There's also some history here too, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day were superb films, and I still believe that having watched them again and again. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was terrible, with Terminators talking to camera, a joke made of the Arnie Terminator, the running "gag" of the sunglasses, and the three way dialogue scene to get the time travelling plot out of the way before more action, it was a terrible addition to the franchise.
So what was Terminator Salvation set to bring? I genuinely didn't know. There were positives and negatives on both sides and hope upon hope I wanted to see something special from McG and for him to succeed. With that, I went to see the fourth Terminator film.
They're not just the early machines we saw from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, there are new ones. Small hovering droids designed to find humans, huge big Transformer style robots who gather humans into transport ships and have motorcycle robots in their legs, and robots who swim around in the water, called HydroBots and sounding as though they should be in Transformers.
The humanoid Terminators are yet to be built, an early version sees them as huge, unwieldy robots who carry huge chain guns and are easily disorientated and taken down. Subtlety is given up for huge amounts of fire power.
Forgetting the blips about the motorcycle and water based robots, the rest sounds quite good, and the idea that the film will reveal to us Connor's first meeting with the Terminators and their rise to the fore is an interesting one. It's a great moment in the Terminator franchise timeline, building the characters to the point where we're going to see the original Terminator sent back in time to kill John Connor's mother.
The first thing I noticed about the film is just how good it looked. The effects, the vast landscapes, the washed out looking views of the Earth, it all looks great and some of the battle moments are truly spectacular to watch on screen.
Something that McG does well is pull back the camera and let us see what's happening during fights and battles instead of zooming in too close and swamping our ability to follow the action with multiple cuts. Overall the film looks great, and the opening sequences, particularly the faux long cut, are really enjoyable to watch.
Yet there are some casualties of the war, and they mainly come in the form of the story line. Once the film gets going some really stupid moments appear, scenes and decisions that can't and haven't been explained properly, and some really stupid Hollywood moments.
Let me leap through some of the moments that bothered me in the film, and that should give you a fair idea of the fractured and mishandled story line.
It was going pretty well for me until the first dizzy moment came. We've just seen Sam Worthington escape a hunter-killer, one of the big flying robot ships, and his companions tell him that they are much more dangerous at night as they have night and heat vision and you should stay indoors for safety.
So a little while later we're seeing the gorgeous Moon Bloodgood and he sitting in the middle of the wasteland building a huge fire to keep them warm. Yes, they are out in the open. That really was the first moment I was shaking my head wondering what was going on.
Okay, another one, and I'll keep clear of spoilers for you, even though the film's been out for a while. Connor brings down one of the robot motorbikes and hijacks it for himself, great idea but it had me a little confused, why the hell would SkyNet create robots with human controls - handlebars able to steer the bike, accelerator, gears (as you hear it change through them), clutch (automatic or not), etc. Why?
How about the fact that we see everyone knows about and understands the Hydrobots but John Connor still insists on hovering his helicopter a foot above a lake with one of the men leaning over, peering into the water. Oh, and by the way the lake is amazingly close to where the resistance live.
Talking of which we see a moment in the film where the resistance explode an old car or something to attract a hunter-killer, while napalming an entire section of woods right outside their own front door doesn't seem to bother them or attract any robots at all. Oh I know there are possibly reasons if we extrapolate ideas and suggestions made, but it contradicts what we're shown in the film and there's no other explanation.
There's a moment later on with Sam Worthington's character where he breaks something which seems to be rather significant to both him and SkyNet, in fact the human face of SkyNet was rather upset about it and it seemed to be a crucial point in the plot, but we had seen nothing building up to this moment, explaining a little about what it was he was breaking and just how much of an impact that would have. So the scene plays out very weakly, you feel confused, and afterwards you're playing catch up - "oh that's what it meant".
There was reference to something similar earlier in the film, but it was for something entirely different and referred to breaking a target tracking system, something that bears no connection to what happened here and it just added to the confusion.
The biggest moment of Hollywood mis-magic comes at the end of the film. Now I can't really talk about it without giving too much away, but there's a big finale, and I mean big, and it does make me think of the nuclear fridge moment from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Filmstalker review), implausible and looks just plain daft on screen.
There's a further problem for me with the end of the film, for the whole film we're being built up to believe that this is a headquarters, a central area for SkyNet, and this does contradict the story that plays out later on which sets us up for more from the franchise. It's not what the story has been showing us until now, so it does feel like a strange moment, one of those Hollywood "oh we didn't mean that, we meant this" just to save everything for the next film.
There's more confusion to be had around that story line with the coordinated attacks around the world thrown into the mix and the signal, something which seemed to be quite poorly covered at the end of the film, and to be honest around this time I wasn't flowing with the story, and neither was my wife who had gone to sleep, I was struggling.
Okay, before I get off my assassination of the plot holes, let me pick up on one thing, and it's something that the third film made a mistake on a number of times, forgetting the logical processing of computers and machines. SkyNet's plan seems to be to let John Connor, the man they know full well that they need to destroy, walk right into their central base and put one brand new Terminator, seemingly untested, up against him.
