A review of
By Christopher T. Shields
Several years ago, when I reviewed T3: Rise of the Machines, I had this to say in closing: "If T4 is half the stinker T3 was, that will at least be a step in the right direction."
Well, T4 is out and, truth be known, it actually is half the stinker that T3 was. That's the good news. The bad news is that T4 is still not what we, the fans, wanted because the writers apparently can't understand that you can beat a plot to death and by the fourth time that you've used the same plot for the same franchise of movie ... well, there's just no life left in it.
T4 has some good effects (and sadly, was Stan Winston's last movie as he died during the making of this film) and while the eye candy and the plot are better than T3 by five metric parsecs, it's still just not what we were looking for because it's really just more of the same. Overall, like the new Star Trek film, you can look at this movie as both a stand alone (with some familiar tie-ins to the previous movies) and a re-imagining of the franchise though it’s best enjoyed with your mind set firmly in neutral (just don't expect this movie to have the power to push your mind up any hill). T4 is not totally bad but it does have some glaring problems that tend to jar your mind out of neutral during the ride.
Is it better than T3?
Does it measure up to the first movie or even the second?
Do I consider it canon?
It’s not Cameron so lets just leave it at that.
Like TSCC, I enjoyed this diversion from the original concept but that doesn’t mean that I accept it either. There were two James Cameron “Terminator” movies and two “Terminator” movies without Cameron on board. This is by far the better of the two non-Cameron movies but it’s still not Cameron and it shows. Like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I enjoyed this movie but that doesn’t mean that I accept it either. I enjoyed Highlander: The Series without ever associating it with Highlander, the very first Highlander movie (and we won’t even begin to talk about the abortion of film that the following movies were).
In hindsight, Christian Bale was the wrong choice to play John Connor. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great John Connor but the movie wasn’t up to his acting ability. In other words, the passenger was worth more than the vehicle used to deliver him. Instead, Terminator 4: Salvation should have been renamed Nemesis (something or other) and Oliver Grunnar should have been cast as the lead role. Also, any mention of the terms “John Connor”, “Terminator” or “SKYNET” should have been removed from the script and the movie should have then been released directly to video and that’s about as kind as I can be this time around.
Let’s start this review out.
- Talking and discussion points -
(point) - The movie is set in 2018. I doubt if the Resistance is still able to deploy massive amounts of air mobile forces in 2018 let alone have vast military bases full of choppers and A10 ground attack aircraft just sitting out in the open. The whole movie seemed like most of the world was destroyed in the nuclear exchange of Judgment Day, SKYNET was located in California (instead of Colorado) and that humans really didn’t have to worry that much about the machines at all unless of course one got close and then they went all out to try to destroy it. In this movie, the humans were fighting SKYNET like it was just another nationality, like it had a standing army, a set of borders, a territory, etc. While we’re seeing some glimpses of the “future war” it certainly isn’t the “future war” that we’ve been teased with over the years. This is like a club outing. Connor’s base and the vast aircraft / chopper staging bases didn’t make any sense at all. The Resistance command staff hide underwater on an old submarine but Connor has a old USAF base just full of high tech equipment, aircraft, choppers, weapons, etc. just sitting out in the open and SKYNET can’t turn it into a smoking crater a hundred meters deep and two kilometers wide at whim? I’m not buying it. The movie really didn’t get across any real feeling of desperation … instead it was kind of like “SKYNET wiped out 90% of the human race but as long as it stays in Los Angeles, we don’t have to worry too much about it.”
(point) - Marcus - an endoskeleton chassis powered by a human heart? I don't care how strong Marcus' heart was, a flesh and blood heart just isn't going to be strong enough to move an endo chassis. Also, how does it "power" the chassis? Marcus is very strong which means that he has the strength of an Endo Terminator? Is his heart pumping hydraulic fluid as well? Is his heart creating electricity to power electrical motors that drive the mechanical servos which give him the strength that he has? Are there blood turbines that are providing the electrical power to move several hundred pounds worth of metal around like it was nothing at all? Does he get hungry? How does he “recharge” or “refuel?” Yes, it is a neat idea but one that belongs more in the 1950’s and 1960’s than in a much wiser sci-fi genre that we have today. If you really think about it, the way Marcus is engineered is kind of like powering a Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle with a dog heart and using a dog brain to control the EFI. It just won’t work … unless Marcus has a nuclear battery to power his Endoskeleton and his heart is just to keep blood flowing to his brain for oxygen, etc. but why have a living heart at all when he could have had a far more armored, far more efficient mechanical heart do the same thing. And the heart is exposed? John Connor says he can see Marcus’ heart beating! If he can see the heart beating, he can put a bullet through it and Marcus is out of the picture. All Marcus really needed was for his living brain to be transferred over to the body (ala Robocop / Robocop II Kain). The flesh heart is too weak to do the job. While a neat concept the science to explain the concept just can't be backed up and its ultimate failure puts a big hole in the plot.
