Editor’s Note: As with many of our Ten and Five articles, this article does contain spoilers. Consider your metal alloy ass warned.
Terminator Salvation has had a bumpy road to the theater screens. The only person made happy by the announcement that McG would be directing the film was McG’s own mother. Maybe. He had a wall of shame consisting of his filmography to overcome, and to his credit he attacked that barrier head on. Enthusiasm and respect filled his convention appearances and interviews, an impressive cast came together around the project, and when the first footage began to appear it impressed the hell out of many of his critics. Had we all been too quick to judge? Could he actually pull it off? Would Salvation be the great film we all hoped it would be?
The film is finally here. The answer is no. In fact, the answer is such a resounding “no” that we doubled our normal amount of dislikes and had two writers tackle this double-stacked version of 10 and 5 (we’ll let you do the math). To be fair, something we’re legally not required to be, we also doubled our likes because both writers Rob Hunter and Robert Fure are big fans of the Terminator franchise and despite what you’ll read below, eagerly await a fifth installment. Except this time, they want it to be good.
20 Things We Didn’t Like
20) “I’ve never driven before” – Oh Kyle Reese, you prankster. Never driven yet you throw the car into gear, drive off-road like a champ, and know precisely how to turn the wheel when Marcus yanks the emergency brake. Made for a funny punchline when Marcus kicks him out of the seat, but otherwise unbelievable. -Rob Hunter
19) Bad Wire Work – When a human being is punched by a robot or hit with an explosion they normally die. Instead of dying, these humans decided to fly through the air in straight lines rather than in an arc like things actually travel. At one point, Marcus jumps off a bridge and begins to fall, but somehow magically he rises slightly and his upper body shifts as if he’s being pulled up. That’s some seriously bad wire work. -Robert Fure
18) Cheese factor – Way too much shmaltz on display here… from Reese’s call to “stay alive in here (taps head) and here (taps heart)” to Marcus’ whiny “Do you think people deserve a second chance?” to Connor’s nod of approval when Marcus offers his heart. -Rob Hunter
17) Needless Explosions – I love explosions – as long as they make sense. When Marcus is fleeing from the Resistance Base, why do the humans blow up the entire forest? Seems like a huge waste of material and a giant signal fire to the machines. -Robert Fure
16) 100-ton Harvester Ninja? – The giant Harvester robot was pretty cool, but how the hell did it manage to sneak up on everyone at the gas station? The earth would be shaking from its footsteps. And yes, it was dropped off by a jet powered aircraft… -Rob Hunter
15) Not Enough Terminators – Seriously. We see a couple of fat T-600s. Like, literally, they only fight 2 of them. Where are all the bad ass robots? -Robert Fure
14) Connor’s wavering concern for others – Saving lives is what makes Connor’s fight more human… until he gets on the chopper at the end and the kid hands him the detonator. Does he ask “Hey, is everyone out safely?” No. He immediately blows the shit out of everything. Remember all those folks he “rescued” from cells and told to go to the transport? They were probably all sitting in the transport twiddling their thumbs and waiting for him when he blew the place to pieces. -Rob Hunter
13) Poor acting – Most of the acting in this film is weak. I wasn’t impressed with Bloodgood, and Common has nothing to do. -Robert Fure
12) Inconsistent CGI/matte work – To be sure, most of the effects in the film are fantastic… gritty and believable practical creations alongside solidly rendered CGI robots and action. But there’s also some visual blunders… like the blending of Marcus against a digital matte of a devastated Los Angeles, a CGI Connor speeding off on a cycle, a certain governor’s face mapped to a bodybuilder’s body, a poorly rendered flying bot that is barely a step or two above the floating eyeball from Big Trouble in Little China… too many glaring visual gaffes for a big movie like this. -Rob Hunter
11) This Isn’t The Matrix Reloaded – So why did Marcus talk to the all-knowing Architect that is Skynet itself. Portrayed by a computer image of Helena Bonham Carter who gives the machine a sassy attitude. Remember the good old days when robots didn’t have attitudes? They were just robots. -Robert Fure
