Home > Film, Movie Project, Movie Reviews > Terminator Salvation: How Not Saving Humanity Works

Terminator Salvation: How Not Saving Humanity Works

The word salvation is very charged—representing a concept that has been at the center of many church schisms, and I’m not just talking Martin Luther’s fit.  I’m talking about the hundred of small church schisms across the country.  My church has been through 3 or 4 schisms in its existence, and at some point the concept of salvation played a role in all of them.  Should we prepare our congregation for the ongoing and epic spiritual war?  If we don’t use it, do we lose it?  Or, is salvation a one-night stand that turns into an ongoing relationship?  Christians grapple with these questions daily—or whenever someone decides to throw a fit about it.  No matter what interpretation Christians pull out of the Bible, salvation is important.  Without salvation we have no way to Christ, which means no access to Heaven, and no wonderful chat with St. Peter when he’s checking the list at the Gate (“Do you guys have hockey?” “Yeah, and a pretty decent football team, but we need Joe Montana to die so we can get a decent QB.” “What about Jonny U?” “I never was a fan.”).  I tell you this, kind reader, not to teach you about Christianity or God, but because it has nothing to do with Terminator Salvation.  If you evoke salvation in your title, one expects that something happens to lead humanity to safety.  Humanity is saved.  We enter the Promised Land—a land free of killer robots, both terminators and cylons—and go on to build a better life.  If you promise salvation, you better deliver on it, and not leave us at the end trying to convolute a reason for the title.

To be fair, Terminator Salvation wasn’t a horrible movie.  It easily surpassed the low expectations I set for it.  That doesn’t make it a good movie, just one with fewer flaws.  Even if the writing didn’t channel Uwe Boll’s BloodRayne it still had some issues.  The story never found any footing, the film haphazardly switches between John Connor trying out his best Saul Tigh impression, and Marcus Wright channeling his best Boomer.  Neither character nor situation is fully explored, gutting the story of any potential.  The story simply serves to get the heroes from explosion A to gunfight B, and to final showdown C.  Any interesting idea—John Connor isn’t a high ranking resistance officer, or necessarily liked by the commanders, just the emotional leader and Marcus Wright is a Cylon, er, humanoid terminator model—is discarded early on and given no exploration.  And given that two leads, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, act the crap out of their roles the lack of any story depth hurts more.  These two easily could carry an action film with such weight (obviously, look at Bale’s The Dark Knight), and with Bryce Dallas Howard and Anton Yelchin bringing up the rear, the acting talent far outstrips the writing.

Terminator Salvation tromps around in some pretty well treaded ground: robots look like us now—so what makes us human?  (For the record, watch the new Battlestar Galactica to see this done well.)  It even directly asks the question: What are you?  What separates us from the machines?  Luckily, in this movie, no one needs to answer.  Just shrug and shoot a weapon.  Considering the thematic ground has been traveled before, it would’ve been nice for Terminator Salvation to try.  It’d be one thing if McG, with writer’s John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, didn’t even try to wax philosophically, and just present a straightforward action film.  Instead, they map out a semblance of a philosophical discussion but never address the issue.  At least the Matrix had the decency to fool you the first time around.

Curiously, watching Terminator Salvation was similar to sitting in Star Great Lakes Theater.  It looks they tried at one point, but just gave up along the way.  Star GLC—for full disclosure, I worked here for a summer—is a multiplex gone bad.  The lobby is perpetually a mess, showcased by the 9 non-working big screen TVs that used to show previews.  The concession stand looks like they’re feeding you crap, and the theaters themselves are cold, lifeless things.  Having shitty seats is one thing, but if you’re gonna make us sit in the same seats you had 10 years ago—at least give us digital screens.  The theater used to be one of the top 50 grossing in the nation—and I imagine given its location at the mall it still makes decent money.  It wouldn’t hurt to update the place.  But for the time being it was the perfect place to see Terminator Salvation: God bless it for trying, but you were certainly glad to leave when it was over.

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  1. Stacy
    May 29, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Thank you, thank you for telling me what I already suspected about this movie and saving me the $ for a ticket. I enjoy a good apocalyptic themed yarn, even with really dark themes. But let there be a bit of redemption-‘salvation’ even- in the life/heart of a character (i.e.-Iron Man, Gran Torino), or in the world itself (i.e.-The Day After Tomorrow, The Abyss–hokey, I know, but still redemptive). As far as the ‘Robots-that-look-like-us-what-makes-us-human’ theme, BSG has set the bar so darn high Hollywood better get with the program, because the resemblance to the Star Theater’s snack bar is starting to be uncanny.

    PS-Do you think Peter is giving the Red Wings an E-ticket in?

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