Jen Gets Terminated, Day 4: Terminator Salvation

We conclude our Terminator viewing series with this week's McG-helmed sequel, Terminator Salvation.

by | May 21, 2009 | Comments

Day Four: Terminator Salvation (2009)

It’s been a roller coaster ride revisiting the science fiction films Terminator (1984), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), and I thank everyone who followed along with me this week. As we found out, the franchise that James Cameron began 25 years ago weathered a lot of changes through the years (from $6.5 million thriller to $200 million action pic, from Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s first “I’ll be back” to “Talk to the hand”) but what kept fans hooked from picture to picture were the core themes of the Terminator universe: humanity attempting to save itself, the strength of familial bonds, and the idea that we’re all in control of our own fates — even if the future seems rather bleak.

Today I turn my gaze upon Terminator Salvation, the third sequel in the Terminator saga. In it, we catch up with Resistance fighter John Connor (Christian Bale) in the year 2018; Judgment Day (as seen in T3: Rise of the Machines) has come and gone, leaving pockets of human rebels scattered across the globe, while the forces of SkyNet send new machines to harvest and kill. (Coincidentally — or perhaps, on purpose — SkyNet is based in San Francisco, the very same place where Starfleet Command calls home in the universe of Terminator Salvation‘s summer blockbuster rival, Star Trek.)


But John Connor isn’t really the main character of Terminator Salvation, a film that, like Terminator 2 before it, shifts its focus to a new protagonist: Marcus (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who is executed in 2003 only to wake up in the present-day “future.” The lean, lethal Marcus teams up with a teenage wannabe Resistance fighter (Anton Yelchin), who also happens to be the same person that John Connor has been seeking out for a very special mission: Kyle Reese.

That’s the basic plot, anyway, and for the sake of your own experience of discovery I’ll omit details. Overall, Terminator Salvation is a watchable Terminator sequel, but not necessarily a great one. It features great performances, but also underwritten characters. It has a story that will satisfy and intrigue most Terminator fans, but it’s almost over-plotted. The post-apocalyptic world that director McG envisioned is perfectly dirty, dangerous, and harrowing — a well-crafted extension of the flash forwards to the future glimpsed in Terminator, T2, and T3 — but some scenes are strangely, distractingly, set bound.


That said, McG knows how to shoot a set piece. Take the gas station scene shown in Terminator Salvation‘s trailer, as Kyle, Marcus, and Kyle’s deaf-mute sidekick, Star, escape/battle a giant “Harvester” Terminator along with two feisty “Moto-Terminators” that detach from its legs; these bots are ruthless and agile, and not too far removed from another kind of other summer robot (in disguise). Yet this new take on the chase sequence — a staple of every Terminator movie — is absolutely thrilling and fresh.

Set pieces aside, Terminator Salvation has a bit of an editing problem. It’s rather obvious that the final cut was snipped at considerably from all angles, presumably for a shorter run time and (in one glaring scene-to-scene jump) to omit Moon Bloodgood‘s nude scene and hit the PG-13 mark. As a result, some characters seem one-dimensional; we’d like to see even supporting players cultivate their characters a bit longer. Then again, maybe it’s a scripting issue, since there are at least two or three superfluous supporting cast members (Common, Bryce Dallas Howard, and four-time Oscar nominee Jane Alexander, for starters) practically begging for more screen time on the periphery of the story.


Speaking of the cast, Sam Worthington (previously seen in the Australian flick Somersault) makes a great impression in the role that will likely introduce him to most American audiences. His brooding Marcus is alternately tough and self-loathing, a loner compelled to help others who is fantastically handy in a fight and pretty dreamy to boot. Worthington and Michael Ironside, as a Resistance General at odds with John Connor, are the only two cast members who really hold their own with Bale on screen; everyone else looks terrified just to be sharing the frame with him. (Even then, Ironside’s scene with Bale is on the phone — they’re not even in the same room.) Look forward to seeing Worthington in the upcoming Avatar (from James Cameron) and as Perseus in Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake.

