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Movie Review: Special Effects Only Thing Special in 'Terminator Salvation’

May 24 2009, Published 12:15 p.m. ET

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Christian Bale apologized for his infamous, profanity-laced tirade on the set of Terminator Salvation but you still can’t help but think he’s a pompous jerk while watching the movie. Considering that his dialogue consists mainly of cliche gems such as, “We’re all gonna die!” or “The devil’s hands have been busy,” it’s pretty shocking that he would have gone off on director of photography Shane Hurlbut for walking in his line of vision. “I’m trying to do a f***ing scene here!” Bale screamed. “My mind is not in the scene if you’re doing that! You’re trashing my scene!”

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Bale doesn’t even have that many scenes. And in the ones he appears in, he not only overacts (in his breathy Batman voice), he’s personality-less. Bale is completely upstaged by deafening CGI effects and his co-stars, especially Sam Worthington, who plays sexy and mysterious human-machine hybrid Marcus Wright.

Terminator Salvation, the fourth installment in the franchise, jumps ahead to 2018. Judgment Day has come and gone, and an army of Terminators built by Skynet roam the post-apocalyptic land, hunting the remaining humans. John Connor is leading the Resistance and must find a way to stop Skynet once and for all, before it builds the perfect killing machine to be sent to the past to kill his mother. Along the way, he must decide whether Marcus Wright is friend or foe. He also learns of the existence of his father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who at this point has no idea o f the important role he will play in the future, and must save him from the clutches of Skynet.

The plot is actually pretty lame — and has as many holes as Swiss Cheese — but that’s made up for in the killer action sequences and special effects, including a cool cameo by original Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger. The best scene takes place at an abandoned gas station in the desert, when Marcus Wright and Kyle Reese take on The Harvester, an 80 foot tall insect-like machine, which unleashes Moto-Terminators, which are souped-up Ducatis. Other highlights include a shot from inside a helicopter crashing in the desert and a chase scene between Marcus and John through the Resistance’s secret hideout property. Shot in a distressed metallic hue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the sun-blasted desert and mountain landscapes provide the perfect apocalyptic setting.

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While Terminator Salvation, directed by McG, is ear-piercingly loud and looks awesome, there’s little suspense or true fear of the machines, who can be killed with simple gunshot blasts to the face. And you know Kyle Reese isn’t going to die,  because if he did, than how could the first Terminator movie exist? You never really feel like the human race is in danger of extinction.

The only heart evident in the movie is hidden in Marcus Wright’s body. John Connor is married to Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) but that relationship is not explored. There’s even a cute mute kid named Star (Jadagrace Berry) roaming around, but she has little purpose. Even rapper Common, who plays Barnes, is underutilized. Luckily, strong performances by Worthington and Yelchin carry the movie and give it an emotional center.

We should care most about John Connor, but Bale is about as robotic as a T-800. If he’s the only hope for the survival of humanity, we’re in trouble.

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