The war against the machines is in full effect in McG’s big summer addition to the franchise created by James Cameron back in the 80s. This film takes place somewhere between Judgement Day itself and the flash-forwards seen in Cameron’s two films. The story revolves around John Connor’s meeting with Marcus Wright a strange new warrior joining the resistance and the arrival of Kyle Reese, John’s father.
There’s a lot that should be going for Terminator Salvation. Christian Bale is a bone fide star now thanks to the cape/cowl films, Sam Worthington is on the cusp of stardom with several huge films in the pipeline and frankly it can’t be any worse than the witless parody of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. What a shame then that these attributes are wasted. The tone of the whole film is deadly serious, to a fault. Everything proceeds as if you are watching a series of military decisions being made by angry men. Bale gives a performance that would best be described as ‘one-note’. That note is raspy and angry. He’s outdone by Michael Ironside who essentially reprises his role from Starship Troopers, but without the irony. I was thankful then that Sam Worthington managed to prove that the hype is not empty, I’d confidently predict that he’s going to be around for a long time to come. Unfortunately even he can’t save this film from its po-faced ambitions.
I’m mindful that the first film wasn’t particularly funny, but that was an 18 certificate low budget horror film from an unknown director and it managed a few sly black humoured jokes. Terminator Salvation manages one or two quips but strives to acknowledge the audience mainly by reprising the famous lines used in the series, ‘I’ll be back’ and ‘Come with me if you want to live’ etc. They’re dropped like clangers though. They feel awkwardly shoehorned in. On the whole the script is functional, as if the film-maker had prepared a tick-list of things that needed to be included and slowly, methodically went about including them.
The script is matched in its functionality by the cinematography. I’ve read about the special treatment that the film underwent in order to achieve a specific look. The result is grey, very grey. A bit like looking at a moving scrapyard in bleaching sunlight.
It was disappointing to see that the representation of gender has actually regressed in the time since the first two films. Sarah Connor is an icon of cinema and her voice in this film is the only reminder of the strong female role that Linda Hamilton had to get her teeth into. Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood are probably fine actresses. But you won’t know from watching this. They’re just arm candy for the big tough men.
I’m not going to mention the plot-holes in any depth because I’d be here all day but I will ask anyone who has watched the film to give me an answer because I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure it out since I watched it. Why are the machines capturing humans and putting them into some form of camp? I’d assumed that there’d be some form of answer in the story of the film but there isn’t. Or at least I couldn’t figure it out. It makes some kind of thin allusion to the Nazi concentration camps but the machines would surely just kill everyone on the spot if they wanted to wipe out humanity. Answers please if anyone has them.
By the end of the film there seems to be a complete shortage of ideas so we are treated to a showdown in a factory, in-keeping with the previous films and using many similar weapons and events. This whole section feels like a poorly thought out remake, riddled with plot-holes and containing nothing innovative.
I’m afraid that Terminator Salvation fails on its most basic mandate, to entertain. I thought it was a dull and grey. There are some good moments and some especially good sound effects but it drowns in a morass of relatively dull and uninspired action and story. McG even manages the cardinal sin of framing a shot so that one of the Terminator robots looks like a shiny Jim Henson muppet when walking. Poor form.