Bale, unsurprisingly, delivers a solid rendering of the battle-hardened John Connor, although he’s so cold and single-minded (Must. Destroy. SkyNet.) that it’s hard to believe this is the same person who once played Missile Command in the Sherman Oaks Galleria and high-fived a T800. Yelchin, underused as Chekov in Star Trek, shows nervy strength as the dedicated young Reese.


The Terminator films have always remembered where they came from (whether you consider it the past or the future, or both), so fans get a fair amount of references. Thankfully, they’re integrated seamlessly into the plot and for the most part avoid forced comic moments, as seen in T3. Many are quite subtle, explaining how certain skills or things we’ve already seen in previous films originally came to be; one familiar line in particular is delivered with such perfect timing, the scene ends before it has time to turn campy.


Ultimately, I was superficially entertained but disappointed with this attempt at making a Terminator sequel; it feels appropriately bleak and gritty, but is unable to pull itself together as tightly as the first two films. And although Terminator Salvation is shaping up to be the worst-reviewed film in the Terminator franchise (get the latest reviews here), I actually think it’s a step up from the better-reviewed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; it’s not only about humans battling their heartless pursuers, but about keeping faith in your fellow man. Now let’s just wait for the inevitable Director’s Cut to see McG’s best vision of the film, because there’s a better movie hidden somewhere inside Terminator Salvation.

Read More “Jen Gets Terminated” Installments:

