TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, and Language

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Directed by: McG

Written by: John Brancato & Michael Ferris

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander & Helena Bonham Carter

THE TERMINATOR is a fun, cheesy 80’s action flick. TERMINATOR 2 is one of the best sequels of all-time and manages to top the original in every conceivable way. TERMINATOR 3 is a cheap, studio cash-grab that did its best to tarnish the series and slap fans in the face. In 2009, TERMINATOR: SALVATION opened to the middling excitement and so-so reviews. Where does this fourth film fit into the series, it feels like a stand-alone post-apocalyptic war film that’s relatively harmless. Though it manages to botch a number of things, SALVATION is tolerable entry that can be enjoyed in stupid guilty pleasure sort of way.

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Judgement Day has long since passed and John Connor is rising to the top ranks of the Resistance against Skynet. When his superiors reveal a secret weapon, Connor is more than a little eager to test it out and has a limited time period to do so (as Skynet has marked him on their hit list). Meanwhile, former prisoner Marcus Wright awakens from a coma into the post-apocalyptic wasteland. His survival is aided by teenage fighter Kyle Reese. Connor, Reese and Wright find themselves on a collision course that could spell fate for all three in this wasteland of robotic killers and freedom fighters.

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Though everything doesn’t quite work in this film (more on those problems in a moment), SALVATION gives fans what they’ve been told about for three solid movies. We get an entire feature centered in a post-Judgement Day world. There’s no end to the compliments I can throw on the ultra-bleak, smoggy wasteland atmosphere being brought to life. Not to mention that there are a handful of decent action scenes that aren’t totally neutered by an unneeded PG-13 rating. The landscape of this rubble-filled world is highly enjoyable to look at, not to mention the various Terminators that we get to see. Previously, all of the machines in the TERMINATOR films have been humanoid designs. In SALVATION, there are self-driving motorcycles with guns mounted to their sides, tentacle-like assassins, giant machines built for capturing humans, and plenty of other cool robots. Even though this movie has it’s faults, I won’t knock the atmosphere or the many creative machines on display.

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Story-wise, this script is from the same pair of writers that brought us the disappointing TERMINATOR 3. This screenplay is ever so slightly better than the third film, but that could be attributed to the many forced rewrites after its inception. There are a number of coincidences and plot holes on display. Connor’s quest to find Kyle Reese seems to be using circular logic that’s much more annoying than other plot holes involving time-travel throughout the series. Also, there’s an obvious twist that was revealed in multiple pieces of marketing and isn’t to hard to figure out (even if you haven’t seen any trailers for this film), but it’s played off as a huge ground-shaking revelation. The PG-13 rating tones down scenes that could have been far more intense or violent. This feels like a cop-out as well when you consider that every TERMINATOR film up this point was rated R. It’s the same dumbass studio logic that was used while making 2004’s ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.

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Though his on-set freakout nearly overshadowed the promotion of this entire movie, Christian Bale is only so-so as John Connor. He’s miles better than Nick Stahl and falls short of Edward Furlong (still a weird sounding complaint). Bale is pulling his typical action-hero role with a deep, growling voice that sounded like a cross between his Batman and his Moses. Anton Yelchin is underwhelming as Kyle Reese, though I never thought the character was that well-developed to begin with. Bryce Dallas Howard is wooden as Connor’s wife, who was also a hollow character to begin with. The best of the character of the bunch comes in Sam Worthington’s Marcus. Though he only shows up for this film, I found his performance to stick out in a good way and his storyline was the most interesting part of the film.

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TERMINATOR: SALVATION is not a good movie. It’s plays out like any standard action flick that happens to have a cool backdrop. I enjoyed the setting and various Terminators, even if the latter are arguably underused. The performances are nothing to write home about and the script is full of circular logic and coincidences. However, I think that this fourth film can be enjoyed as pure spectacle. This is definitely nowhere near the quality of the first two installments, but it’s far better than the disappointing third entry. TERMINATOR: SALVATION is heavily flawed, but okay.

Grade: C+

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