Terminator Salvation

Director    McG
Starring    Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood
Release    21 MAY (US) 3 JUN (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars


21st May 2009

Terminator Salvation is explosive - not in the sense that it'll blow your mind, more in the sense that it'll burst your eardrums. Pound for pound, it features more explosions than any other movie I've seen - there's literally something detonating or collapsing or being shot or catching fire every 30 seconds. Even in quiet scenes, Christian Bale is so tightly-wound, his head looks as though it's about to splatter in a shower of angry brain matter. It's definitely not a movie to watch if you've got a headache.

But is this really all we demand from a summer blockbuster? Did the nineties teach us nothing? Terminator 2 pretty much ticked all the right boxes when it came to carnage, so the concept of a fourth Terminator movie trying to one-up James Cameron on the armageddon front seems somewhat perverse. Alas, that's all Terminator Salvation is - empty spectacle. The cast try their hardest, but this represents the ear-piercing death rattle of a once-proud franchise that's been reduced to burning money for your viewing pleasure.

The plot is pitched somewhere after the apocalyptic final events of the risible Terminator 3 and before the future seen at the start of Terminator 2 - and if that fries your noodle, just forget about following the timeline altogether, because it doesn't matter a jot. John Connor (Bale) is now a high-ranking officer in the Resistance against the machines, fighting a war against artificial intelligence Skynet, which deems mankind a danger to their survival. Striving to fulfil the fate his mother told him about, Connor meets Marcus Wright (Worthington), a stranger with a secret that could be the key to ending the war.

Despite the fact that Connor is a danger magnet, director McG never really succeeds in making you believe humanity is at stake. Scenes of quiet contemplation when John listens to tapes from his now-dead mother (Linda Hamilton making an audio cameo) are few and far between; Salvation is a movie that's more concerned about where its next action scene is coming from. There are elements that are begging to be explored here - the hows and whys of time-travel, existence paradoxes, the ins and outs of Skynet - but all you get are Mototerminators and Hydrobots and Transforminators.

All of which wouldn't be so bad if every action scene didn't feel second-hand - you've seen all the good bits in the trailers. There's a distinct lack of jaw-dropping "Oh coool..." moments, something which you feel Transformers 2 will have no problem achieving. It's like McG is trying to out Michael Bay Michael Bay and in doing so, has wasted the one thing Bay doesn't have on his side - story. It's telling that once the screeching din has died down, you won't recall a single line of dialogue, note of music or plot point that wasn't punctuated with an explosion.

Bale does his best, as always, bringing some of that gruff Bat-gravitas to the table. Perhaps he's guilty of trying too hard - little of his performance feels natural and much of it feels like it was produced at gun-point (a side effect of his own well-publicised intensity, no doubt). He's flanked by a good supporting cast, of which Worthington is the definite highlight: boasting a strong screen presence, he adds another dimension to a movie that struggles to emote at the best of times. Meanwhile, Anton Yelchin gives good Biehn Jr. as a young Kyle Reese, albeit with distractingly white teeth. (Skynet obviously haven't destroyed the Resistance's stockpile of Colgate yet).

Nods to the originals are a necessary evil but feel forced - the "I'll be back" gets a free pass, but "Come with me if you want to live" has definitely outstayed its welcome. There is one real crowd-pleaser, however, which I won't spoil. Nonetheless, it's symptomatic of a movie that has nothing original to bring to the fore and instead assaults the senses in a brutish and ungainly fashion. Making noise is easy; singing a tune worth remembering is something else entirely.

Ignore the drab palette (grey, brown, grey), the corny script ("So that's what death tastes like") and the infinitesimal plot holes (only one T-800 to a fight, gentlemen) and it's perfectly watchable stuff. Sadly, 'perfectly watchable' is not what this franchise was built on so Terminator Salvation has to be considered a huge disappointment. This is movie as medication - get ready to lay back and be sedated by a dose of dumb injected directly into the eyeballs. It's gonna hurt.

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