Tag Cloud

what to watch crossover concert aliens Country casting hollywood Pirates Action SXSW Television Critics Association NBA ESPN Thanksgiving YouTube Red Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Countdown sequel spider-man Grammys Epix documentary Arrowverse 2018 Comics on TV Nat Geo Tumblr dreamworks know your critic Spectrum Originals Marvel jamie lee curtis romantic comedy rt archives supernatural Bravo quibi Image Comics docudrama Trivia Food Network latino wonder woman superman boxoffice Star Wars Mystery Walt Disney Pictures renewed TV shows A&E marvel cinematic universe Nominations discovery emmy awards scorecard See It Skip It Marvel Television Disney 2016 gangster historical drama Sundance Now social media CMT Opinion 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Amazon Prime Video Awards facebook Mindy Kaling singing competition golden globes HBO Max Elton John 21st Century Fox streaming movies Black History Month tv talk kaiju japanese cartoon richard e. Grant Netflix Christmas movies christmas movies Emmy Nominations AMC Plus action-comedy scary Paramount 007 black political drama AMC Film RT21 President Britbox feel good scene in color Esquire CBS All Access Paramount Plus comics legend elevated horror VOD Academy Awards Horror based on movie LGBT Turner Ellie Kemper 20th Century Fox BET women spanish Animation Winners robots El Rey dexter dc dogs 71st Emmy Awards DC Universe 1990s award winner adventure festival Extras comic book movie festivals Chernobyl Podcast Spring TV golden globe awards DirecTV NYCC mutant USA olympics Drama science fiction MCU Shudder Syfy Best and Worst Creative Arts Emmys Election parents Mary Tyler Moore biography Apple documentaries joker Musical asian-american VH1 space Hallmark Superheroes Amazon nature scary movies Comedy Masterpiece A24 critic resources criterion Pride Month Box Office Tubi Quiz YA NBC 2020 Summer IFC black comedy spanish language Superheroe hidden camera Crackle composers reviews Martial Arts Neflix cinemax Stephen King Hear Us Out Cannes 45 PaleyFest Fantasy Sundance series children's TV pirates of the caribbean italian Broadway Columbia Pictures psychological thriller franchise TV renewals adenture Disney streaming service canceled TV shows serial killer rt labs mcc TCA 2017 Oscars Classic Film Endgame south america Avengers child's play game of thrones Set visit Alien basketball Nickelodeon crime thriller mockumentary Ghostbusters New York Comic Con First Look batman Paramount Network Captain marvel heist movie Writers Guild of America toy story Amazon Prime zero dark thirty E3 Binge Guide ABC Signature critics Hallmark Christmas movies obituary X-Men Apple TV Plus Winter TV comic Mary Poppins Returns comedies ViacomCBS Hulu spinoff Discovery Channel WarnerMedia Fox Searchlight worst Chilling Adventures of Sabrina young adult australia teaser TruTV jurassic park slasher Toys ID Character Guide Legendary archives streaming APB thriller GLAAD Peacock Music Lifetime Mudbound saw 2021 anthology Infographic OneApp Holiday slashers chucky romance sequels CBS TV Land fresh travel LGBTQ godzilla Pop TV 4/20 Rock canceled Certified Fresh TLC Disney Plus Mary poppins comiccon Tarantino spider-verse new york telelvision USA Network boxing mission: impossible blockbuster Schedule Acorn TV green book ABC witnail Marvel Studios Teen a nightmare on elm street Spike french Calendar The Arrangement transformers DC streaming service screenings live event live action Starz doctor who hist FXX remakes VICE comic book movies The Walt Disney Company Turner Classic Movies Year in Review Sneak Peek animated Baby Yoda period drama Adult Swim Travel Channel TCM versus TCA Exclusive Video Emmys nbcuniversal television Universal Sony Pictures revenge cancelled debate zombie stop motion unscripted Song of Ice and Fire marvel comics international nfl police drama TBS zombies classics TCA Awards stoner dragons rotten 93rd Oscars Tomatazos adaptation miniseries Amazon Studios 2019 Pixar Reality Competition foreign Sundance TV Vudu TIFF YouTube Premium 2017 name the review Rom-Com genre E! Disney+ Disney Plus fast and furious new star wars movies Logo movies cancelled TV series comic books indie posters CW Seed Apple TV+ dceu Wes Anderson PBS halloween tv sitcom vs. Trailer RT History blockbusters book news 2015 sports IMDb TV movie Black Mirror Cosplay TV movies MSNBC Valentine's Day CNN hispanic Crunchyroll Comedy Central The Academy Television Academy BAFTA Watching Series indiana jones royal family spain halloween trailers The Walking Dead dark 73rd Emmy Awards disaster PlayStation Lionsgate toronto harry potter Super Bowl vampires football BBC One Rocky Rocketman YouTube kong biopic HBO Go Disney Channel stand-up comedy reboot aapi BBC HBO docuseries video on demand Lucasfilm rt labs critics edition The Witch directors 90s Tokyo Olympics best DC Comics Freeform Dark Horse Comics Universal Pictures Women's History Month book adaptation TV One video popular werewolf San Diego Comic-Con breaking bad Lifetime Christmas movies Sci-Fi spy thriller mob 72 Emmy Awards Heroines cancelled TV shows target Polls and Games National Geographic king kong Netflix rom-coms strong female leads crime Comic Book BBC America sopranos Fox News Showtime japan art house binge psycho true crime crime drama Video Games satire GIFs Premiere Dates war die hard BET Awards free movies Instagram Live FOX diversity Kids & Family Anna Paquin WGN cats razzies dramedy superhero twilight The Purge kids The CW Funimation IFC Films American Society of Cinematographers finale Trophy Talk FX ghosts Western OWN cooking SundanceTV prank theme song cars Ovation venice Pacific Islander sag awards History Pet Sematary Family Reality Shondaland Red Carpet laika technology Comic-Con@Home 2021 high school Photos ABC Family TNT films Biopics ratings MTV cults all-time blaxploitation anime FX on Hulu Awards Tour lord of the rings Brie Larson independent natural history rotten movies we love SDCC screen actors guild Cartoon Network new zealand james bond Interview Film Festival hispanic heritage month First Reviews TCA Winter 2020 Musicals Pop talk show DGA Holidays Star Trek game show cancelled television TV politics GoT deadpool Marathons ITV monster movies justice league suspense 24 frames 99% Christmas medical drama universal monsters Warner Bros. Fall TV cops king arthur worst movies