During the process of making a movie, a rough cut of it is assembled, and the director, producers and editors will moan and wonder how they’re ever going to turn this into a movie they can release into theaters. Then they buckle down to the hard work of reshooting scenes, adding additional footage and in general polishing the final product until it’s theater ready. In the case of Terminator Salvation, they didn’t bother with any of that. Instead they just added the CGI and released it into theaters.
Long on angst and short on plot, Terminator Salvation is Mad Max without any of the fun, a joyless, character-less trip into a post-apocalyptic wasteland that forgets to give viewers any reason to come along. McG is so busy working on aesthetic credibility that he forgets how to edit action scenes or the movie as a whole, which feels like a disjointed collection of footage that has yet to be assembled into a final form. Almost a silent movie at times, perhaps because its foreign leads, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington struggle to produce any kind of convincing American accent, Terminator Salvation is a trip through a wasteland that leads nowhere. And much like another summer killer robots movie, the only thing memorable about it are the special effects.
The Terminator movies, even Terminator 3, focused on a fairly simple plot with a clear antagonist, a straightforward goal and explosive set pieces. Terminator Salvation jettisons everything but the last, sideswiping audiences who expected a good time at the theater only to get an action movie that models itself after a Cormac McCarthy novel. Had McG been less worried about being taken seriously, he might have actually applied the lessons of his work on the audience friendly Charlie’s Angels movies. Instead with We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation, McG tries desperately to be taken seriously, but all he manages to do is be a downer.
Terminator Salvation is probably the most expensive post-apocalyptic B-movie ever made, that takes itself more seriously than most Academy Award nominees. But not only isn’t it entertaining, unlike the previous Terminator movies it doesn’t even have anything to say about human condition. Having aimed too high, Terminator Salvation doesn’t deliver on either front. Its absurd premise of a Terminator who thinks he’s human and dies when his heart is removed is an absurdly literary metaphor that not only makes no sense, but is painfully stupid to boot, leading to an ending with some trite observation about the human heart. An ironic preoccupation for a movie that bypasses both the heart and the mind entirely, for a final product that is as inhuman and cold as the machines who are its antagonists themselves.