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Terminator Salvation: The Review

Short review: Yay! It doesn't suck! Go see it!

It's not T1 or T2, but it's much better than T3. Saying just that, however, doesn't do it justice. The look and feel of the movie is quite different from the previous episodes, but it's much more of a "Terminator movie" than T3 could ever dream of being. It has a couple of missteps, but it also has some amazingly cool and interesting stuff. They cared about the franchise and it clearly shows, and I look forward to seeing it again. Several times. :-)

Longer reaction: I'm going to avoid spoilers as best I can, but I'll put the rest under a cut anyway.

Let's start with the negative stuff, since that's the easiest to get out of the way:

* Yes, there's an Arnold cameo. IMHO, it's the absolute low point of the movie. It's contrived and unnecessary. They clearly intended it to be a jaw-dropping reveal, but in reality it was almost comedic. It also didn't look especially realistic, in stark contrast to the rest of the movie which was soooo beautiful! I have little doubt that there are people who are going to love the cameo, but I'm not one of them. Fortunately it's both brief and not plot-critical.

* There's some medical stuff that just doesn't ring true as well, but I can accept it as highly unlikely, rather than impossible (it's not nanomachines remotely piloting cars from outside of line of sight!). Suffice to say that some people get very, very lucky.

* Adjacent to the opening credits is a brief crawl giving a quick background on the idea of Skynet becoming self-aware and triggering a nuclear exchange. Is that really necessary? If not then it shouldn't be there. If it is then a crawl is a cheap way to do exposition. (yeah, I'm picking nits here)

* There's one scene (trying really hard not to give anything away here) where a character appears at first to be right next to a stream of molten metal that's splashing all over the place. Character does not catch fire, blister, or scream in agony. This was a WTF moment, however when the camera angle changes the distance between the character and the molten metal is shown to be greater. I don't know if that's just a trick of the angle or what, but it threw me for a moment.

* Not really a complaint per se, but there are some unanswered questions. Skynet in 2018 seems to be aware of the fact that there's been time travel (Skynet doesn't develop the capability until 2029) and seems to know some specifics. This isn't explained, but there are multiple ways in which this could come about. We'll have to stay tuned for the next movie(s) and see what develops.

* The characters should have been referred to by name more often. kimfemetal pointed out that Kate Connor is only named twice, and the first time is half way through the movie. As far as I know, Tunney isn't mentioned by name at all, though he's listed in the credits. I only recognized the name because of Timothy Zahn's excellent prequel novel, "From The Ashes" (which you should run out and buy and read right this moment!).

* T-800's in 2018? Seriously? C'mon. Even as a prototype that seems waaay early (although granted, this is the timeline that has the T-850 and T-1000 in full production in 2029 and the T-X as the new hotness).

* If you're going to play the audio tape that Sarah recorded on screen at the end of T1, don't change the wording unnecessarily! Realize that some of the audience know it word-for-word, and re-recording it is just jarring.

* Skin just shouldn't re-grow that quickly, even on a terminator. Also, if an infiltrator is magnetic then you don't need dogs to spot 'em! Just a handful of refrigerator magnets! Nit picky and explainable, but it still stands out.

Okay, now the good stuff:

* They gave a damn! They really did! There are some subtle things in the movie that made it clear that McG really wanted to steer the story back toward the T1/T2 canon, and found a way to downplay some of the heresy in T3 without directly contradicting or openly invalidating the movie. Excellent choices. They also did a superb job of showing the future we've seen before, but rolled back a decade or so.

* The special effects (with the exception of Arnold) are pixel perfect. The endoskeletons are numerous and beautiful. The aerials and mototerminators are downright sexy. I do wish we'd seen more T-1s and ground HKs, though.

* To me, this deserves specific mention: The movie has much love for Cyberdyne Systems! Again, they don't invalidate T3, but Cyberdyne is explicitly mentioned and the company logo appears multiple times. CRS (Cyber Research Systems) isn't mentioned at all, though they do acknowledge that Cyberdyne was taken over by the Air Force. Perfect.

* The actors all turned in excellent performances. Anton Yelchin deserves major props for portraying Kyle Reese in a manner which is believable, consistent with Michael Biehn's performance, and doesn't make me want to burninate him at the stake for heresy. If that sounds like faint praise, understand that Kyle Reese is a character of great personal significance to me (so much so that back when we were considering having kids kimfemetal and I had decided we would name our first born son after him). I have a very high bar.

* However, I think that Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright) stole the show. He had more to work with in terms of dramatic range and took advantage of it, presenting Marcus as a character that is simultaneously warm and bad ass.

* Terminator is an iconic franchise, and there are certain things that simply have to be there. They are, and yet they're not done in a manner that's cliche or predictable.

* They went beyond that, however, and included a lot of tie-ins (both overt and subtle) to the other movies that didn't need to be there, but which enhance the movie by their inclusion. Little things like the way Kyle constructed a makeshift gun sling in T1 or the physical appearance of John Connor in the opening "flash forward" at the opening of T2 are brought into the story. They're also done in a way that isn't forced (something that The Sarah Connor Chronicles didn't always get right). Good job, McG.

* Action movies which feature a small child typically leave the audience wanting to waste the kid by the midpoint of the movie. Not so here. Star isn't exactly a central character, but she never does the stereotypical "stupid kid gimmick" (such kids would die very quickly in the post J-Day world!). She actively contributes a bit here and there and has the good sense to stay the hell out of the way the rest of the time. She's also mute, which certainly doesn't hurt. ;-) (Disclaimer: she plays a bigger role in "From The Ashes", so I already knew and liked the character before the movie even started.)

* Skynet has dialogue! Woo hoo!! And it isn't crap! Double woo hoo!!

Digging a little deeper... (minor plot spoilers below, but nothing that isn't revealed in the first 10 minutes of the movie)
A trend in all of the previous Terminator movies is that you always have these amazing sci-fi "creatures" appearing in the "normal" world, and get to follow the reaction of a seemingly normal person to the realization that there's this epic bigger picture happening into which they've suddenly been thrust.

Since Salvation takes place almost exclusively after Judgment Day, the situation is reversed. We see a normal person suddenly thrust into the big picture with no grounding in the "normal" world at all. It's gone, and all of the wild shit happening around him is day-to-day life for everyone else. And from there things just get stranger and more dangerous. Pretty cool.

One very minor complaint about that method of storytelling is that it seemed like they were trying (out of necessity) to cram as much information about "here's how the world works now" into as short a span as possible. They pull it off well, but you can tell that that's what they're doing. A minor beef, however.


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May. 28th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
i love how they got creative with some of the robots, no so sure about the human performances though
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