Reflections on Terminator Salvation

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. Turn back if you do not want to know plotlines (or holes in plotlines) from Terminator Salvation. You have been warned.

Alex and I recently took in Terminator Salvation. For me this was the most anticipated Terminator movie. After the original I had been far more interested in post-Judgment Day than any thing leading up to it.

The movie itself was… entertaining. I had heard that it was bad, even worse than T-3 (!!!), so I went in with low expectations. The vision of the post-apocalyptic in the film is different than I had hoped, but had some features I liked (the resistance having submarines and jets for example).

However, a couple hours after the movie I started to have some thoughts, that turned into questions, that turned into giant holes in the plot, that really started to piss me off.

How could a movie with a history as rich as the Terminator series be butchered so badly by the writers?

I’m not sure if it is comforting, but I’m not alone in these thoughts. Relatively well written here. But below are my own personal observations and take on the plot holes in the movie.

#1 – The first plot hole (and biggest in my opinion) occurs early in the movie. A SkyNet communication is intercepted that has what essentially is a hit list. John Connor is only number 2 on the list, Kyle Reese is number 1. Seems perfectly plausible at first since we (the audience) know that Reese is Connor’s father. But how does SkyNet know this? Reese hasn’t been sent back in time yet, and Arnold/Robert Patrick/Kristanna Loken from the first 3 movies could not have told SkyNet this information. If SkyNet had Reese as the number one on their hit list, why didn’t it kill him as soon as he was identified?

I did find a website that defended these plot holes and they do have a logical explanation for this one: Skynet [sic] does not know Time Travel is a possibility and only knows Jon [sic] is its main adversary in the present and the guy on the radio who has likely mentioned he is searching for Kyle Reese. Even when Skynet learns Jon Connor\’s father\’s name when Marcus plugs in this is illogical and assumes this is another Kyle Reese there were 6 billion humans. Why would it send a Terminator in the past to kill Sara Connor knowing the man sent to protect her would be his father?
Ok, I can see that John Connor would possibly mention that he’s looking for Kyle Reese, and Reese’s radio has been broken so he wouldn’t know about John mentioning that he’s looking for him. That’s a good point (even though it’s a stretch the SkyNet would rate Reese higher just because he his name is mentioned via radio and the rest of that explanation doesn’t make a lick of sense), but a “real” writer would have somehow let the audience know this. This explanation is pure speculation, and proves that these writers are no-talent ass clowns. What would have worked much better was leaving Reese’s name off the hit list. It’s very possible for SkyNet to know what everyone looks like (facial recognition shots recognizing Kyle Reese), and SkyNet doesn’t take any specific individual action against Reese until Marcus syncs with SkyNet. Now that makes sense.

#2 – Speaking of the hit list… why would SkyNet have John Connor as high as number 2 on its list? I realize he’s broadcasting on a regular basis, and rallying humankind would pose a huge threat, but in the movie he is not in charge of anything until his commander dies. It’s obvious he has the respect of the other men and women in the resistance, but wouldn’t the generals in the submarine be a larger concern? Anyone can pick up the microphone and broadcast to humankind. Again, it’s quite possible to explain this away by saying something like: Connor broadcast that he was the savior of mankind. And yet again, a real writer would have let us know this.

#3 – Explosion of SkyNet’s HQ. In the laboratory inside SkyNet’s HQ in San Francisco John finds new power sources for Terminators that are nuclear “enough to blow this place” (I might be paraphrasing that). He wraps some explosives around those nuclear fuel cells and as they fly out on a helicopter he sets the charge off. A couple things here. I don’t know the range of remote detonators but in the movie I would guesstimate that the helicopter is within one mile of the building when the explosion goes off; within the realm of possibility. But if that is the case, wouldn’t the resulting shockwave (graphically shown in the film) destroy the helicopter?

#4 – Not exactly a plot hole, but heavy handed, “hack-ish” writing. I understand and generally applaud the thought of giving some nods to the past. Reese saying “coming with me if you want to live”, Connor saying “I’ll be back”, and Guns ‘n’ Roses song from T2 blaring out of a boombox. Cute… very cute, but too cutesy for me. One other item caught my ears though. Just as SkyNet is about to destroy the submarine the Russian General says (and I’m definitely paraphrasing here): “You fool, you’ve killed us all”. And the reason I’m paraphrasing is whatever he actually said, all I could hear in my head is the moment in The Hunt for Red October where Captain Tupolev (the Russian Captain sent to kill Connery’s Ramius) removes the safety devices on his torpedoes and right before his own torpedo is about to blow up his own submarine one of his officers says to him: “You fool, you’ve killed us all”. The Russian General in Terminator Salvation… was also in The Hunt for Red October. I believe ham-handed would be an apt word to describe the screenwriters.

#5 – This last one didn’t actually occur to me until I started doing some research, but it’s a good example that I haven’t seen explained away or refuted. One could argue deus ex machina, but… How does SkyNet know that releasing Marcus will eventually lead John Connor to come to its HQ? Even if you argue that SkyNet could have put subconscious instructions into Marcus’ head, it seems like pretty astronomical odds that SkyNet would have any indication that Marcus could find John Connor let alone talk him into coming to San Francisco.

Now I’m not a person who requires all loose ends tied up and a happy Hollywood ending to my movies. And you have to suspend reality to enjoy summer popcorn flicks. But I do require some craftsmanship and some level of honoring the mythology you are building on.

One last item of note from the FAQ on courtesy of
Alright so the main character is a cyborg named Marcus. For some background, Marcus was a criminal who was executed in 2003. He donated his body to Project Angel which was involved with SkyNet. They take his body and make a terminator out of him so he\’s a terminator skeleton but has living muscle/skin and a beating heart too. At the end of the movie John Connor is fighting a T800 model 101 and loses. He dies and the top resistance people come up with a plan to help the resistance keep fighting on. The resistance feels that it\’s important to keep the image or idea that John Connor is still alive so the resistance keeps going. So they rip off Marcus\’ skin and put John Connor\’s on the skeleton so now Marcus is John Connor. Although it is fake, that was the original ending of the film. Warner Bros. had stuck to this ending, and when it was leaked, they had to rewrite the whole third act, which had apparently tested better.

I actually kind of like that ending. A sort of Skylar/Nathan thing from Heroes. Makes more sense than a heart transplant in the middle of the desert… but hey, at least that makes more sense than the rest of the movie.







3 responses to “Reflections on Terminator Salvation”

  1. alex Avatar

    The quote from Red October is:

    “You arrogant ass! You’ve killed *us*!”

    And I assure you, had that line been in there verbatim, you would have seen me react. This is not to take away from your point, mind you.

  2. wadE Avatar

    Oh Alex… you and your “due diligence”. But yes, it wasn’t verbatim, but it was eerily reminiscent, and then to find out the actor was actually *in* Red October… don’t know whether it’s sad or funny…

  3. alex Avatar

    No, what I’m saying is that I have an irrational love for that line in particular – there was no due diligence involved in my quoting it to you from memory. 🙂

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