B-D Reviews: Two Opposing Looks at ‘Terminator Salvation’

Warner Bros. Pictures’ Terminator Salvation hits theaters everywhere tonight at midnight and we’ve got two opposing reviews, one from yours truly and the other from David Harley. “Being a rabid fan that grew up on the franchise created by James Cameron, the idea of McG getting behind the camera for this sequel was slightly nauseating, and yet, by some miracle, the fourth film in the franchise is (barely) passable.” For the rest of my review, click the title above, or read on to see what David has to say about the fourth film in the franchise. Don’t forget to write your own review and tell all of B-D what you thought.
I’ve heard words like “joyless” and “depressing” being tossed around since Terminator Salvation began screening not too long ago. I wish I could say it was joyless – it’s about an apocalyptic wasteland overrun by robots hell-bent on destroying humans – but describing the film as such would be a compliment. It would indicate that McG actually accomplished his goal of creating a world that James Cameron’s highly-praised sci-fi opuses only gave us a glimpse of. As it stands, depressing is an accurate statement, if only because it’s off-putting that someone would hire the writers of Terminator 3 (and Catwoman) to reboot the same franchise they killed and fail even more miserably by putting McG at the helm, but lifeless and contemptibly stupid is more fitting.

This isn’t a film with dog pee jokes and dancing robots that has embarrassing, dumb moments; this is worse. The people behind Terminator Salvation think that after seeing a POV shot from a Terminator unit, indicating where it needs to strike a character in order to eliminate him, and a cold, comatose corpse lying on the floor, the audience couldn’t possibly know said character is dead so they need another POV shot with the word “Terminated” blinking on-screen to get the idea. It’s not that we haven’t seen that or a variation of it before, but rather that it’s presented here not to inspire awe with its use of technology but to reinforce a nuance that a toddler could’ve picked up on.

Since Salvation could be considered a prequel or sequel, it has the daunting task of getting the attention of newcomers and giving veterans of the series something to sink their teeth into bestowed upon it. The problem is that it does neither. It’s too “been there, done that, already know what’s going to happen” for those who have seen the previous films and too slow moving and unengaging for, well, anyone to appreciate. With something like Salvation, or even Benjamin Button, where the story itself is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the goal is to make everything in between a worthwhile viewing experience. I don’t want to completely spoil the film for everybody, but let’s face it: you know who’s going to live, who’s potentially disposable and what will eventually happen whether it does so in this film or the inevitable sequel(s). Why not spice it up a little with some tension or danger that makes you question characters’ fates?

The story, originally written to revolve around Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man-turned-machine who has no clue he isn’t entirely human anymore, feels restrained due to the casting of Christian Bale which caused John Connor’s role to be beefed up. The idea of Marcus’ inner-conflict between his machine and humanistic qualities is far more interesting than anything actually in the film. While the audience is clued in on his modified state of being, the character doesn’t find out until halfway through the film and at no point is it believable that he would betray the resistance. His allegiance is put to the test once, maybe twice, but by that point, one could practically recite the remaining half-hour of the film line-by-line. It doesn’t help that there could have been more room for self-discovery if a failed subplot involving Moon Bloodgood as a cyborg sympathizer hadn’t come into play. The future world that Salvation paints for its audience apparently involves beautiful women, who are a little too liberal with their affections, falling right out of the sky (and into power lines where they have to be cut down). Marcus saves her hide on two separate occasions, but neither really justifies throwing her life away for something that could cause harm to the resistance.

With the first of the half of the film being Marcus heavy, Salvation focuses on Bale, for the most part, during the second half. Some people criticize Bale for only being good when he’s placed in extreme roles, which is wrong considering he was great in The Prestige, but his take on Connor will baffle those who have that opinion of him. Like me, he looked really bored during the whole film and while he has little moments here and there, it’s only once he makes a leap of faith that we see the great military leader in him come out, which is more than halfway through the two hour runtime. He’s supposed to be the savior of the resistance and we’re reminded of that over and over again – with Salvation being in the title, an emphasis of “Christ” in Christian Bale’s name during the opening credits, characters getting shot through the hand and enough religious rhetoric to qualify this as a sequel to Passion of the Christ – but rarely in a way that wouldn’t make someone roll their eyes.

The action is surprisingly bland considering the amount of firepower featured throughout. The film is completely devoid of any style, unless you count the cinematic endeavors that influenced it. Long gone is the blue tint of Cameron’s future; instead, we’re given a Mad Max-esque desert landscape (which I think is great), decrepit buildings from Children of Men, a Skynet that resembles Blade Runner‘s city landscape – complete with fire-spewing pipes – and a compound interior that has the metallic white sheen of I, Robot. A colleague pointed me in the direction of some McG interviews earlier this week and he seems like he’s really into the franchise and it’s not just a paycheck for him. Going back to Charlie’s Angels, which at least has some personality to it (even if it’s really campy), the action sequences are the worst part of the film (bad choreography, strange choices of shots, etc.) so I really have no idea why he was even considered for this. But for whatever the reason, Salvation joins the long list of films that prove just because a director enjoys the material, it doesn’t mean he’s the right person for the job.

On top of all this, there’s still the question of why the robots here are more advanced. Underwater robo-snakes? Giant robots that deploy motorcycle Terminators? With the exception of the T-1000, they seem more extreme than anything we’ve seen in this universe before. And for a film whose money-shots should consist almost entirely of great robot sequences, the appearance of the machines pales in comparison to Stan Winston’s work on Cameron’s films. The CGI is just plain shoddy.

With a great cast and a big budget, one would think they could get a better creative team behind Terminator Salvation but, once again, Warner Bros. completely drops the ball on what was once a great franchise. But, in all fairness, you know what you’re getting yourself into when you sit through an opening sequence where someone kisses a woman with cancer and then says “So that’s what death tastes like.”

1.5/5 Skulls