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Review: "Terminator Salvation"

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Every summer movie season must have its share of clanging heavy metal, and fitting the bill this year is the awkwardly titled Terminator Salvation, which has enough exploding robots, aircraft and artillery to tide us over until Transformers 2 arrives. Neither bland enough to ignore nor noteworthy enough to remember, the movie occupies that crowded middle ground of serviceable sequels that send you home feeling, if not exactly burned, then certainly unsatisfied.

This is the dourest and most humorless of the four Terminator pictures - I don't think there's a single moment of comic relief in the whole two hours - and the serious tone weighs down the film. Sure, those Terminator motorcycles are way cool, and the Godzilla-sized Terminator is even cooler. (The noises it makes are pure movie-geek heaven - the neatest sound effect since the bombs that went ke-raaang! during the asteroid-belt sequence in Attack of the Clones.)

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But director McG (aka Joseph McGinty Nichol), in a bid to be taken seriously as an action filmmaker after those two Charlie's Angels baubles, practically admonishes you for having any fun. The tone of Terminator Salvation is bleak, bleak, bleak: The movie is a bum-out disguised as a popcorn muncher. When McG sneaks in the occasional visual homage to The Great Escape or a couple of crowd-pleasing odes to previous Terminators, they almost feel like accidents. Wipe that smile off your face! This is a war movie, dammit!

The intensity is just superficial, though: In terms of story, Terminator Salvation is also the most timid in the series. There's no invention in it, no sense of discovery. Only the impressively orchestrated action sequences feel fresh. Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who previously collaborated on the vastly superior Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, finally get the chance to depict the war between man and machine that has been the lynchpin of the franchise. But that war turns out to be cookie-cutter, Post-Apocalyptic Warfare 101 stuff (think The Matrix sequels).

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An hour into Terminator Salvation there's a neat twist that briefly enlivens the scenario, but the script takes it in the least interesting of all possible directions, and the story flatlines. The plot thickens, then it curdles. Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut's sepia palette, which renders everything in the hues of desert sand and gray skies, is initially striking. But after a while, the scheme grows visually dull. You start craving more color than Terminator Salvation is equipped to provide.

The same goes for the performances. As the long-beleaguered John Connor (previously played by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl), Christian Bale exudes gruff intensity and stoicism and creates a black hole of charisma on the screen. Rarely has a big-budget spectacle been graced with a hero this blank.

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But Bale isn't really the film's star, anyway. Terminator Salvation belongs to Australian actor Sam Worthington, who gets more screen time - and more stuff to do - as Marcus Wright, a death-row inmate from our era who awakens in 2018 and must protect the teenaged Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who will grow up to be Michael Biehn and travel back in time to sire John Connor, who will eventually save mankind from the machines.

Got that? No worries: You'll have plenty of opportunities during Terminator Salvation to tune out, contemplate the vagaries of time travel and wonder if you should have stayed home and done the laundry. The answer is a qualified "No." Those motorbikes really are cool.

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MovieHo

Nooooo! Man it sucks that TS isn't all that we hoped it would be. Even though Rodriguez is pretty money with his reviews, I'm going to have to still go see this. I need to see some stuff blow up real bad.

Juan

Haha! And this is one of the more positive reviews I have read for this film! I'm still seeing it, but expectations have been tweeked a bit. I knew McG wasn't up for this. I'm amazed to hear about Bale though. He's such a fantastic actor, I really have to see this film to beleive that he gave a subpar performance. I think this film soul dhave gotten better writers. There's no use is making a film about John Connor and the war against the machines and NOT make Connor the main focus of the film.

Why does it feel like Star Trek is going to be end up being the best film i see this summer.

Jason

I saw the movie and while I agree with some of it, I love you Rene, you are my favorite critic, but how can you say the movie was devoid of humor? Sure the I'll be back had rather bad timing but, other than that, it did have its humorous moments, Reese interacting with Marcus Wright is a good example. Among other things.

Chris

I loved the sound of those asteroid bombs!

Jeffrey Payne

I cant Believe A majority of you are actually posting comments when you haven't even seen this awesome movie. Mr. Rodriguez, Your review is exactly why I don't normally read movie reviews. But after seeing this movie I felt a responsibility to respond. I was expecting bad and got awesome. (Maybe I should thank you for that). Salvation was every bit as groundbreaking as T2 was. Action-movie making at it's best... I could not even get up out of my seat when it was over....I just sat there in stunned satisfaction. Special effects aside, You complained about it being dark, humorless, and Bale's performance as bland. Wrong on all three accounts. I was particularly impressed with Christian Bales performance. After hearing about his on-set tantrum and your review, well, I was prepared for disappointment. If you loved him as Batman, you'll love him as John Conner also. He IS what John Conner should be as an adult: spot on for what T1 and T2 described him as the future John Conner. Sam Worthington's character as Marcus Wright shared the spotlight with Bale and it worked perfectly. All the other characters were cast just right as well. A teenage Kyle Reese not only looked like Michael Biehn but even sounded like him. Moon Bloodgood's performance was great also. This movie will satisfy even the most moderate action movie-goer....and will absolutely thrill Terminator fans.

mrbluelouboyle

Excellent film. It honors the previous Terminators. I was impressed. Best film of the Summer , so far. I've seen Star Trek and Wolverine. This is better. Two thumbs up from me!

Adrian Ruhi

I was pleasantly surprised. It was definitely not a good film (and only mildly better than Terminator 3), but it sure as hell was entertaining. The second I started thinking about it, a million plot holes arose, but as a mindless popcorn flick, it hit the spot.

But Common... wow. I'm a huge fan of his music, but his acting is absolutely awful.

coffee fan

Terminator Salvation might have made Christian Bale a lot more money, but it definitely did not help to establish his reputation as a dependably good actor

Apocalyptic movie fan

I agree with the previous poster I don’t think doing this movie has had a positive effect on his reputation especially after his antics off screen. But getting back to the movie, I’m glad I read all the bad reviews before I watched it because I think I enjoyed the movie more because of it. I was expecting something far worse than it actually was. Overall it’s a good movie with mad crazy special effects and I agree with the reviewer the bikes were cool!

2010 movies

I reckon it was a great movie. i mean, its not teminator 1 or 2 but still has managed to be a good one.

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