Rating: R and PG-13
Following this raid, a lone man emerges from the ruins – Marcus Wright. Marcus was a prisoner executed in 2003, yet he finds himself inexplicably dumped in the middle of the post-Judgment Day world. As he wanders into the ruins of Los Angeles, he meets his first Terminator and his first fellow human survivor Kyle Reese. Marcus soon finds his fate intertwined with that of Kyle and John, but can this former death row inmate find a second chance among the remnants of civilization?
“Terminator Salvation” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language. The Director’s Cut is rated R for some violence and brief nudity.
They did a lot right with this movie. First of all, setting it post-Judgment Day was a good move. It got away from the overused time travel plot and took the movie into new territory. I really enjoyed the post-apocalyptic setting. The destroyed cities, car littered highways, and rag-tag survivors gave the movie a look and feel you don’t see in too many films.
The other advantage of putting it in the future is that it gives you a chance to meet a whole new batch of robots. You see the Frankenstein-like T-600, the Transformer-like Harvester, the hydrobots, the Moto-Terminators, and more. This gives the movie a whole new batch of baddies and things to run away from. I particularly liked the unsettling, robotic base note emitted by the Harvester and the robots. It was reminiscent of the scary sound made by the Tripods in Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” But the thing I really liked was how they took full advantage of CG technology to animate the T-700’s and T-800’s. When a T-700 robot cut in half attacks John Connor, it’s very disconcerting. It also emphasizes the fact that a Terminator will never stop trying to kill you. By the time you get to the big finale, you’re treated to a lot of great CG T-800 action.
Another good thing about putting it in the future is that you open up the story to a whole new cast of characters. Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright is a great new addition. We are introduced to this new world through his eyes. He has a good mix of darkness and nobility. And when he eventually has to face off with Christian Bale, they’re on equal ground. He can grimace with the best of them. I also liked new ‘tough chick’ Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams. She’s capable of playing with the boys while still being feminine. And while they play returning characters, Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese and Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor are very good in their respective roles. Then you have Christian Bale as John Connor. He’s certainly a worthy Connor and handles himself well in the action scenes and dramatic scenes. While his gravely Batman voice does annoyingly kick in on occasion, overall he delivers a solid performance.
While I give them credit for taking the series in a new direction, some of the tips of the hat to the previous films are the most memorable of the movie. Moments where John listens to audiotapes of Sarah Connor (which she recorded in the first movie) are a fantastic connection with her character. A moment when a character says, “I’ll be back” gets cheers from the audience. Brief moments in Elfman’s score when he plays the “Terminator” theme are quite cool. And I don’t think it’s any secret that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a brief cameo in the movie. When he does appear on screen, it’s an awesome moment. The audience cheers and it’s then that this really starts feeling like a “Terminator” movie. As I said, you don’t need Arnold to make a “Terminator” film, but he helps.
On the down side, my biggest gripe is the ending. It simply did not work at all and ended up ruining a lot of what I enjoyed in the rest of the movie. In the original ending leaked online, John Connor died, Marcus’ flesh was replaced with Connor’s, and Marcus took over as leader of the Resistance. That’s not what happens in the theatrical version, but I have to say that was a better ending than what they went with. I won’t spoil it here, but in a movie with killer robots and time travel, what they did was quite implausible.
I also felt there were some big inconsistencies in this world. In one scene, a blaring radio can attract a Terminator. In another scene, setting off napalm doesn’t bring Skynet down on our heroes. In one scene humans are doing everything they can to hide from Skynet. In another scene they are out in the open staging a major military offensive with dozens of people running around, big jet fighters on runways, and lots of noise. It made Skynet feel like a major looming threat in some scenes and some distant, fallible foe in others. It took away from the sense of desperation and ever-looming threat you expect in the post-Judgment Day world.
The movie also feels quite rushed in a few scenes. For example, John Connor zips from one location to another very quickly and very easily. It seemed more for the sake of running time than flow of the story. In another scene Blair is shooting would-be attackers, then immediately afterwards she’s flirting and cuddling up with Marcus. It felt rushed. (And I have to say that if McG had kept in the topless scene with Bloodgood, it would have been gratuitous the way it was set up here.) The rushed pacing was especially apparent as John Connor rather easily infiltrates Skynet in the final act. He gets in so easily that it makes Skynet seem like less of an omnipotent threat than it had been billed as. Part of this may have been by design (I don’t want to ruin plot points here), but it didn’t work well.
I hate to single out one actor as a weak point, but Common as Barnes definitely didn’t work. His line delivery in scenes was so wooden that it made Schwarzenegger in the previous movies look downright animated. Just because someone can rap doesn’t mean they can act.
I’m also a huge Danny Elfman fan, but I didn’t think his soundtrack worked here. There were some moments where it shined, but overall it was quite generic. Some of the best moments were where he revisited the original “Terminator” theme.
I should also add that my enjoyment of this movie might have been taken down a notch because I knew the whole plot going in. I visited the set last year and had the entire plot laid out for me when there, which was unusual. So I knew every twist, turn, and surprise in advance. I wonder if I had experienced it first on the big screen if I would have bumped up my rating a notch… or bumped it down. I’m sure you guys will tell me if I was being too hard or too soft on it.
I feel like this movie was significantly better than “Terminator 3,” but still well below the quality of “Terminator 2.” That being said, I’d definitely want to see more adventures with these characters in a sequel. Bring on “Terminator 5”!
Next up is “Maximum Movie Mode.” On the theatrical version of the film, you can activate this and it will play the movie with pop-ups, links to still galleries, and short interviews with the cast and crew overlaid on the screen. McG will also occasionally pop in and talk about some of the more complex scenes in the film like the long, seemingly uncut helicopter crash in the opening. There are also a series of short featurettes that can be accessed which cover Arnold’s cameo in the film, the use of the Air Force, the hydrobots, the gas station attack, Stan Winston’s studio, and more. You can also watch these separate from “Maximum Movie Mode” which is nice if you don’t want to go through the entire movie just to see the extras.
You’ll also find two stand alone featurettes. One covers the creation of the Moto-Terminators. You learn about the initial designs, the use of the Ducati motorcycles, the CG versions, and more. You’ll also find the featurette “Re-Forging The Future” which covers the design of the post-Judgment Day world, the retro design of the Terminators, the digital effects, the sets, and other goodies. That one is about 20 minutes long.