10 Reasons You’re Wrong About Terminator Salvation
10. It Dared To Be Different
On paper, it sounds like the summer’s most desperate cash-in: a sequel with no returning cast members, a heavily rewritten script credited to the duo behind Catwoman and a director whose biggest hit, a flashy revamp of a TV show, was nearly a decade ago. Then the opening credits roll, and it becomes clear that Terminator Salvation has ambitions beyond being just another sequel.
From Danny Elfman’s adaptation of Brad Fiedel’s theme to the introduction of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), you can feel it – the movie wants to be different. It would’ve been easy to pick up where Rise Of The Machines left off and show John Connor adapting to life in post-apocalypse Los Angeles before the arrival of two Terminators – one good, one bad, you know the drill by now – leads to the usual running gun battles. Too easy, in fact, because we’ve seen that film three times already.
Instead, McG departs from the Cameron formula and gives us a futuristic war movie that takes visual cues from Alfonso Cuaron’s Children Of Men and at no time reminds us we’re watching a film from the director of Charlie’s Angels. That’s an achievement in itself.
9. It Atones For Terminator 3
Terminator Salvation is a movie with a mission – as well as telling an entertaining story, it also wants to make up for past digressions. Having previously stated that he wouldn’t do a third Terminator unless James Cameron was involved, Arnold Schwarzenegger changed his mind when the filmmaker advised him to take the money and run, which following a series of flops (End Of Days, The Sixth Day), he was more than happy to do.
How else do you explain the existence of a movie that, until near the end, is mostly a copy of its predecessor, the sole element of novelty being the presence of a female Terminator? Having learned nothing from Batman & Robin, and apparently unaware he’s supposed to be playing a machine, Arnie overplays to his heart’s content, even throwing in a few variations on “I’ll be back”, a catchphrase that in 2003 was older than most of the audience.
To McG’s credit, there is no wise-ass humour in Salvation – or, come to think of it, any humour at all. His Terminators do not wear shades, they don’t appear to the strains of Bad To The Bone, and there certainly isn’t a female Terminator who grabs her nemesis by the balls.
It’s an action movie, pure and simple, where the desaturated look is appropriate for the post-apocalyptic wasteland it depicts. It’s a movie with heart and soul and more on its mind than product placement (and besides, a nuclear holocaust isn’t really a laughing matter).
8. It Features Franchise Firsts
Turning its back on series convention allows Salvation to achieve a number of firsts, the most obvious being the absence of Schwarzenegger’s character. Rather than harm the film, this frees it to explore new avenues with new characters, none of whom do anything as silly as stealing Sarah Connor’s coffin because it contains a secret arms cache.
You could say that Rise Of The Machines also achieved a series first, but watching a male stripper tell Arnie to “talk to the hand” isn’t a patch on doing away with the chase formula in favour of sending Marcus, John Connor and Kyle Reese on a mission (albeit a very elaborate one) to destroy Skynet. The first Terminator set (almost) entirely in the future, Salvation also introduces the Harvester and the Moto-Terminators, as well as a worthwhile new addition: a Terminator with a heart.
Destroying more cyborgs in its first 40 minutes than the previous instalments managed over the course of six hours, McG’s film doesn’t so much expand the universe as boldly recreate it, and it’s everything Cameron promised in the first two movies. All the film asks in return is that you get on its wavelength and bear with it while the new world is sketched in, but if you don’t feel like leaving the comfort zone of modern day Los Angeles for a dystopian future, well, there’s always Terminator Genisys to look forward to.
7. It Has A More Serious Tone
Rise Of The Machines was the Superman III of the Terminator franchise – the movie that invited everyone to laugh at, rather than with, the main characters. Its crimes are legion, and chief among them is Sergeant Candy.
Though cut from the finished film, the two-minute scene tells you all you need to know about the filmmakers’ intentions. Ostensibly a Skynet promo video, it opens with Schwarzenegger speaking like a hick (“Ah wuz honoured tuh be selected in duh effort tuh save American lives”) and when someone says, “I’m not sure about that accent”, another character, who speaks with Arnie’s voice, says, “We can fix it.”