This is SkyNet central and we're looking at a factory line of Terminators being churned out, and there's only one Terminator put up against him? You really can't justify that logic. If he was such a threat they'd pour those Terminators off the line and send them after him, or flood the place with every type of robot they could spare.
Oh and talking about logical oddities in the film, why were the resistance using so many computers, and networked, wireless devices at that? We saw information being sent from computer to computer. Had humans risen out of devastation and managed to build computer networks unbreakable by SkyNet? Perhaps, but it did seem odd.
Okay, let me move on. The fight scenes were very strong and well handled, although the last one borrows a fair amount from previous films, they are well done. Action packed and all allowing the audience to follow the action without playing catch-up after the action's over.
As I said at the beginning the style of the film was great and it was very well shot, the washed out effects of a post-nuclear world were superbly visualised and brought to the screen. When we see another huge explosion and the aftermath as Connor watches on you can see the effort and detail put into making it look authentic, an authenticity that is felt whenever a robot is on screen.
Which brings me to the reappearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the T-800/T-101. While it was released far too early onto the Internet and his reappearance is all CGI and stand in, I have to say it works really well.
Any trepidation you might have over the look of the CGI skin can easily be put down to the fact that this is the first model and it's the first time the Terminator with human skin has been seen. It's a little plastic, a little not perfect, but the look is Arnie and hugely powerful.
There were also some great references to the previous Terminators, big and small. The touches of Connor returning to the audio tapes of his mother's teachings were an extremely strong touch in the story, and the use of her photo was good too.
Using the Guns 'n' Roses song to attract the motorcycle Terminator was a bit odd again, but the fact that it was that band was another nice touch. These moments were throughout the film, some because of the fact that it's a Terminator franchise, and some because they were deliberately engineered, but all were welcome and well used.
Yet I felt there were too many Terminators and robots, and it did start to move into the realm of Transformers with the huge robots walking around like humans and having more robots built into their bodies that could race out and run off by themselves. Yes they did look good, but they definitely felt more Transformers than Terminators.
There's another effect of having so many robots and Terminators on screen before we see the reveal of the main Terminator, the one harking back to the previous films, there's just no big surprise or reveal moment.
The first big problem was that we already saw almost the entire scene in the latest television teaser trailer, and don't go blaming that on "the internet" because it was the studio and the marketing team that released that onto television, but the second part was that the film was filled with new Terminators and plenty of them, come the main reveal it felt as though we were just going back to what we knew past all the distractions.
Let me talk about the cast and how they performed, and I'll move first to Christian Bale who played the role well apart from donning the Batman voice during a few scenes. He was well cast and didn't perform it lightly, he certainly did seem to be giving it his all.
However I think the best roles were for Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood. Worthington provided the most interesting character with Connor taking more of a background role, and the friendship with Bloodgood's character wasn't explored enough but good none the less.
I do like Bloodgood after seeing her in Daybreak, but she did give me a surprise in the film. She showed that in the future dentists have survived the nuclear war along with a plentiful supply of teeth bleaching formula, something apparent from a lot of the cast. Quick tip here make-up people, if you are going to make actors look downtrodden and dirty, try making their teeth look the same too.
Despite Bloodgood being good, there was a distinct lack of things for her character to do and she felt a little left out, a problem that seemed to be there with the other two main female characters of John Connor's wife, Kate, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Doctor Serena Kogan played by Helena Bonham Carter.
Howard did little but look distressed and show she was heavily pregnant, something I thought someone would have referenced, after all with humanity almost destroyed a pregnancy would be revered and the mother looked after well. Carter did next to nothing and her role and reappearance was hugely underwhelming.
It really is a shame that the female characters didn't have more of a bite of the film and more real involvement in the script. They did feel rather weak.
One more thing I want to address before I sum up the film is the ending and the early reveal that apparently caused the ending we see in the cinemas to be changed. Having seen the ending in the cinema it's clear that a number of moments have been edited differently to change the outcome to some characters, and yet at first viewing it doesn't seem as though they've been edited enough to remove that original outcome.
I can't give too much away but you think it's going one way for two of the characters and suddenly it's turned around again, and the scenes looked pretty concrete to us in the audience.
Again this is an example of the feeling that the story just doesn't flow correctly.
This ending does work well considering what they had to pull back from though, but part of me wonders if the original ending could still have been used and delivered a great final punch to the film.
Terminator Salvation isn't a terrible film, and it does do well to deliver a strong idea, a great cast, and a stronger return to the feeling of the Terminator franchise. Some of the sections were great entertainment, the action scenes, the style and the filming were all really good, but the film falls down in the handling of the story and how it plays out.
The story is fragmented and doesn't flow, leaving people confused, underwhelmed at moments they shouldn't have been, and delivering moments that lack the punch they hint at. Not only that but there are some really fumbled idiotic moments which had me shaking my head and wondering what they film-makers had been thinking.
It's certainly a good attempt and looks the part, but it's been poorly handled, swamped with giant robots, and drops the beats on the most important moments.
Good action/adventure scenes for sure, but don't start thinking about it too much as the more you think about it the more disappointed you become.