I’ve been rewatching the Terminator movies as of late and recently got around to watching the fourth one, Salvation. Many people don’t like this one, it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 33% with an audience score of 54% (for context, Genisys has 27% and 53% respectively) but upon rewatching it, I think the movie has something going on. Sure, it’s not T2 good or even T1, but Salvation actually may surprise you today.
Right off the bat, Salvation feels so different than what came before it. In the original three movies, a Terminator is sent back in time to protect or kill someone in the present and the plot unfolds from there. Salvation chucks this out of the window. The year is 2018, decades have passed since Judgement Day happened. The world looks like a crisscross between Mad Max and the Fallout games, full of abandoned cars, dilapidated buildings and machines acting as overlords. There is a Human Resistance in place operating around the world and Christian Bale’s John Connor is one of the authorities in said Resistance.
Despite being fresh off The Dark Knight, Bale (and basically all of the cast) are fairly bland in this movie. Character is the Achilles heel here, as they are generally quite bland, whether it’s Connor or Sam Worthington’s Marcus. They’re just not as interesting or as developed as the characters in Terminator 2, for instance. The only standout in the cast is the late Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. A teenager in the movie, he has yet to even meet John Connor but is deeply committed to fighting the machines off and attempts to unite and calm his fellow humans when possible. We see sparks of the man he’ll grow up to be. Where the movie benefits though, is in story and setting.
This is the only Terminator movie that doesn’t rely on the time-travelling plot point. We’re in the destroyed version of 2018 for the entire movie, barring the introduction, and are thrown into the crappy world that the humans have to live in. Up until this point, we saw only peeks at the future in the days before Kyle Reese was sent back in time. But that’s still ways away, as evident by both Reese being a teenager in this movie and the fact that the Resistance uses regular bullets, not plasma as seen in the flashback scenes of James Cameron’s first two movies. It’s also worth mentioning the action scenes are pretty well done, with a few long, wide shots included in the movie. The action is clear and the chase scene with Marcus and Kyle very much reminded me of a lite-Fury Road (everything is lite next to Fury Road, let’s be real).
While there may not be a singular Terminator hunting down our heroes for the duration of the movie, the world is still inhabited by machines. T-600s patrol the wasteland, the precursors to Arnold’s T-800. These skeletal machines, decked out in rags, almost reminded me of the skeletons from Pirates of the Caribbean. They’re joined by new machines, such as the Hunter-Killer, the Moto-Terminators and Hydrobots. Just about all of these machines, including the wonderfully realized T-600s, are made by the late, great Stan Winston and are some of the best puppeteering and animatronic work in the franchise. There-I said it. It’s not as revolutionary as the breakout in technology when the franchise first started, but the technology has been perfected now. I will always be a sucker for amazing practical effects and Salvation has them in spades.
While the CGI’d Arnold at the end of the movie has NOT aged well at all (was it ever good to begin with?), the terror that is associated with man versus unstoppable killing machine is palpable. Throughout the movie, the Resistance has been fighting various machines, including the T-600s, which while strong, can go down rather easily. But by the end, they come face to face with the T-800, the upgraded version we know from the first movie. Connor is so used to blowing a few bullets into the heads of the machines that when the T-800 seems invulnerable, a sense of dread and hopelessness occurs by default. Also, thankfully, the CGI Arnold doesn’t last long and the iconic endoskeleton takes its place for the remainder of the scene. A full puppet endoskeleton was on set as well as an Austrian bodybuilder doubling for Arnold, allowing Bale to act oppose a real threat as opposed to CGI markers.
I’ve yet to see Dark Fate (I’m working towards it), but I know enough that we have a more traditional plotline yet again. We’ll see about doing a review for that one, but if they ever do more Terminators movies (and that’s debatable it seems), I would want them to re-explore this time period more. I’d want to see the Resistance, fresh off a victory and showing a united front, work towards plasma weaponry as the T-800s become mobilized and start tearing humanity a new one. Terminator shouldn’t have to constantly rely on the same gimmicks and Salvation is the only one that seems to understand this. Sure, it’s not a classic, but so far, it’s a solid three-star kind of movie I can watch and still enjoy for its amazing practical effects, world-building and story.
What are your thoughts on Salvation though? Where does it rank in the Terminator movies and when was the last time you saw it? Let us know on social media or in the comments. Our writer Fred also had good things to say about Salvation when he wrote a piece about movies he liked that critics hated. Before you go, why not check out ten forgotten classics you can revisit on Disney+ and our ranking of the Assassin’s Creed games.