Sergeant Candy might’ve been at home in Last Action Hero, but, like dressing the T-800 in Elton John sunglasses and allowing him to quip like Roger Moore, it doesn’t belong in this franchise. It’s too far removed from the cyborg we met in 1984, whose first actions consisted of knocking Bill Paxton unconscious, tearing out Brian Thompson’s heart and stealing Brad Rearden’s clothes. Even the ‘kinder, gentler’ T-800 in Judgment Day kept the wisecracks to a minimum.
Terminator Salvation, then, is an attempt to get ‘back to basics’ and re-establish a serious tone. There’s no female Terminator who can increase her cup size at will, and at no point in the movie does Marcus Wright enter a bar on “ladies night” and steal a male stripper’s clothes. That’s not funny, just lame.
6. Terminator Genisys Won’t Be As Inventive
Reasons to be worried about Terminator Genisys: the script is credited to Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, whose respective credits include Shutter Island and Dracula III: Legacy. The poster shows Arnie’s T-800 character, metal visible beneath his skin, under the words, “He’s Back!”
Can you say “bland and anonymous sequel”? Judging by the trailer, it wants to be the Back To The Future Part II of reboots – a movie that references its predecessors and even recreates key moments from the original story, but that likely won’t add anything (watch this space).
Of all the criticisms levelled at Salvation, you can’t call it bland and anonymous. It’s the creation of filmmakers, rather than committees and focus groups. You might care for McG’s vision or you might not, but he wasn’t just recycling, he went ahead and made his own movie.
The odds were stacked against him, though, because nobody who paid to see Rise Of The Machines left the cinema thinking, “I can’t wait for Part 4”, and when Governor Schwarzenegger declined his cameo (despite having made one in The Expendables), it made the project seem like the hoariest cash-grab of the summer.
It wasn’t. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen took that honour.
5. The Story Makes As Much Sense As Any Other Blockbuster
To paraphrase Stephen King, once you’ve spent a few years going to see blockbusters, you realise that if you start over-analysing the narrative, you’re done for. Narratives are the peg on which action sequences, usually pretty contrived themselves, are hung from. They exist to set up the next slam-bang confrontation and work on the viewer’s emotions, not logic.
Terminator Salvation’s plot is a variation on Total Recall – a covert operative, with no knowledge of his mission, is sent to flush out the leader of the resistance, which he does while being pursued by Terminators that are also unaware of his true purpose, leading to a succession of chase scenes where everything explodes in impressive fireballs. During the final showdown, the villain outlines their diabolical master plan to our hero, who then fights off a henchman before destroying the facility and escaping to safety.
An earlier draft reportedly focused more on Marcus Wright and Kyle Reese, with John Connor making a brief appearance towards the end, but was changed the moment Christian Bale came aboard. Seizing the Connor role, his part was bulked up and led to much griping that he was muddying an already complicated story, but his character is, after all, supposed to be a post-apocalyptic messiah, and keeping him off-screen for most of the picture just doesn’t cut it.
You can fault the narrative if you wish, but how many people came out of Rise Of The Machines, thinking, “That film was too complicated”?
4. It’s A Good Action Movie
If it’s action you’re looking for, Judgment Day has it: crashing helicopters, exploding buildings, gun battles and, most memorably, a truck chase through LA’s storm drains. It was a tough act to follow, and Rise Of The Machines didn’t even try, settling instead for a few perfunctory chase sequences.
The door was wide open, then, for a new director to step in and craft some expert action scenes. Eschewing smash cut editing and shaky cam, McG achieves just that, delivering a series of set pieces that manage to be exciting without stressing chaos over coherence. One of the most visually arresting takes place early on when Christian Bale’s helicopter is blown out of the sky and the camera swirls around the doomed craft, tracking its descent in one fluid take.
