Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)

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Terminator Salvation is the… whoa. No colon? It’s a Terminator salvation? Like a star trek into darkness? Alright. Sorry for all the jokes, Star Trek. Guess you weren’t the first. Still stupid, though. Okay. Right. Terminator Salvation is the story of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who donates his body to medical science in 2003 and oh my God, are we really going to start out with some brand new protagonist we don’t give a shit about? Fuck it all, there’s barely any time travel in this thing.

The whole article will be nothing but complaints and spoilers for better movies. Yes, even T3. So, you know, enjoy.

THE STORY:
Alright, so this Marcus Wright guy signs a waiver saying the government can do science on him, and next thing he knows, he’s getting injected with something.

Whatever’s in the syringe, it isn’t subtlety.

When he wakes up, it’s the year Terminator.

Mind the skulls.

I have so many questions. First of all, did I miss a movie during my cryogenic freezing marathon? Second, why would I even remotely care about this seemingly pointless part of the story before instantly moving on to question three? Third, since no movie could be dumb enough to randomly include “wakin’ up in the future” without a twist up its sleeve, how many possible reveals did the writers think we would toss around in our minds before landing on the only one that makes sense for this series? Fourth, since we’re following some random nobody around and we’re already bored of pretending he’s not a robot, are you going to bother making his character interesting, or just keep cutting to John Connor doing something somewhere else–

What an abrupt edit.

Alright, let’s blast out the time travel so I can put this turd behind me. Skynet has a list of targets, but John Connor isn’t at the top of that list. Their main objective is to get Kyle Reese. Oh, smart, because if you kill Reese, there’s no John Connor! That’s why they… kidnap him. Instead of killing him. So, wait, do they know Reese is John’s dad? If not, why’s he numero uno? McG, director and worst use of three consonants, apparently tried to explain it himself, and his answer amounts to, “Here’s why I didn’t kill him.” Either he’s never looked up the phrase “character motivation,” or he believes that he is, in fact, an evil robot.

Aww, are they on their way to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance?

McG even mentions John Connor fading out like the photo in Back to the Future, but he claims that can’t happen. Well, he’s sure as shit wrong, because this movie bafflingly goes out of its way to repeatedly acknowledge the events of Rise of the Machines, in which the rules of the first film are violated and the future has clearly changed, so yes, something would happen to John. Unless you buy the ridiculously implausible alternate timeline theory that I outlined as being incredibly stupid in my Judgment Day review, but, by proxy, that would imply you are similar in quality to that theory.

Alright, I want to be done with this nonsense. I’m so very tired. Let’s move on.

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Oh, wait, this part.

Sorry, I have to mention this. Towards the end, Sammy Terminator don’t want to be bad guy no more, which can apparently be fixed by just reaching into the back of your head and rippin’ out your evil chip.

Fuck off.

THE ACTING:
Christian Bale is constantly barking about fighting, shooting a gun, or staring at atrocities like a badass.

It’s a complete departure from previous depictions of John Connor.

Sam Worthington makes Taylor Kitsch look like Channing Tatum.

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Harvey Dent wore it better.

I’ll admit that Anton Yelchin looks a lot like Michael Biehn and does a fine job of portraying Kyle Reese before he’s as battle-hardened as we see him in the first film. Unfortunately, Pavlovian conditioning from Star Trek has rendered any line that comes out of his mouth as more Russian than he actually delivers it.

“Hump Sarah Connor? I can do zat! I can do zat!”

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Pregnant Claire Danes. Her job is to look pretty as hell in the middle of the apocalypse. She succeeds.

Wow, if Kyle dies… can she feel the baby ripple?

And then there’s Common and Moon Bloodgood as grizzled filler characters that you don’t need to care about.

Private Gritstache.

Corporal Toughknuckle.

Yeah, it’s a pretty bland bunch of– BOOM, YOU JUST GOT MICHAEL IRONSIDED.

You and Tom Skerritt got me through 52 weeks of hell, Michael.

Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter plays, well, some lady that loves Sammy Terminator, but also the face of Skynet, because it can assume a pleasing shape. She hams it up to typical “working with Tim Burton too often” levels.

Guess she didn’t get enough badly written time travel in Planet of the Apes.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
The time travel effects are– oh, wait, there isn’t any actual time travel in this movie, just the after-effects from previous films. Probably because they didn’t want to deal with crazy nerds who analyze the time travel in just about every movie ever made, which is hilarious, seeing as how they still managed to fuck it up. You can read all about it in this article I’m writing now– god damn, am I still talking about this movie?

The special effects are all dark, gritty, hard-to-see shit like this.

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Giant robot.

‘Splosion.

Non-puppet Terminator.

And here’s the worst CGI in the entire series.

You absolute motherfuckers.

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
General Jester tells John Connor to blow up Skynet even though Kyle Reese is there. Rather than refusing with a straightforward, “That’s my time travel dad, fucknuts!” John says something that sounds good in a trailer instead.

“No, it’s our fate. I have to save him. He is the key.
The key to the future, to the past. Without him, we lose everything.”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I once mused about a Back to the Future sequel without any time travel in it, and holy shit, no. A thousand times no. I’ve completely changed my stance after this turd. And that’s only one of the factors damning this depressingly shitty movie that practically dares you not to watch it. The narrative jumps from weak character to weak character, it doesn’t add anything to the films that came before it, and even occasionally interesting scenes (like a long take of a helicopter crash) just feel like they’re trying to impress us. In his angry but infinitely more memorable on-set rant that I managed not to mention until right now, Christian Bale calls a lighting guy “amateur,” but after seeing the finished product, I think he may be pointing out a problem in several departments.

Supposedly there’s another film on the way. A reboot. Only Hollywood producers would fail to realize that going back in time to erase something is a bad guy move… and it never works out for the bad guys.

NEXT WEEK:
A Sound of Thunder (2005), We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (1993)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.