(point) - The Resistance command is on a submarine? That's novel but not very practical ... and Connor just goes to the submarine and risks everything to get answers? He gives away the position of the Resistance Command? It just didn’t make much sense.
(point) - Hydrobots - those things sure look heavy. How do they glide across the top of the water or move through the water like much, much lighter snakes? They look too heavy to float and I didn’t see any ballast tanks. Also, their attack seems to be centered around grabbing onto someone's face / skull and ramming a spike through their head. That attack seems kind of limited in that the hydrobot really needs to get the human to look down in the water at it before it can spring up and attack. These must be SKYNET's version of a facehugger from ALIEN. The hydrobot just didn't come off well and actually took away from the movie. Maybe if it had crawled over land like a snake or burrowed in the ground and sprang out like the killing machines in the movie “Screamers” … but a water based HK? Maybe. Maybe there is a water based HK; however, it certainly wasn’t this design that seems so impractical for such an application.
(point) - The Stop Signal – why would SKYNET need a special signal, carried under its normal communications, which would cause its machines to stop and shut down? That seemed like the kind of fail-safe that humans would build into their own weapons, not the kind of thing that SKYNET would include in the designs of its machines … a signal that it had no real use for and a signal that the humans might get a hold of and use to their advantage against SKYNET? The premise was weak.
(point) - Harvester – what a concept! A giant Transformer used to pick up … two humans at a time, one in each … claw? Now, a claw doesn’t seem that good of a design to grab a human for capture unless you weren’t really concerned about the condition of the human after you grabbed it. Think about it this way, the human sticks out of the claw in a vertical format. The claw punches down through a building roof (making a hole about the size of the diameter of the claw / arm), grabs a human and pulls them back out. Guess what? The human is going to get hung up on any part of the human body that is above and below the claw and probably won’t survive the extraction process. The fact that the Harvester scissor-folded into a slot on the back of a giant aerial unit was also as unique as it was improbable. A neat concept but shown in the wrong movie …Then we have the fact that the Harvester can shoot twin Moto-Terminators out of its legs / knees for pursuit. Well, I guess they stopped the silliness there … otherwise we might have had the Harvester transform into something like a boom box and eject cassettes from its chest that in turn transformed into robotic versions of pterodactyls. The Harvester was scary but it was also silly and not very practical. Something that big just isn’t congruent for capturing small fleeing humans. Stomping them? Yes? Used as some giant fear inspiring siege engine that is nigh on unstoppable as it jogs across the battlefield wiping out Resistance soldiers, emplacements and bunkers? Yes. Capturing humans two at a time, walking back to a waiting HK “cattle car” and dropping them in then repeating? No. Imagine the scenario … you come home to find a bunch of white mice (the ones as big as your thumb) running around. You have a pump shotgun but you really don’t want to blow holes in your walls or wake up your neighbors so … what do you do? You chase the white mice, reach down and catch them one by one. You try it. Chances are, if you even think about this scenario in your mind you’ll instantly see why the Harvester was both cool and stupid at the same time.
(point) - The awesome HK super air carrier – Man! SKYNET has really gone radical with some of its designs. Here we see a giant HK variant which mounts four engines, giant holding pens for captured humans, full offensive armament, space on the spine for a “Jolly Green Giant” sized Harvester to sit and ride (not counting the two Moto-Terminators it carries in its legs / knees) and two HK “fighters” which dock under the HK super air carrier. SHIELD would be jealous of this type of flying base … it almost puts their Heli-carriers to shame!
(point) - Noise! Noise is bad! Noise makes the bad robots come looking for you! – In several scenes we are shown that loud noises quickly attracts HK and Terminator units. When Marcus repairs the Jeep, the CD player comes on playing Alice In Chains’ “Rooster” (why the CD player is still functional after nearly two decades in the open, exposed elements but … okay). Suddenly, an aerostat appears to investigate the loud music and our heroes have to run before the aerostat leads larger, more deadly machines in on the target. Another scene shows John Connor and his team create an explosion in the middle of nowhere and it attracts an aerial HK which investigates. Later, John Connor uses a boom box and rock music to trick a Moto-Terminator into a trap where he can reprogram it and use it to get to SKYNET. Loud noises, loud music, attract a world of hurt down on the Resistance. That is a fact. So, how is it that when Marcus escapes from the HIDDEN Resistance base that the Resistance open fires with everything that they have … rifles, machineguns, rocket launchers, grenades, mortars, etc. to try to stop him … the Resistance turns night into day and chews up the real estate but good … They even blow up an entire forest / tree line ala Apocalypse Now yet no SKYNET units come to investigate all of the explosions and lights and gunfire? You would think that if the Resistance had the sizeable base that they appear to, and that it is hidden, that they would take care not to expose their selves by highlighting the location of the base on every sensor that SKYNET has when they try to detain Marcus.
