6.5
Movies  |  Reviews

Terminator Salvation

May 22, 2009  |  10:40am
Terminator Salvation

Release Date: May 21

Director: McG

Writers: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris

Cinematographers: Michael Fitzgerald, Shane Hurlbut

Starring: Sam Worthington, Christian Bale, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter

Studio/Run Time: Warner Bros., 114 mins.


An agreeable franchise placeholder


Terminator Salvation assaults logic with a zeal few blockbusters can rival. But it's also an infectious movie, with a single-minded grimness that’s hard not to admire in an age of event movies that insist on in-jokes and irony. It marks an unlikely coup for McG, the little-loved director of the Charlie’s Angels movies who creates a pleasingly ethereal atmosphere to frame the darkest years of the battle between man and machine that has now played out in Terminator movies for 25 years.

This fourth installment is a sequel that has the dramatic limpness of a prequel, since it essentially dramatizes details that were already laid out in earlier movies. The star, curiously, is not Christian Bale but the Australian actor Sam Worthington, who joins the series as Marcus Wright, a death-row inmate executed and later brought back to life under dubious pretenses. It’s now 2018, and he roams the post-apocalyptic Californian desert (New Mexico, actually) and has a chance encounter with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, also a standout in Star Trek), the time-traveling hero of the original movie. Eventually, his path converges with a parallel storyline that features John Connor (Bale) and the resistance that seeks to overthrow Skynet, the sinister machine conglomerate.

The movie’s storytelling is lazy to the point that it’s often boring, packed with coincidences and wonky characters who only vaguely resemble actual human beings. Worthington makes a reasonably diverting hero, but that's mostly because his square jaw and unaffected stature looks nice in front of a camera. (Bale, on the other hand, is downright goofy, delivering his surprisingly muted part in an autopilot of gruff, anguished fury.) 

Instead, Salvation’s admittedly modest success lies in its earnest treatment of the series’ mythos and in McG’s newfound discipline as a filmmaker. He has learned that a steady camera in action sequences goes a long way, and he has a charming, boyish reverence for his explosions and machines. Even as the movie stumbles increasingly hard in the overwrought finale, it remains likeable for exactly that reason—it's made with love, which comes through clearly enough to drown out the occasional excess.

Watch the trailer for Terminator Salvation

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