Wednesday night I found my self with some of the GeekTyrant boys at a midnight showing of Terminator Salvation. It was late, and I was tired and not at all excited to see the movie in spite of the almost carnivalesque atmosphere in the theater. (Just a note for future reference: Dr. Venkman does not approve of batting around beach balls during the preshow entertainment.) It wasn’t just that the movie had gotten (deservedly) bad reviews; it was that I had zero investment in the franchise. I had never seen a Terminator film.
So the movie starts with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) on death row, who has done some Very Bad Thing (they make vague allusions to him maybe killing his brother?) but it’s obvious that by the end of the movie he will prove to have the biggest heart of all. I just didn’t know that was going to be literal. He donates his body to science and is promptly executed. Then we see him as the only survivor of some sort of nuclear blast and I am so confused by what they were trying to do with this character because the way the movie plays it feels like we’re supposed to be surprised when they reveal that he’s some human/robot hybrid, even though A) we saw the trailer, B) we WATCHED HIM DIE in the past (present?) and now he’s crazy freak of nature indestructible in the future, and C) it’s completely telegraphed by the awkward “everything is new to me!” way Worthington interacts with this dystopian world. I think the answer lies in the fact that McG directed.
OK, so you know how I told you that I was really tired and loopy? I forgot that McG was the director of this movie, and then when I saw his name in the credits I got really pissed. Seriously. I saw Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and swore never again. Remember in the beginning of that movie when the truck is going off a cliff or something, and Drew Barrymore climbs out of the cab and into the helicopter, somehow removes the tie downs and flies to safety? Nothing quite that ridiculous happens in Terminator Salvation. That’s the best I have to say for McG’s growth as a director. Lots of things explode ridiculously. Especially when the rebels blow up all the defenses around their own encampment which, wouldn’t that have attracted the attention of all the robots? That seemed a little foolhardy. But I guess that brings us to the script.
It’s just bad. Really really bad. The dialogue is cringe-inducing. I laughed out loud several times. And the story isn’t good either. At every plot turn the characters consistently make least interesting choice, which gives us the least interesting story. It’s been reported that the role of John Connor was intended to be small, with a greater focus on Worthington and I think that would have yielded a richer film. But apparently Christian Bale wanted a lot of screen time to chew scenery and do the same thing over and over again, so they rewrote it to allow for that. A mistake if you ask me. And if you’re reading this, you did.
It’s hard to properly evaluate the acting when the script is this bad. Worthington is actually pretty good in this film, accent issues aside. Bale is unremarkable and completely one note, which is disappointing because I really like him generally. But he does the deep breathy Batman whisper and I just wanted to throw a cough drop at him. I found Kyle Reese really annoying, but Anton Yelchin played him really well. He does a serviceable job pretending to be surprised when the predictable happens, usually immediately after his line tees it up. “If you keep your heads down the machines will come for you eventually.” Whoosh! There’s the machine. “Everything’s going to be alright.” Whoosh! There’s the machine. Bryce Dallas Howard is very very pretty. That’s really all I have to say about her performance in this. Moon Bloodgood (I refuse to believe that’s her real name) gets saddled with all the worst lines. She keeps a straight face, and I’m impressed by that.
A note on the costumes: I can believe that skinny jeans and motorcycle boots and bomber jackets survived in the post-Judgment Day dystopia, but a 19th century Prussian military jacket? And a cashmere sweater? I have no idea how Howard talked the costume designer into that one.
So the movie plods on predictably to the inevitable ending in which Worthington finally redeems himself in the least interesting way possible. And, honestly, meh. After watching this, I have no desire to catch up on the three other movies. I probably won’t see the next one. When I left the theater and checked my phone, I had a text from my brother, who saw it in an earlier time zone, waiting for me. “Terminator Salvation SUCKS!!” More succinct than what I wrote here and probably more effective.