(point) - Hydrobots nearby! Why is it that there are hydrobots in the river near the Resistance base but these hydrobots are both blind and dumb? They attack Connor and his chopper crew yet they can’t see all the pretty explosions, tracers, etc. all around the river and contact SKYNET to give it an update or ask it to check out all of the activity with something bigger like an aerial HK? That didn’t make much sense. When Connor tests the hydrobot out against the kill signal, we clearly see that the hydrobot is trying to establish a link to SKYNET in its HUD. So, why don’t the hydrobots in the river inform SKYNET of all the activity in the area? That part didn’t make a lot of sense.
(point) - How does Connor hang onto a moto-terminator when it has no handlebars, foot pegs, etc. and if it has handlebars and footpegs … why does it have those? Also, if you look at the image of the Moto-Terminator, you see that it really isn't built for a human to ride, even for short distances. Do you think that Connor is going to ride a long way with those small metal fins and antennas sticking up in his crotch, thighs and buttocks?
(point) - Why was Los Angeles “SKYNET central” in 2018? I’m sure that there were many other areas of far more strategic or tactical value than Los Angeles. The second novel, T2, says that SKYNET’s time displacement device (TDD) is located in Los Angeles but in the Atari game “Terminator: Dawn of Fate” we are shown that the TDD is located well below Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.
(point) - The whole intro scene where Connor gets out of the bunker, sees an aerial HK take off supposedly loaded with human prisoners, hops in a Huey, finds that the pilot is dead, grabs the stick and takes off in pursuit of the HK … that didn’t make sense at all. What was he going to do? He was flying the Huey by himself. Was he going to hop from the pilot’s seat to the M60 machine gun and start shooting the HK in flight, then hop back to the pilot’s seat before the Huey went out of control? Why did he leave his men behind? He’s obviously concerned greatly about his men but there he is, rushing off alone to take on an aerial HK he can’t hope to attack or bring down. That showed that the character of Connor was impulsive, didn’t think things through, didn’t value the lives of his men, and really just wanted to be doing something in order to be doing something.
(point) - Why do all of the Endos have miniguns? Sure, it is neat but do you realize how impractical miniguns are for personal combat? Even if you are a big hulking robot, a minigun is just a bad idea in anything other than Manga. Miniguns eat up a whole bunch of ammo really quick and the amount of ammo that something that is roughly human sized, no matter how strong it is, can carry is finite and rather limited. I think the minigun first gained popularity in the action movie arena with Jessie Ventura carrying one in “Predator” but you’ll notice how quick the minigun ran out of ammo then it was useless in the jungle because there was no where to reload it. Even if you are a six foot tall robot that can pick up a Kia and throw it a block away, you’re not going to want to carry 3000 rounds of ammo in a cassette on your back for the primary reason that this gives you about one full minute of firing time before you have to walk back to your base and be reloaded. Most encounters with Resistance soldiers or humans are in single or small groups of two or three … not quite worth the effort of using a minigun on. Think of it this way, equipping all of your Endos with a minigun and a cassette of 3000 rounds of ammo on their back would be like owning an exterminator company and sending out all of your highly trained exterminators with sledgehammers to hunt cockroaches at houses. I would have found it much more believable if the Endos had been carrying far less flashy but far more effective weapons like an M4 in one hand and a shotgun or break open grenade launcher in the other. If we had been treated to combat scenes where the Resistance was burning entire clips of ammo at each Endo while in turn, the Endo was carefully targeting each Resistance fighter, estimating where they would be, etc. (like the scenes in the T1 movie where the T800 assaults the police station). In fact, I think that most Resistance versus Endo combat would be futurized version of the 1984 attack on the police station. The Endo would be getting hit (to not much effect) by small arms fire and would simply turn, target a Resistance fighter and fire either a single round or a three round burst to take the human out. The point is that Endos have been shown to have superior targeting and combat ability yet the makers of this movie arm the endos with a weapon that simply demands a “spray and pray” tactic of use. Indeed, when Marcus encounters the T600 “skinjob” in the city, the Endo turns to Marcus and open fires with its minigun, chewing up twenty or thirty feet of ground in front of Marcus to no real effect. You would think that an Endo would simply target Marcus and put several dozen rounds into him without missing so much. I’m not sure about the underarm grenade launcher either … it looks like a radiator hose more than a grenade launcher. The problem I have with the Terminator movies is that the T3 and T4 movies really didn’t get any advice or deep thought from military designers on what a mobile, robotic computer controlled weapon system should be set up like.
