Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin
Directed by McG
Terminator: Damnation might have been a more suitable title for the latest in this franchise, which has somehow gone from action movie benchmark to soulless corporate bitch in the last few years. While Terminator, T2 and even the now-defunct “Sarah Connor Chronicles” were propelled by ideas and characters, Salvation feels like a generic summer movie cooked up for FX reels and marketing departments. A film about the future war was enough to excite every Terminator fan, but why did it have to come from McG, a director whose own name epitomizes the corporate mediocrity of this once-great series?
Christian Bale plays John Connor – prophetic leader of the human Resistance – who gets his own action sequence in the beginning before quickly being regulated to a minor player for most of the film. We’ve spent several movies and a television show hearing how important this character is and he’s literally relegated to a background character while the rest of the movie follows around new guy Marcus (Sam Worthington), a death row convict who donated his body to science only to wake up in the future ruled by machines. Marcus hooks up with Kyle Reese (Connor’s future time-traveling pop) and a mute kid, and most of the film is spent following them through endless action sequences as they try to make it to the Resistance.
Bale is one of this generation’s best actors, but his performance as Connor is the most one-note of his career. He has absolutely nothing to do other than scream bad one-liners at the top of his lungs (no wonder he blew up on set) while Worthington and the rest of the cast try hard to look macho for the camera. You can’t blame the cast, though, since they’re coming from a workmanlike director and an absolutely terrible screenplay (that was written and re-written on the fly by over a dozen names). Despite a few nods and inventive cameos, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself that you’re actually watching a Terminator film.
Not only does this future look nothing like the previous films, there are several new Terminators that look and act as if they stumbled out of a Saturday morning Robo-Tech cartoon. We get giant harvester machines that are nothing more than Transformers clones as well as some ridiculous motorcycle machines (dubbed Moto-Terminators) that ride around and don’t do much of anything. There was a time when we really feared these iconic antagonists … now they just feel designed to sell Happy Meal toys.
And since when did Terminators stop terminating? True to its PG-13 rating, Salvation feels neutered and marketed for teens, ditching the dark survivalist feel of Cameron’s future for a more family-friendly apocalypse. This time the machines rarely kill anyone and seem more concerned with capturing humans, putting them in cages, and shuffling them through long lines in endless warehouses. When their master plan involves kidnapping Kyle Reese to lure out John Connor, instead of simply killing him to prevent all that time travel stuff from happening, you can’t help but wonder why the machines were smart enough to become self-aware.
The only things McG gets right are the action sequences, which is probably what landed him the gig. If you watched this franchise to get a kick out of stunts and vehicular mayhem and never cared once about things like plot and characters, then you’ll probably find plenty to love about Salvation. Virtually the entire movie is a string of action set-pieces with plenty of impressive razzle dazzle, but since none of it carries any weight and there are no stakes to anything, it’s hard to care about what is unfolding.
Overall, watching Terminator Salvation is like watching Brett Ratner take over the X-Men franchise. No matter how much it tries to respect the source material, we’re left with a flashy plotless imitation with familiar characters reduced to … well, robots.
2 1/2 out of 5
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