Terminator Salvation (2009)

It’s impossible to point a finger at any one person or thing that brings TERMINATOR SALVATION down to such a mediocre movie. Movies are a collaborative process (so “bunk” to the whiners who argue over whether the screenwriter or the actor or the director is the sole architect responsible for a film), and as much as I would like to lay blame on the all-over-the-place script, Christian Bale’s performance or McG’s overall direction, I can’t. Everyone has a piece of this mud pie.

It’s not a total disaster by any stretch of the imagination, and I went into things hopeful for some fun action if nothing else. And I got that – the action scenes are spectacular. McG rails against the current fad of close-up, shaky camera movement that turns most action scenes into a jumbled mess (which is why it’s so weird that the fad persists) and keeps everything very clear and fluid, never letting the audience get lost in the sequence. When he struts his stuff it’s amazing: there’s a helicopter crash scene that’s perhaps one of the best camera moves I’ve seen in years.

There are some good performances to be had as well: Sam Worthington plays the real “lead” (as far as I’m concerned) of TERMINATOR SALVATION and gives us a preview of what he’ll be bringing to the table in the much anticipated AVATAR coming later this year, and Anton Yelchin does a great Michael Biehn playing a young Kyle Reese, which is kind of funny when you think about his role in STAR TREK channeling Walter Koenig’s Chekov. Even Moon Bloodgood, whom I only know as a television actress brings a spark to the scenes she’s in.

But unfortunately none of that is enough to overcome complete non-performances from the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard and Common, both of whom have proven they can give good performances in other films. But the real culprit is bale, who uses one setting the entire movie, which is basically a riff on his BATMAN persona. His John Connor scowls and broods, shouts odd phrases for no reason, and basically detracts from the story in almost every scene he’s in. I’ve heard that originally John Connor was supposed to be a minor role in SALVATION, which the focus being on Worthington and Yelchin’s characters, but when Bale came aboard the script was overhauled to feature him.

Bad mistake if that was the case. Connor’s presence only serves to cut from a more interesting story, one that has parallels to the other TERMINATOR films. And since those scenes need to be cut into the film, the story of Worthington’s Marcus Wright, a condemned man in 2003 who awakens in 2018 in the middle of the war between humanity and the machines, suffers.

I feel bad for McG. He’s got a definite eye for things, and even though I wasn’t the target audience for them, the CHARLIE’S ANGELS films were fin and striking in a way that was fresh and new at the time they were released. Maybe a lot of this was studio interference: how else to explain the cumbersome and sloppy prologue that’s tacked on to the beginning, the text exposition that immediately follows? All of this could have been integrated with a lot more finesse into the middle of the movie, except that no, we have to make room for all the Bale brooding. The editing and assembling of the different storylines does nothing except to ramp up tension only to deflate it a few moments later.

I wish we had a great TERMINATOR film for the 21st century. I wanted this to be it. My hope now is that the inevitable deluxe/ultimate/limited DVD that comes out has some sort of “Director’s Cut” that addresses some of these issues. A few suggestions from this humble (and admittedly inexperienced, as mentioned before) writer follows:

  1. Ditch the opening scene with Marcus and Helena Bonham Carter’s Cancer Lady character, as well as the scrolling exposition. Open with the battle. You can always communicate the lost information later in the scenes between Marcus and Bloodgood at the fire.
  2. Cut back Bale’s role. After the opening battle, let’s stay on Marcus’s story until he’s brought to John Connor at the resistance headquarters.
  3. Ditch Bryce Dallas Howard all together. Nothing against her, but she’s useless in this particular role. It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.
  4. The ending: without giving too much away, there’s a great opportunity to “fix” John Connor in the labs, essentially making him like Marcus and setting up a larger inner conflict for future use instead of the ultimately wussy “heart” scene that coincidentally makes John Connor look like a huge dick instead of the hero he needs to be.

Come on guys, I know there a really good, if not great movie in here somewhere…