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Matt's Terminator Salvation Review

Updated on November 12, 2009

I won’t lie, as a diehard Terminator fan, my expectations for this movie were high.  Sufficed to say, this movie met virtually every expectation I had.  I never expected Terminator Salvation to be an instant classic to match the first two movies.  The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day were inspired pieces of filmmaking when they came out, and they both ascended to classic status within ten years of their release.  So I never expected Terminator Salvation to live up to that, what I expected was nothing more or less than a worthy follow-up.  There’s a number of points I’d like to make in this review including addressing many of the major problems that some of the viewers have pointed out, so bear with me.

Observations

-          One of the first things that bothered me about the movie was the weaponry.  As a fan of the first two films, I remembered well that in the futuristic sequences, the resistance was using pulse rifles.  Then it occurred to me that the explanation was in the year that the movie takes place, 2018.  Perhaps the simple answer to that is that they haven’t invented those yet.  As I’m sure there will be at least two more installments, this is an easy oversight to forgive – if it is an oversight.

-          There are no dogs in the movie.  One of the major parts of the Terminator formula was the fact that dogs could always spot Terminators – whether they looked human or not.  The resistance in this movie did not use dogs.  Again though, this is not a major mistake.  One of the major points of the movie is the development of the T-800, which is the first Terminator to have living human flesh.  The resistance would have no reason to used dogs before Skynet begins using the T-800 against them.

-          Like many fans, I was worried about the fact that Terminator Salvation was rated PG-13 – as all three previous installments were rated R.  I’ve seen this happen with the diehard franchise, the first three diehard movies were rated R for violence and language, the fourth of rated PG-13, and it felt watered down.  I’m pleased to say this is not the case with Terminator Salvation.  It might have been different if Sarah Connor had been in the movie, the strong language employed by Linda Hamilton in T2 became an important part of that character and performance.  In the absence of Sarah Connor, the lack of language did not bother me at all.  As far as the level of violence in the film, It felt very much on the same level as the first three installments.  By no means did it feel like the filmmakers were holding back.  The action sequences are just as fast-paced and intense as they have ever been.

-          My main problem with the film is this: it is never explained within the film how Skynet knew Kyle Reese was John Connor’s father.  Let me be clear, it does not bother me that Skynet didn’t terminate Kyle immediately upon his capture and identification – my impression was they wanted to keep him alive in order to lure John Connor into the Skynet compound, once this was accomplished they sent in a T-600 to kill him, but of course, Kyle fights back.  My problem is, how they knew about Kyle in the first place – this is never explained within the film.  I can only hope a director’s cut will eventually be released, and this one huge gaping hole in the plot will be closed up.

Performances

-          Christian Bale definitely turns in a strong performance as John Connor.  He definitely has the charisma and gravitas to pull off the character rather more effectively than Nick Stahl, but then this is a different point in John Connor’s life – he is much tougher and more uncompromising than in previous incarnations.  I was pleased to see that he still very much values human life above all other considerations, which has been a huge part of the John Connor character since the beginning.  Assuming they make a fifth movie, I’d like to see the writers do more with the John Connor character as far as range of emotions.  Bale has proven more than once that he is capable of great range, but the script for this movie did not lend itself to the type of performance Bale is capable of.  He’s a great actor, and they should take advantage of that in future installments.

-          While it’s always cool to see Christian Bale, the most interesting character in the movie is Marcus Wright played by newcomer Sam Worthington.  Worthington shows great acting prowess and a lot of potential for greatness down the road, he is the central performance of the movie.

-          Anton Yelchin played a young Kyle Reese, a character made famous by Michael Biehn in the first Terminator movie.  Yelchin rose to the challenge admirably, managing to play the character without mimicking Michael Biehn’s performance.  As Kyle Reese is my favorite character in the franchise, I was very pleased to see that character was done right.

Music, Cinematography, and Special Effects

-          The special effects in this movie were excellent.  Even the cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger – done with a body double – was believable.  With the effects as good as they were, some of the action sequences were borderline scary, which is as it should be.

-          The Cinematography deserves some consideration, the desert sequences contrasted with the dark and looming skynet city to great effect.

-          Danny Elfman did an excellent job with the music.  He avoids using the iconic theme in the main score, choosing instead to take it in his own direction.  He delivered a score that feels like something composed in an earlier time, avoiding many of the trends that have arisen in movie scores of the last ten years or so.  Without the main theme in the score, the movie is separated from the previous trilogy in a very fundamental way, but the feel of the score left me in no doubt that I was watching a Terminator movie.  Very well done.

Bottom Line

This is a very well put together sci-fi thriller.  Strong performances, a good plot, and an action packed finale all combine to make this a very strong addition to the Terminator franchise.  I highly recommend every Terminator fan give it a look.  8/10

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