There are action movies and then there's Terminator. This franchise has, in three short movies, carved a nice spot out for itself at the peak of the action movie mountain, firmly planting itself in the lives of film fans the world over. Sporting three noteworthy movies (yes, even the third one) and one that many consider the greatest action movie of all time (Terminator 2: Judgment Day), it seemed like this franchise could do no wrong. Well, it did. Terminator Salvation is a mess, a stain on the previously unsoiled franchise that is made so poorly that it makes Timecop look like a sci-fi masterpiece in comparison.
It's been quite a number of years since I've seen any of the Terminator films and I'm not exactly privy to its mythology, so forgive me if I'm brief in my plot description. The year is 2018 and the battle between Skynet and the Resistance rages on. Skynet, an artificial intelligence network, has taken control of itself and started a war with the human race and the only person who foresaw these events was John Connor (Christian Bale). He thinks there might be a way to end the war and soon meets up with Marcus (Sam Worthington). They team up in an attempt to inflitrate Skynet and end the battle.
Or something like that. Honestly, I glanced at Wikipedia. Sue me. The simple truth is that unless you're keen on the lore behind the Terminator franchise, you won't ever be fully onboard. Even having seen the previous three movies didn't stop my befuddlement, a detriment to Salvation's quality. This is a movie aimed solely at fans of the franchise and doesn't attempt to pull in anybody new. The most likely scenario, however, is that the fans won't appreciate it any more than the rest of us.
What this movie lacks is depth. It's a hodgepodge of a film with no focus. In the other films, there was one main enemy always in pursuit, which created a focal point for the action to drift towards. In Salvation, the enemies are numerous, never allowing for a clear threat to be established. It isn't personalized like the other films. It never gives you a chance to care about these characters and understand the motivation behind the enemies. As far as this movie is concerned, it's just a war. What else is needed?
At the very least, you'd hope Salvation would deliver some great action scenes. Well, the opening of the movie is quite thrilling leaving expectations high, but it's all downhill from there. The cardinal rule in action movies is to not overdo it. Two things can ruin a promising action picture. One, an overabundance of action and two, unnecessary fancy camerawork that distracts more than excites. Unfortunately, the latter ruins this movie and the perpetrator is McG, the director of the painful Charlie's Angels movies, and his self fulfilling camerawork.
Nearly every action scene screamed, "Look at me!" Early in the film, John Connor is in a helicopter that is spiraling to the ground. The camera starts inside with him, then swings outside and around, then back inside, before eventually flipping upside down. I appreciated the effort, but the frantic camera movement was unnecessary. It wasn't pertinent to the situation and seemed like McG was just trying to show off.
Still, this could all have been overlooked had the foundation been supported by a solid script. This flick is tremendously cheesy, contradicting the desired tone and providing me with some of the worst dialogue I've heard all year. While the performances are uniformly bad, even from the usually reliable Christian Bale, I'm not quick to point the finger in their direction, as the script was so poor and the dialogue so lousy that nobody could have pulled it out from under its own mediocrity.
If there's anything positive to say about Terminator Salvation, it's that it looked very good. It felt like a post-apocalyptic world and the CGI was no slouch in helping create that illusion. But even that has its drawbacks. On one hand, this movie couldn't have been made without CGI, but on the other hand, the previous films used very little CGI and were riveting action adventures. Sometimes, the technology is too abundant and noticeable, disallowing any chance for suspension of disbelief.
The two words that make up the Terminator Salvation title contradict one another. Terminate means to get rid of. Salvation means to save. No doubt a metaphor for the way the movie will be received. You'll want to kill any thoughts of it while preserving the love you have for the originals. Maybe that was their goal, a tricky way of manipulating your brain, urging you to buy the DVD's in your lustful desire to relive those past adventures. If so, well done. Well done indeed.
Terminator Salvation receives 1.5/5