Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

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Christian Bale as John Connor in Terminator Salvation
Photo: Warner Bros.

Terminator Salvation is a big dull, predictable dud that counts on monotonous action sequences far too often, while making characters and story secondary. As Star Trek proved only two weeks earlier, story isn’t always important as long as you create entertaining characters and put them in exciting circumstances. Too bad Terminator Salvation has characters such as Christian Bale growling in his Batman voice, bringing absolutely nothing to a character we are meant to believe is the savior of the world, as he battles mindless CG-animated robots. To top it off, you know there’s trouble when the emotional core of the film revolves around a robot and that robot isn’t named WALL•E.

Set in 2018, we are introduced to a post-apocalyptic world in which the surviving humans are battling the machine-controlled Skynet and its army of robots. It’s like watching a poor man’s Matrix Revolutions without any back-story. You would have thought if they were going to rip-off The Matrix they would have at least chosen the better of the three films. As it turns out nothing about this film feels new, including Skynet’s Blade Runner-esque skyline and a similar Matrix-style computer code, shown as some sort of computer DNA.

The worst part of it all is the story has absolutely nowhere to go but down the already beaten path. The set up from the beginning includes the mention of a robot kill list which contains both the names of John Connor (Bale) and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), two names any Terminator junky is sure to recognize immediately. As a result, the humans, known as the Resistance, have found a way to combat the machines that may end the war. But the sudden appearance of a man going by the name of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) changes their entire approach — but not really.

Christian Bale playing John Connor is a complete letdown. Early on he is barking his lines offering little more than background noise. He softens his tone when dealing with his wife Kate Connor played by Bryce Dallas Howard, whose pregnancy goes unexplained for the entire film making her appearance worthless unless something major is planned for follow-up films.

As Marcus, Worthington does just fine, but the role is so limited to say any acting was done would be a real stretch. The same could really be said for everyone as the script written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris is so boring you just hope the next turn in the plot will manage to surprise you until you finally realize it never will.

The troubles with this film are numerous, but it goes beyond the writing and the acting as director McG did absolutely nothing with the money he was given outside of blowing things up. Seriously, there is a tree line explosion so reminiscent of Tropic Thunder it is the first time I have actually laughed at an explosion in an action film. His use of rain and fire places him above Michael Bay on the list of director’s enamored by the use of inexplicable explosions and environmental emotional cues. His action set pieces are fantastic until they are ruined by monotony and coincidental happenings. Had they been anywhere near exciting in the first place I might not have minded, but as it stands it is just one more head slapper as you wonder, What were they thinking? *

There are, however, a couple of bright spots, but unfortunately they are all superficial and don’t benefit a film unless what they are gussying up is worth the polish. The production design of Terminator Salvation is spectacular. Shane Hurlbut, the cinematographer that suffered the wrath of Christian Bale in the widely heard on-set rant, shot a very good-looking film. Occasionally the world shown on screen reminded me of images painted in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” as a gray hue was used to dim the post-apocalyptic set in which this boring action film takes place. To build on that, the effects are quite fancy and I enjoyed seeing the evolution of the Terminator machines (including one surprise appearance), but all that is secondary to what should have been a motivating story. The problem is, there wasn’t much to go on.

This all begs the question, where does the Terminator franchise go from here? Quite honestly it could go anywhere since all Terminator Salvation does is establish new actors for characters you are already familiar with. Very little is accomplished in this film and once you get to the end you are no better off than you were in the beginning. This is one of those few times I am giving a low grade to a film I don’t have any kind of animosity toward as much as I have no interest. Terminator Salvation bored me. After about 20 minutes I was beginning to think, “Uh oh,” and when the friend I was with turned to me 10 minutes later and said, “This is awful!” I knew I wasn’t the only one wondering what went wrong.

* Something I want to ask McG in conjunction with one of the most egotistical directorial credits I have ever seen.

GRADE: D