The movie that once again put the Terminator franchise in a coma.

In the year when Star Trek rebooted a complex 40 year franchise history with elegance, a smart simplicity and an accessibility for those who wouldn't know a Vulcan from a Klingon, the huge flaw of Terminator Salvation is obvious. It just doesn't work as a stand-alone movie. You really need to have studied every detail of the three movies past to have a basic start here, and even then screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris won't help you along the way. You have to put the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle together yourself and it's exhausting. There's no story here, there's just character names we remember filling the roles of what we would expect them to fill given their standing in the three movies past. If you had never seen a Terminator movie, or had only glimpsed at the franchise once or twice, then I just don't see how you could have been satisfied by it. Surely, when you pay your money to see a film you expect to see a complete story, with character development and if you are leaving things open for a sequel, then that's fine but we need to see some progression or reasoning for what we are witnessing. I find it hard pressed to actually call this a movie... it feels like a couple of good set pieces and many not so good set pieces blended together and spewed out with the name Terminator Salvation. Is it really important what order this movie is played in? Would it make a difference?

Terminator Salvation: The Blu-ray extended cut is available now from Amazon. Watching it for the second time this week thanks to the new Blu-ray transfer, Terminator Salvation just doesn't feel like a Terminator movie, on any level, not aesthetically or thematically. If anything, it reminds me of a Matrix movie in terms of style, the same bleached out post-apocalyptic look, the same kind of character (and actors playing the roles... especially Common and Moon Bloodgood, who could have just walked off a Matrix sequel set), the same threat from CGI machines which doesn't carry the same weight as it did before, the same psychobabble dialogue. But here, it doesn't go anywhere. You know you are in trouble with this film by the opening scene. It's a real killer! After a lame credits sequence and horrendous score (Danny Elfman is a non-entity here), the energy, the anticipation just washes over you. I remember being in the cinema and people looking around thinking WTF is that? It is of course the introduction of Marcus Wright, surprisingly given the importance to the universe of Kyle Reese and John Connor, he is the main character of the piece. He is played by Sam Worthington and he is locked away on death row and tells us he is a "bad man"... jeez. Anyway, he agrees to a hammywigged (it doesn't even cover her whole head!!!) bald headed Helena Bonham Carter that his body will be donated to science, and he soon dies by lethal injection. The scene is gut-wrenchingly awful. Zero chemistry is sparked between Carter and Worthington, it's an embarrassment to cinema. A scene that is shot as bad as this, that looks as bad as this and is actually in the grand scheme of things, rather unnecessary should not have begun this movie. terminator_salvation_movie_image_sam_worthington_and_moon_bloodgood_Sam Worthington (left) as Marcus Wright, a new character created for Terminator Salvation. There's a major conflict between the writing, casting and execution of this picture. Brancato and Ferris clearly envisioned their new character Marcus Wright to be the lead, but the Halcyon co. obviously weren't convinced that Sam Worthington could carry this movie on his own without a marquee star like Arnold Schwarznegger, so they went after Christian Bale, no doubt gave him a huge paycheck to play John Connor... but the problem with that is the John Connor that's written isn't a major character. He was never meant to be a major character in this piece, you can tell he was originally conceived as a background figure. It's not really his story but when you cast someone like Bale, that brings with it certain expectations for those who have paid money to see him lead a film. So the movie is confused by who to focus on. It's mostly Worthington, it's his story after all and he has the most that resembles a character arc but every now and then it comes back to Bale, who really has nothing going on except he really hates machines (he also has a short memory after Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and believes that he is "the one", the messiah who will lead the resistance. TerminatorSalvation_BaleCloseup-thumb-550x279-12676Christian Bale brings his best Batman growl to the Terminator franchise. I'm not sure either what Christian Bale was going for with John Connor, he clearly doesn't understand the character or the universe. He growls, he looks pissed off. Anyone who rallies off the way he did at the production team during the making of the film with just utter contempt to his director (this would never happen on the set of a Chris Nolan movie) is clearly not enjoying his time and doesn't wanna be there. And then you throw in Kyle Reese as a third lead and you really are confused by who to follow, and the movie becomes majorly unbalanced. Anton Yelchin plays Reese and actually ends up walking away as the guy who really holds it together for the limited time he is on screen and this movie would have been so much more interesting if he was our lead, Connor was just a voice on the radio, and Wright was the bad guy. Yelchin is the young Russian actor who played Chekov with such respectful mickmery in Star Trek and has done it again here, even better I would say with Reese, talking through his teeth, an energetic and believable performance. He gives us enough of Michael Biehn to feel like he deserves to play the character and enough of his own persona to make it worthwhile. He was great and it's a shame we won't see him grow post such a lame movie. anton-yelchin-in-terminator-salvationWith great performances in Star Trek and Terminator Salvation, young actor Anton Yelchin has sure had a great summer. Interesting questions are raised about the difference between men and machines, about fate and destiny but they never go anywhere. You have a decent scene with Michael Ironside (who plays the overdone military authority figure barking out bad orders on the radio to his troops which contradict with our heroes plan) and Christian Bale's John Connor, where he threatens to shoot Connor in the head just to prove that he doesn't believe the prophesied destiny that he is supposed to be messiah for the resistance but then that's kind of where that ends. I would have liked to have seen that more developed. There's also a debate about why humans are better than machines, with the only answer any of the characters can come up with is that "we bury our dead", which might just be the lamest dialogue line of 2009. There's some other good contenders for that mantle in this movie though. In the end, I'm guessing I'm left with the same feeling I would have had if I had seenTransformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. The special effects are impressive, the action scenes are exciting, well handled and fun. There's a terrific scene mid-way through the movie between the huge Transformer sized robotic Terminator in a big open spaced North by Northwest style landscape that was genuinely exhilarating and something I applauded, but there's such a distinct lack of quality in every other avenue of the production, especially and most importantly in the story that I just can't get involved enough in the picture. McG is actually a better director than Michael Bay, of that I have no problem admitting and I think given time, he MIGHT be able to improve to a level where I can get lost into one of his pictures. It wasn't to be with this one though I'm afraid. There's some neat sequences, and vehicles, and Terminators. More than enough to keep your interest visually during the action sequences, even if you just don't care about the fate of any of the characters. The passion still burns among the real fans of the Terminator franchise, the smart sci-fi crowd that quite rightly place the first two James Cameron movies on a high pedestal, own Terminator 3 for it's "heart in the right place" effort but absolutely despised and disowned the Sarah Connor Chronicles show and either stayed away, or was thoroughly disappointed by Terminator Salvation. And please, don't give me flack for calling out that Fox show, it sucked. Believe me, any of you watched the full two seasons of absolute tripe that show produced (I gave up after about four episodes, and caught a few later in the show's run) each and every week out of loyalty to the franchise, is no loyalty at all. What Cameron created is the franchise. What has come after it, especially in the last two years has been money-grabbing meanderings from suited executives who are using the brand name to attract ratings. Because at the end of the day what is it you are being loyal too? It couldn't be the Cameron created universe because the SCC and Terminator Salvation is not playing by the same rules. You are basically being loyal to a brand name. As I mentioned in an article earlier this month, the future of the Terminator franchise is looking particularly grim but there's still muted optimism that the right studio can come along and pick up the series and do the right thing in rebooting it... and giving us something new with the fantastic concept that this franchise has given them.
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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.