10) Editing highlighted gaps – The most obvious gap is the one that should have been filled with Bloodgood’s wet, moonlit orbs. She and Marcus start to set up a camp for a night in the rain when suddenly she’s alone and three scumbags show up claiming they’ve been watching her and like what they see. They saw boobs. We didn’t. And it’s left a hole in my heart (as well as in the narrative). Another scene sees Connor clearly during the day arguing with his resistance commander on the radio about an imminent attack… then he’s talking to the troops over the radio clearly at night imploring them not to bomb before dawn… then he’s heading out to Skynet clearly during the day (and well after dawn)… then he infiltrates Skynet at night. What? -Rob Hunter
9) Marcus’ Love of Screaming – People simply letting out big howls of emotional pain is like fourth grade playwriting. Marcus climbs out of a hole – two big screams. He finds out he’s a robot – big howl. Lame. But if you have the guy scream like that, you don’t have to address what just happened anymore, because you know it hurt him, and now he’s better. -Robert Fure
8) Poor screenplay structure – I’m actually being too kind by implying it even had a structure. Main characters are introduced with the assumption that they and the audience are already old friends, new ones enter the film only to do nothing, way too many instances of perfect timing, an ending voice-over by Marcus immediately followed by one from Connor, they give Connor a pregnant wife but do nothing with the inherent value of that situation (how important his own mother was, the drama of bringing a child into this post-apocalyptic world, etc), Skynet can hear a short piece of stereo music in the hills but can’t seem to find a giant resistance base with much noisier planes and choppers flying in and out, and speaking of helicopters… if Connor offers you a ride in one stay the hell away. -Rob Hunter
7) Lucky Shots – Life sucks. Especially after the Apocalypse. But if you’re Marcus Wright, you can throw a tire iron with pinpoint precision to hit a target flying at 60mph or you can just randomly whip mototerminators through the air and into the only weak spot of a Hunter-Killer. -Robert Fure
6) Machine physics and attributes – Too many to list here, but a brief sampling… robots are either strong or they’re not. If you’re capable of denting steel, a fight against a human should result in more than just scrapes and bruises; the robot motorcycles that launch from the Harvester’s legs, why do they have handlebars and controls for Connor to use when they’re built by and for Skynet? -Rob Hunter
5) Wrong Reactions. How come no one ever freaks out? Marcus wakes up after 15 freaking years and doesn’t think anything about it. He admits to Kyle Reese about not knowing what happened to LA (Judgement Day, something that is hard to miss) or what a Terminator is. No questions asked? Also, Connor accuses Marcus of killing his father, Kyle Reese. Marcus responds by saying Kyle Reese is still alive. Neither seem to address the fact that Kyle Reese is, like, 14 years old and John Connor is in his 30s. -Robert Fure
4) Why are John Connor and Kyle Reese still alive? – Seriously Skynet. You have Reese in custody… kill him. He doesn’t need to be alive to lure in Connor… kill him. And when the decision is finally made to kill him, they send the most inept T-600 they could find who not only lets him out of the cell but is unable to crush his scrawny teenage windpipe. And Connor? Why the elaborate plan to get Connor into Skynet HQ when Marcus could have killed him a dozen times over by then? -Rob Hunter
3) No All Out Robot Battle – Every movie before this gave us a glimpse of 2029, where the awesome happens. Pulse rifles, lasers, giant robots, and armies of machines. What do we get this time? Assault rifles, 2 old terminators, and a few floating things. McG wants Terminator 5 to take place in 2011 using modern weapons? What the hell was this then? All the weapons in this movie exist today. -Robert Fure
2) When did Skynet turn into a Bond villain? – Marcus enters the Skynet control room, downloads shit-tons of information (and the ability to shut down some turrets, why some? Shut all the bots down!) and the image of Dr. Kogan appears to explain everything. Why the need to explain what should have been included in the download? Why the need to explain and gloat about the brilliance of your master plan… you’re a computer goddamnit not Dr. Evil. -Rob Hunter
