I don’t think the phrase “summer action movie” is the same as “junk.” While many of them are trivial endeavors, it’s also true that many of them are quite fun. What separates the memorable from the forgettable is largely subjective to each person. For some, the original Terminator movies are revered beyond ordinary blockbusters. They are certainly of a high quality, but how meaningful they are to you can depend on a lot of things—not least of which, how old you were when you saw them. The third Terminator had a lot of the same ingredients, but the quality didn’t seem to be evident and it was closer to forgettable than memorable. But I still had fun watching it.
This is relevant because Terminator Salvation may work only as much as you let it. It’s a different kind of movie. It’s post-apocalyptic war more than tense sci-fi. The familiar elements are limited to the names of some characters and the metal endoskeleton of the T-800. Not much else. Which means if you hold the first two movies dear to your heart and want another one of those, this has a good chance of letting you down. It’s not very much like them, but uses the ideas from them to create a new type of movie.
If you’re like me though, you don’t cherish the Terminator movies as much as you respect them. Personally, I saw them both for the first time on home video in high school. I didn’t grow up with them. I just regarded them as really good sci-fi action movies. I thought the third one was simply “good” instead of really good. So I went into this one hoping for a really good action movie, not expecting another visit with cherished childhood friends.
And that’s exactly what I got. Since I was always looking at this as an action movie, that was the most important part for me and boy did it deliver. The action is fast, varied, surprising, and has stellar effects. The pacing of the movie is terrific. It flew by with no downtime. The action choreography is great too–thank goodness there’s no (or minimal) shaky camera nonsense that pervades a lot of modern action (I’m looking at you, Quantum of Solace). So the action was among the best I’ve seen in years. What else was good? The cinematography was appropriately bleak. The music had some themes from the famous previous scores and the sound was LOUD and felt right, with lots of metal clanging. And the new actor, Sam Worthington is pretty solid on screen. Not overshadowed by Christian Bale at all. And several references to previous movies are funny/cool and got a good reaction with my audience.
There are some weaknesses though. The movie can’t really decide who’s the lead, John Connor or Marcus Wright, a mysterious new character. The John Connor here isn’t quite like the one we’ve been led to believe in through previous movies. It’s certainly possible he’s still growing to become that leader of the Resistance we heard about. But he’s not there yet. There are one or two bad scenes, with cliché or awkward dialogue, including the opening scene. But not many, which may be because a lot of the dialogue is more plot-driven than introspective. There’s a random kid sidekick, always a negative in my book. And there are some plot holes. Time travel plot holes from previous movies don’t bother me much, but intra-movie plot holes do, and there’s a couple of them if you stop to think about it. You may be asking yourself a few questions on the way out. Luckily, I’m pretty good at coming up with explanations to sort out the parts that don’t quite make sense.
Finally, the ending. It isn’t a spoiler to say that at the end of the movie there’s a lot more story to be told. Some things have happened, but the story doesn’t feel over. It’s possible they were trying to set it up for a sequel, but it’s not a cliffhanger ending. It’s more like this is just one of many adventures for John Connor and they have to stop telling it at some point.
Ultimately though, this adventure of John Connor (and pals) happened to be quite entertaining. I do feel that my sense of the characters was deepened, albeit very slightly. I do think this future is consistent with what’s previously been set up. The action was consistently thrilling. While the plot could/should have been a bit more focused, this was a good story that hadn’t really been mentioned before in the Terminator-verse. I was excited, I left wanting to see more, and while I acknowledge it had weaknesses, they didn’t overwhelm the positives.