Special mention, however, has to be made of the attack by the Harvester Terminator, which simply put is one of the most accomplished moments in any recent action movie. Buildings are demolished, Moto-Terminators are employed, dragged for several miles and hurled into the air, then once the HK-Aerials get in on the action, bridges are destroyed before Resistance planes engage them in a dogfight.
Looking for a movie that ups the ante from Judgment Day? You’ve found it.
3. It’s Not Just Another Dumb Blockbuster
When do audiences fail to cut a movie some slack? When it’s a Terminator movie.
Released in the same year as Big Dumb Movies GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Friday The 13th, Streetfighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li and Gamer, Terminator Salvation had at least one thing going for it – it hadn’t exhausted its plot after the first 20 minutes. Indeed, anyone who has a problem with Salvation’s storyline is invited to make sense of Revenge Of The Fallen, which somehow combines an alien machine hidden in Egypt with minstrel humour and a robot dog humping Megan Fox’s leg.
The irony is that while audiences were turning their backs on Terminator 4, they were going to see Transformers 2 in droves, and apparently weren’t offended when, while promoting Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Michael Bay admitted the picture was “kind of a mess.”
Bay blamed the writer’s strike for the film’s weaknesses, and on a side note it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Salvation was worked on by a number of uncredited writers, including Paul Haggis (Casino Royale), Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Jonathan Nolan (The Prestige). Asked why he thought the movie failed commercially, McG said it didn’t have enough fun and described how a sequel might work.
“It will be more of a chase movie with a new Terminator,” he said, uncannily predicting Terminator Genisys.
2. It Has The Best Cast Since The Original
The first Terminator movie headlined by an Oscar winner, Salvation also features an impressive supporting cast that includes Michael Ironside and Helena Bonham Carter, but best of all is Sam Worthington, seen here five months before Avatar (which, somewhat confusingly, was filmed first) propelled him to the big time.
The best addition to the franchise since Robert Patrick’s thousand yard stare, Worthington has ‘star in the making’ stamped all over him, and like fellow Australian Hugh Jackman, he’s got the Mysterious Stranger routine down cold. Even the detractors who considered his part to be one of too many unnecessary additions conceded that he acquits himself well in the role, going from unrepentant Death Row inmate (who steals a kiss from Helena Bonham Carter’s cancer patient and says, “So that’s what death tastes like”) to action hero without overplaying.
Also in the cast is Moon Bloodgood, who’s similarly good in a token Action Babe role and, portraying the young Kyle Reese, Anton Yelchin. A month before Salvation’s release, Yelchin channelled Walter Koenig as the young Chekov in Star Trek, and he does the same thing with Michael Biehn’s character here. In the stand out Harvester sequence, he even loads his shotgun in the same way Biehn did, so whether or not you want to hear him say, “Come with me if you want to live”, you know he’s going to.
1. Unsuccessful Movies Are Not Necessarily Bad Movies
Publicising The Expendables 2 in 2012, Arnold Schwarzenegger was asked if he’d consider reprising his signature role in a fifth Terminator film. “A well-made Terminator,” he replied. “The last one was awful.” He later added: “It tried hard, not that they didn’t try, the acting and everything. It missed the boat.”
His comments perhaps reflected the fact that, despite turning down a cameo role, he still appears in Salvation courtesy of the special effects artists who scanned his likeness from the earlier films. Contrast that with the largesse he enjoyed on Rise Of The Machines, where his contract guaranteed him 20% of the gross receipts, $1.5 million for private jets and round-the-clock limousines on top of his $29.25 million fee, and you quite possibly get a better insight into what motivated his remark.
There are no good or bad films in Hollywood, just profitable and unprofitable pictures, and because Salvation underperformed, it became a “failure”, a pariah that every subsequent sequel/reboot will be forced to ignore. Terminator Genisys will distance itself from the movie just as Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla avoided Roland Emmerich’s version, so expect a sleek new film with jokes and more than a touch of déjà vu.
Is that good or bad? Depends on your personal taste.
Do you think Terminator Salvation deserves another chance? Let us know in the comments below.