Terminator Salvation (2009): United States – directed by McG
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violence and some language
For this excursion into the Terminator universe, nothing the other movies did prevented Judgment Day, so the world has exploded. John Connor (Christian Bale) is leading a faction of the resistance, but he is almost more of a prophet than a true leader. The actual leadership is led by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside, best known for his appearance in the wonderfully cheesy videos of the Command and Conquer: Red Alert video games). There is another character named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, soon to be seen again in Avatar), who was executed for murder in 2003 after donating his body to science (science here being in the form of a cancer-ridden Helena Bonham Carter). He appears again in the year 2018 under mysterious circumstances.
So John spends his time listening to the tapes his mother left him and shooting machines. He soon learns that Kyle Reese is in trouble and figures that he has to prevent him from dying. Because, if Kyle dies then he can’t go back in time to the first movie to impregnate Sarah Connor, who could then never give birth to John Connor, who could then not lead the resistance against the machines. So the future (which is now) would explode (even though it already has.)
Anyway, as you might be able to tell, there’s sort of plot. It’s all set in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, which looks like it should. The whole film looks quite nice, actually, sort of reminiscent of Black Hawk Down where there is no color, only sandy earth tones. The acting is all fine, though a couple folks stumble here and there. Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood are the only women of note in the film. Speaking of which, I was glad Moon’s rumored topless shot was cut. I could tell where it would have fit in and it would have been a totally unnecessary distraction. I had been mad, previously, that the film was rated “PG-13”, which is not one of my favorite ratings. The film feels pretty violent, though, and most things get shot and the rest get blown up. A few people and things bleed, but nothing too serious. I get the feeling that if this had been released back when the other Terminator movies were (80’s or early 90’s) it would have been rated “R”.
In spite of the plot and MPAA rating, did I like the movie? Not really, actually. For one, I thought it was quite poorly directed and edited. All of the action seems to be in service to…well, itself. Everything blows up nicely and gets shot nicely, but that’s about it. The plot moves forward after everything gets blown up, but not before. The editing, too, was not particularly good, as it was often hard to tell where exactly things were happening. Not that the camera was too jerky, just that the cuts were poor and misleading. Poor editing is something you only notice when a film does not do it well.
I have a couple other gripes, too, but they may seem a little contradictory. First is that the feeling of dread that made the first two films great is missing. The idea that an unstoppable killing machine is coming after you, to kill you, and nothing you can do will prevent it from completing its mission is terrifying. In Terminator Salvation there are a whole lot of machines, but they’re much more easily stopped. They have to be, otherwise all the people in the world would be dead.
Secondly, this film takes itself pretty darned seriously. There are very few moments when it provides even the slightest break of tension. The previous films in the franchise seemed to revel in their mischief and mayhem, knowing that they were fun, but here we only get consistent bleakness. This, combined with some poor directing and some stupid moments in the plot, make it very difficult to be emotionally connected to any of the scenes featuring heartwarming scenes of humanity.
In spite of all the problems with the story and production, there is some fun to be had. The machines look rather cool (even if the film gives off more of a Transformers vibe than a Terminator one) and Christian Bale is enjoyable. There’s lots of action and a great CG cameo by the guvernator himself (as a young Austrian Terminator). Some fans of the franchise and all its potential will probably be disappointed, as will fans of well-crafted films. Movie goers looking for mindless action could do much worse.