that he wanders around with a mute, frizzy-haired black kid who constantly tries to warm the audience with his oh-so-cute baby face looks. Aww, he gave Marcus a band-aid for his boo boo. Please. The only character, in fact, I’ll make an exception for is Marcus Wright who does have a backstory and ironically, a fleshed-out (no pun intended) personality as opposed to the human characters. Sam Worthington does a satisfactory job in the role and is the only redeeming asset to this two-dimensional lineup. The fact of the matter is, this film had a brilliant cast behind it; they simply had a dull, directionless script with bare-bones dialogue without any meat to enrich the movie as a whole.
“Terminator Salvation” is remotely out of the league of the first 2 films and I, personally, would have rather watched “Terminator 3” again instead of this pointless train wreck. If you’re primarily an action film moviegoer, then “Salvation” is barely enjoyable as an average popcorn flick, but if you’re looking for a worthy “Terminator” film that continues the series’ reputation for good storytelling, look the other way and return in approximately 3 years to check back on our review for “Terminator 5”, if it even has a chance of being greenlit. James Cameron’s “Terminator” officially ended with “Judgment Day” for a reason. Unless Warner Bros can find a far superior director to replace McG for a third attempt to salvage the franchise, I think it’s best that the studio terminates any plans for a sequel while they’re ahead.