Blockbuster Movie Month: "Terminator Salvation" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: May 21, 2009
Directed by: McG
Genre: Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

The "Terminator" film franchise is one of the most popular in action movie history, combining sci-fi elements and fast-paced action sequences to create an enthralling universe of robots, cyborgs and time travel. "Terminator Salvation" follows resistance leader John Connor as he attempts to stop intelligent machines from killing off what is left of humanity. Although this installment does not star Arnold Schwarzenegger, the classic story that details the rise of machines in the not-so-distant future is enough to delight fans of the original films and newcomers alike.

In the beginning of the film, Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) is a researcher in the year 2003 who asks a death row inmate to donate his body for research purposes. The man agrees, and one year later a revolutionary system known as Skynet goes online. Although its potential is at first promising, it is soon clear that the system is too intelligent. When humans are seen as a threat, a mass killing occurs that leaves the human race virtually extinct. Only a small faction remains, leading a resistance against the machines that now control the world.

The movie advances to the year 2018, and Connor (Christian Bale) is a key member of the resistance movement. He leads an attack on the Skynet base, but the attempt is unsuccessful as many human prisoners and members of the resistance are killed in an explosion, with Connor the only survivor. However, Connor still managed to discover the machines' plans to create a hybrid mechanical being fused with human flesh. Connor leaves the wreckage behind and heads back to his home base where he is told that Skynet plans to kill all resistance leaders within four days. He is unaware that Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), the inmate used for research 15 years ago, has emerged from the wreckage.

Wright makes his way to Los Angeles where he is saved from a Terminator by two human survivors, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and young Star (Jadagrace Berry). After evading grave danger, the trio eventually heads toward Connor's base, but Reese and Star are taken prisoner during an attack along the way. Reese's capture forces Wright and Connor's paths to collide and unite with the shared goal of rescue. This alliance is a tenuous one, since Wright is revealed to be a cyborg, who Connor suspects has been sent to assassinate him.

"Terminator Salvation" tells an important piece of the story not detailed in the other "Terminator" films, and it features the same loud, action-packed style that has become characteristic of the films. Thanks to CGI advances since the earlier films were made, the visual effects are much stronger and more realistic, helping viewers to more easily immerse themselves in the future world of machines. Despite its fantastic visuals, however, the film occasionally falls flat due to poorly coordinated action sequences and overuse of action movie clich├ęs like excessive explosions and an irrelevant love story.

Despite its drawbacks, "Terminator Salvation" still manages to be an exciting roller coaster of a film that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. The fast-paced plot leaves little room for viewers to catch their breaths. Additionally, the smooth, organic direction from McG keeps the film from resorting to cheap filmmaking tricks, such as the use of choppy shots during action sequences, that have become all too common in action flicks. The result is an intense adventure that practically transports the audience to another time and reality.

Although the story is strong, it would be nothing without the cast of Hollywood's best actors to bring it to life. Bale steals the spotlight in the lead role as resistance commander Connor, creating a tough persona while letting just the right amount of raw emotion leak through. Worthington, best known for "Clash of the Titans" and "Avatar," is excellent as the confused, conflicted Wright. Yelchin gives an impressive performance as Reese. Even the young Berry captures the hearts of audiences with her surprising acting abilities. Supporting actors Moon Bloodgood, Bonham Carter and Common are also impressive in their roles.

"Terminator Salvation" received largely mixed to positive reviews upon its release, and it is widely regarded as a better film than "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." The film offers great acting and a tight plot, and it offers the same cinematic style that has become characteristic of the "Terminator" film series. Fans who have enjoyed "Terminator Salvation" and the rest of the franchise are eagerly awaiting "Terminator: Genesis," a continuation set to come out in 2015.