Isnt It About Time You Gave Terminator Salvation Another Chance?

Big robots stomping on humanity – what’s not to love? Quite a lot, apparently. But Meg Wilde springs to Terminator Salvation’s defence...

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Case for the defence: Ladies and gentlemen of the court, welcome. I’m here today to defend the honour of a much-maligned movie. For too long, aspersions have been cast upon the quality of Terminator Salvation . This is a film that has been slandered and mocked for doing nothing except trying to do justice to an already great franchise. It has suffered for long enough. Now I seek to overturn the misconceived prejudice against it!

Case for the prosecution: Er, the prosecution would like to point out that the film only came out in 2009. What’s with all the “it has suffered for long enough” nonsense?

Case for the defence: I’m making a point. Terminator Salvation has been written off, forgotten about. It may have hit cinemas a mere two years ago but to many people it’s ancient history – a film that came and went without making a blip on our radars. This is an injustice that must be righted!

Case for the prosecution: Hmm. Well, for it to blip on our radars, I would respectfully suggest that a film has to be good.

Case for the defence: And I would respectfully reply that that is balderdash. Quality is never an indicator of box-office performance. In fact, sometimes the best films are the ones that sink in cinemas. Remember a little movie called Serenity ...?

Case for the prosecution: Okay then, so let’s suppose – just for the sake of argument – that Terminator Salvation is, indeed, a forgotten classic. Please enlighten us as to why, because I’m buggered if I can think of any reason. Also, remind the court which film it is again? Terminator 3 or Terminator 4 ?

Case for the defence: It’s Terminator 4 , in that it’s the fourth movie they made. But technically it’s set in the future, which is also the past in the first movie. Sort of. Er... I might not be explaining it very well. Anyway, it’s the one with Christian Bale as John Connor.

Case for the prosecution: Ah yes, the film which cemented Mr Bale’s reputation as a lovely man to work with (opens in new tab) (please note, this is 100% NSFW from the start).

Case for the defence: Look, Bale has apologised for that on-set rant and his co-stars have defended him (opens in new tab) . It’s not even taken that seriously any more – check out this remix version (opens in new tab) (NSFW, and don’t blame us if you’re singing it for the rest of the day). Everybody loses their temper at work: he was just unfortunate enough to be recorded. You can’t be prejudiced against the entire film just because one of its stars had a bad day!

Case for the prosecution: No, no, on the contrary. What I would like to submit to the court is my theory that Bale’s rant is actually the best thing about Terminator Salvation .

Case for the defence: Objection, your honour! It wasn’t even in the film!

Case for the prosecution: I know, and it’s still the best thing about it! Bale’s monumental flip-out is the stuff of legend!

Case for the defence: But when it comes down to it, there’s a reason Bale got angry on set – he was concentrating on the role; he was in-character; he was Method. When he got distracted, he lost his temper because he wanted to give the best performance he could possibly give and someone ruined it for him. This is a sign of how serious he was about playing John Connor, and it showed on screen. He’s driven . He’s everything you’d expect John Connor to be after we’d heard so much about this version of him in the first three films. He’s a leader... a fighter... a hero. You can’t fault Bale’s performance.

Case for the prosecution: He needed a few throat sweets. He sounds like he’s been gargling cat litter. Which also meant that John Connor sounded just like Bale’s Batman – hardly a “great” performance, more of a derivative one.

Case for the defence: You try living on a submarine in a dystopian future filled with smoke and the aroma of burning human flesh with not a Strepsil in sight. You’d sound crappy too. Like I said, he’s Method.

Case for the prosecution: He’s too Method. Bale played John Connor way too seriously. He’s too driven, too growly. He’s unlikeable, and that’s quite a big problem in a movie based around him.

Case for the defence: I can see your point, but in defence of John Connor... he’s hardly going to be singing and dancing about his species being wiped out, is he? And to offset Connor’s surliness we get the character of Marcus Wright, played by Sam Worthington. He’s much warmer, much more charismatic – even though he’s not entirely human. It’s ironic: the all-human guy is less human than the cyborg. That’s clever, that is.

Case for the prosecution: If you say so, but Wright seemed a bit of a waste of time to us. If you’re going to make a film about John Connor, make it about him, not some random stranger he comes across in his travels. Or make the focus of the story his relationship with Kyle Reese, who he knows is his dad! Show him sending Kyle back into the past to save Sarah Connor, so we actually see what all the fuss was about, and we can bring the franchise full circle!

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Case for the defence: True, I do admit that it would’ve been cool to see John Connor interacting with his dad more. But look what we get instead: all the hardware of the Skynet-ruled world. Check out the various robots, ships and other tech, all of them brilliantly realised by FX supremo Stan Winston. This was one of his last movies and it’s a fitting legacy. It looks fantastic. And the action scenes are amazing!

Case for the prosecution: Yes, but the film culminates in yet another setpiece set in a factory, blatantly ripping off the original movies!

Case for the defence: It’s not ripping them off, it’s an homage !

Case for the prosecution: Homage, schomage. It’s a sign that Terminator Salvation was out of ideas before it even began.

Case for the defence: But you get to see Arnie in a digital cameo as a T-800! It’s ace!

Case for the prosecution: Yes, it’s a nice touch, but we could’ve lived without the whole thing. Why did we even need to see this world? Isn’t it better to leave the Skynet-decimated future to our imaginations, based on the little snippets we see in the other movies? The Terminator franchise has been mined to death – the first two movies were classics (for very different reasons), the third was a dreadful waste of time and the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series just confused the hell out of everybody. Add Terminator Salvation and you’ve got one big, bloody mess casual cinema-goers and non-sci-fi fans didn’t give a damn about. Even director McG said in an interview: “I didn’t want to do it. I was not that excited by the idea of a fourth Terminator movie, I thought, ‘Why flog a dead horse?’” He carried on, though. And as the defence, you still haven’t convinced us that the final result deserves to live.

Case for the defence: I’m starting to bow to your logic. There is no salvation for Terminator Salvation , alas.

Case for the prosecution: Aw, don’t be upset. It did bring us Christian Bale saying “You and me, we’re f***ing done professionally!” So that’s a bonus. And Terminator Salvation isn’t the film it should have been... but at least it’s not Terminator 3 .

Case for the prosecution: Yes, you’re right there. It could have been Terminator 3 . Excuse me, your honour, while I shudder...

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Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.