1) Shit-rific Script. The problem with this movie was the script. There is bad dialog. Poor fake military phrases. Right off the bat they talk about a missile being “danger close.” Danger close doesn’t mean the missile is getting closer to target, it means it’s going to be really close to friendlies, who were off in helicopters waiting. The worst part, for me, was that you could tell the script had been written and changed in a hurry to give more stuff to Connor. When you hire Christian Bale, he needs to be the main feature, even if it means destroying the flow. -Robert Fure
BONUS. Invincible T-800 – This T-800 is unstoppable. It gets shot by 40mm grenades, by some high caliber like 20mm gun, gets covered in molten steel, and then flash frozen. None of that even bothers it. I remember back in the previous movies when stuff like that could destroy the hell out of robots. -Robert Fure
10 Things We Did Like
10) A-10s – If one plane would survive the Apocalypse, it would be these badass warbirds. -Robert Fure
9) Christian Bale – Say what you will about the hard edge and undeveloped character of Connor, Bale brings a commanding and imposing performance. He excels at playing bastards both good and bad, so much so that I’d really like to see the guy take on a comedy, romantic or otherwise. -Rob Hunter
8) Arnold Cameo – Even if it was just CGI and short lived, I liked it. -Robert Fure
7) Moon Bloodgood/Sam Worthington – Two relatively new faces to the big screen… You think I watched “Journeyman” for the time travel storyline? (I did.) But it was mostly for a weekly dose of Bloodgood. She’s beautiful to look at obviously, but she’s also an interesting actress. Sultry voice, inviting eyes, and she acts pretty well too. And while I don’t know if I agree that Worthington is on the cusp of super-stardom, he definitely has more than his fair share of high profile films on the horizon. He deserves the attention though, as he’s a captivating physical presence in need of a role that will test his acting chops as well as his charisma. -Rob Hunter
6) Climax – I thought the last 15 minutes or so were pretty badass. It actually featured Terminator violence rather than just people running from evil gunships. -Robert Fure
5) Nods to earlier Terminator films – I won’t ruin them all but there are several knowing winks to the series in the new film. Amazingly, none of them seemed out of place. The heavy truck/motorcycle chase was a nice role reversal, the T-800 cameo was very cool (even with the questionable CGI face), the skeletonized Terminator feet walking up the stairs and two riffs on the skull crushing scenes are welcome and brief visual odes to the past, and they even manage a fresh “I’ll be back” quote without it sounding lame. -Rob Hunter
4) Theme Music – I’m glad the original Terminator theme was included, but why wait so long to use it? I’m glad it showed up. -Robert Fure
3) The gruff and manly face off between Bale and the always great Michael Ironside – Okay, wasn’t really a face off as they were yelling at each other over the radio, but it was still a kick ass scene that gave me a rare smile during the movie. -Rob Hunter
2) Anton Yelchin – Because Hunter already talked about Bale, who is awesome, I’ll mention Anton, who does a good job as Kyle Reese and is one of the only characters that actually has any emotional growing to do, at least that doesn’t involve screaming. Marcus’ screaming did seem totally like it was written in by a third grader struggling with writing big words, but I’ll agree that Sam Worthington was pretty good and has a bright future ahead of him. -Robert Fure
1) The action! – Anyone who fails to appreciate the action in the film is quite possibly dead inside (see Cole’s review here). I see no other explanation. The movie has many faults (obviously) but the constant action scenes and varied set-pieces are often impressively staged and executed. From Marcus’ hand to hand combat with some wannabe rapists to gunfights filled with tracers to air combat involving A-10 Warthogs to the giant Harvester attack on the gas station to a thrilling chase to a “single shot” helicopter take-off and crash landing, the movie is a kinetic cluster-bomb of explosive, metal on metal fun. -Rob Hunter
So there it is. The first true cinematic disappointment of the year. There are other films far, far worse of course but none that hurt me so deeply. We don’t blame McG as he did the best he could with the talent he possesses. He managed some spectacular action here, but dropped the ball almost everywhere else. We were fools for thinking he had grown from the boob who directed the Charlie’s Angels films into a truly competent filmmaker.
That said, while the film isn’t what we wanted, we still want more because killer robots are awesome. How do you feel?