(point) - Boy, there sure was a lot of space in the Terminator factory, wasn’t there? The environments went from dirty-as-a-cattle-pen to being antiseptically clean and there was plenty of room for human soldiers and human prisoners to run around and find cover and plenty of exposed capital assets that could be destroyed.
(point) - What was SKYNET using humans for? We never really were shown that aspect … either the medical experimentation or the systematic disposal of the race. The whole medical facility / factory complex seemed a mixture of old and new and not very well thought out.
(point) - Did you notice the robot vehicles … I think there was a bulldozer moving around but I definitely saw a heavy transporter moving around with no human driver proving that SKYNET uses some type of control system to control pre-built human vehicles when it can find them and put them into use.
(point) - What was the T600 Endo doing with Kyle Reese? I thought it was going to kill him with its bare metal hands when it entered his cell and I really didn’t see any way he could escape but then the next thing we see is this minigun armed Endo putting Kyle Reese on one of the medical / operating tables (and Reese isn’t even strapped down). It’s kind of hard to hold a defiant human down on a table one handed while you’re holding a minigun in your other hand but … the whole scene was a bit silly and reminded me of the Austin Powers scene where Dr. Evil proclaims (and I paraphrase) “Put the heroes into the overly complex yet easily escapable slow death sequence.”
(point) - The T800 is Arnold and a young 1984 Arnold! Wow. That was unexpected and (even though it was cool) made no sense. Think about it. SKYNET obviously set this encounter up to freak John Connor the HELL out by having the same model unit that almost killed his mother, did kill his father, tried to keep him from ever being born and then came back as his friend and protector in the second movie to now be his executioner. That would have really been a neat concept ... but here's the crunch. This scene / fight takes place over a decade before SKYNET ever sent the T800 back to 1984. Now, while John Connor would recognize this unit for what it looked like, there was NO way that SKYNET could know, at this point in time, that this was the same model / variation / likeness of the T800 that it would eventually send back in time. Think about it ... Connor would recognize this as the unit that attacked his mother / befriended him in the past but SKYNET couldn't know this at all because SKYNET hadn't sent anything back in time yet and wouldn't for over a decade. The plot is built on knowledge that logically, SKYNET simply doesn't have at that point in time.
(point) - The T800 Terminator / Infiltrator (the flesh covered units which pass for humans) are a recent introduction by SKYNET or so Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor in 1984. The word "recent" doesn't seem to fit into a time span that covers over a decade before Reese is sent back, "recent" would mean a few years at most. So, why is SKYNET introducing T800 Infiltrators in 2018 when it should be 8 to 10 years away from that kind of production capacity?
(point) - Man, the new T800 is STRONG! Did you see it rip that T600 in half without even breaking stride?! I almost expected it to pick up the minigun one handed and start trying to cut our heroes in half but it was merely content to walk on past the machine it just destroyed in an attempt to get close enough to bludgeon John Connor and company to death with its big meaty fists.
(point) - It’s good to know that all human hearts are interchangeable and that Marcus was a perfect donor candidate for John Connor. Most people wait weeks or months or years hoping and praying that a compatible heart donor will be found but on the battlefield of the post apocalypse, good intentions and a change of soul are apparently enough to overcome decades of established medical fact. What is the chance that Marcus’s heart would be compatible with Connor’s body / immune system? Probably far less than we are forced to believe. And then there’s the open air operating room where we do a heart transplant, a very difficult operation to be sure, out in an open air tent with lots of wind driven dirt, dust and grit flying around. That’s always good stuff to get in an open chest cavity … not to mention the fact that there would be no way that the surgical team could ever make the environment sterile. Maybe if the ending scene took place inside Connor’s base in a clean surgical ward, it might have been halfway believable from a surgery point of view but come on … Connor needs a new heart and there’s one just standing fifteen feet away from him, volunteering to be taken? I doubt it.
(point) - Okay. Enough already. Can we have a Terminator movie where a hero doesn’t die at the end sacrificing their self for the greater good? We had Kyle Reese die defending Sarah Connor in T1, the T800 died defending John Connor in T2, the T850 died defending John Connor in T3 and now Marcus dies defending John Connor in T4. John Connor, evidently, can’t make it through a single movie unless a major character dies in order to save Connor's sorry hide.
(point) - Also, dear producers, for the next Terminator movie, let’s avoid the whole friendly cyborg willing to sacrifice itself for John Connor theme, okay? It’s played. No, it’s clichéd. Find something new to base the plot on. SKYNET wasn’t obsessed with killing Connor, the war wasn’t about Connor. Connor was important but he wasn’t the focus of the entire war or all of SKYNET’s efforts. Imagine it this way … if every single movie about World War 2 involved some plot by the Emperor of Japan trying to kill General Douglas Macarthur it would make for a pretty boring collection of movies, wouldn’t it? Let’s see something new, can we? Please? Pretty please? Ok. Thanks. Bye.