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No Salvation for Fourth Terminator Installment

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Dec 04, 2009
No Salvation for Fourth <i>Terminator</i> Installment

DVD Release Date:  December 1, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 21, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  115 min.
Director:  McG
Actors:  Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter, Jadagrace, Blair Williams, Common, Michael Ironside, Jane Alexander

Sequels, by their very nature, aren't original. Familiarity is what brings people back to certain stories—familiar characters, familiar settings and even familiar dialogue.

The best movie sequels expand on themes in the original story, but such thematic development often isn't required for box-office success. If we liked something the first time, maybe we'll like it a second time, or even a third time. Or, in the case of the Terminator franchise, a fourth time.

This latest Terminator film is full of action-movie clichés—acceptable by action-movie sequel standards—but it's a hollow, mechanical film that advances a story without expanding the underlying themes in any significant way.

Drawing on earlier, better films—sometimes from different genres—Terminator Salvation fails to rise above the familiar traps mentioned above. Its gritty visuals offer some diversion, but the characters, and some woeful dialogue, offer little that's fresh. Sure, fans get to hear the line, "I'll be back" again, and they get a glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the film, directed by McG (Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), is more disposable than its inconsequential but enjoyable predecessor (the Jonathan Mostow-directed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and nowhere close to the visionary, James Cameron-directed Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale) leads the remaining humans in a fight against machines that seek to destroy them. They're succeeding. Unleashed by intelligence network Skynet, these robots, or "terminators," are nearly unstoppable.

The humans, holed up in bunkers, are united by resistance leader Connor, whose voice goes out over the radio in an effort to inspire hope among the decreasing number of human survivors.

Among those who fight for survival is Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the new Star Trek film), who holds the key to humanity's future. Connor's task is to protect Reese at all costs. When Reese and his friend Star (Jadagrace) are taken captive by the machines, he devises a plan to free them, rather than following the orders of his superior, General Ashdown (Michael Ironside), who seeks to obliterate the machines regardless of the cost in human lives.

Complicating Connor's efforts is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death-row prisoner who, as the film opens in 2003, donates his body to science and ends up, years later, claiming to be Connor's ally. (He reappears in the year 2018 and arrives howling, covered in mud—a scene very similar to the prison break in the classic Coen brothers' comedy, Raising Arizona—a worrisome point of comparison for a film as devoid of humor as Terminator Salvation.) Connor suspects Wright is his enemy, but the two will need to work together to exploit the humans' discovery of a secret programming code that could defeat the machines. Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard join the men in their fight but are given little to do. Better is Helena Bonham Carter as a cancer victim and passionate advocate—perhaps too passionate—of scientific advancement.

Terminator Salvation concludes with a poignant discussion of human courage and sacrifice. One character earns the right to bear a symbol of such sacrifice, while another gives up something precious to benefit someone else. "Everyone deserves a second chance," he says. "This is mine."

Unfortunately, the potency of that moment is mitigated by the emotionally static film that precedes it. Director McG has orchestrated several action scenes, but at the expense of the human dimension that made the earlier Terminator films so memorable.

That's unacceptable for a movie about the very existence of the human race, but it's not the director's fault. Blame goes instead to writers John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, who co-wrote the screenplays for the more entertaining Terminator 3 but also the infamous Catwoman. Their work on Terminator Salvation includes one unimaginative line of dialogue after another. Worse, none of the issues about humanity's plight seem forward-thinking, as in the best sci-fi movies, but play instead as mere retreads of the themes established in the first Terminator film, way back in 1984.

Poor Michael Ironside, as Connor's superior, gets the worst of it as the inhuman war leader, uttering a "stay the course" line seemingly intended to draw a parallel between his character's monstrous decisions and George W. Bush's defense of the war on terror.

After years of criticism of the George Bush presidency, the film's attempted political parallel feels as tiresome as the rest of this mechanical story. If there's another Terminator, it should put human relationships, not human/machine combat, front and center.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; cruel comments made to a cancer victim; occasional foul language.
  • Smoking/Drinking:  None. 
  • Sex/Nudity:  Kissing; none although one terminator with a human form appears naked, with his midsection obscured.
  • Violence:  A needle is shown puncturing the skin of an arm more than once; air attacks; bombing; gunfire and killing; a dead fighter falls out of a helicopter; terminator robots relentlessly attack human resistance fighters; a human body skips across a body of water, like a stone; a man and woman fend off three attackers; a submarine is destroyed; a robot that appears to be human tears chips from the back of his neck, drawing blood.
  • Religion:  Psalms 23 is recited twice; terms like "salvation" and "false prophet" are used in the context of the physical survival of mankind; John Conner says, "There is no fate but what we make."