Terminator Salvation (Movie Review)
Rating(out of 5): * * * ½
(Sony Pictures Releasing International)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Christian Bale, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin, Common, Bryce Dallas Howard, Michael Ironside
The fourth Terminator movie is all heavy metal mayhem and little else. If you’re in it for the impetus to shovel huge handfuls of popcorn in your mouth – whatever isn’t knocked out of your hand by the THX sound waves – then hey, you’re in for a grand old time.
FAMILIAR SETTING: ‘Dammit, McG, why do we have to use recycled Borg regeneration chambers from the old Star Trek sets?’
If you favour things like substance balanced with style, flashy stuff that still makes sense and, ooh, character depth, then you’re better off checking out Star Trek before it warps out of our cineplexes.
This is not to say that Terminator Salvation is bad. It’s good, but it’s just … not great, in the way that the original Terminator was a brilliant low-budget B-movie and T2 was a gloriously executed expansion of all the ideas from the first one.
It is a little better than T3: Rise of the Machines, and it certainly seems louder than all the previous three movies (so much so that Christian Bale seems to be shouting all the time just to be heard above the audio effects).
EAT LEAD, HUMAN: ‘This is so much fun, I wish I could just transform into one giant gun. Say, that’s an idea ….’
Finally, the action in a Terminator movie has fast-forwarded to the desolate, war-ravaged near future after Judgment Day, the moment that the ruthless artificial intelligence known as Skynet declared all-out war on humanity.
It’s 2018, and John Connor (Bale) is not yet the messianic leader of the human Resistance that he was touted to become in the earlier movies.
He’s still relatively low down on the Resistance totem pole, with the real command committee hiding out at sea in a submarine (and led by Michael Ironside).
A raid on a Skynet facility ends disastrously for John’s forces. He alone survives, but someone else walks away from the carnage – Marcus Wright (Worthington), a man we see in the film’s prologue being executed for murder.
The movie involves a Resistance plan to end the War with the Machines, but Marcus’ arrival and the information he carries put a bit of a crimp in it.
On Skynet’s side, it plans to terminate the Resistance central command as well as John Connor and Kyle Reese (a very effective Yelchin, most recently seen as Chekov in Star Trek) before the week is out.
There are moments in the film that betray a fanboy’s obsession with T2 continuity and consistency: Kyle cocking a combat shotgun one-handed, like Sarah Connor did; John Connor setting an audio lure for SkyNet’s hunter machines by playing Guns N’ Roses’ You Could Be Mine, a favourite of his younger self; and the source of that frightful scar the “old” John Connor sported at the beginning of T2.
There are also moments that don’t make any sense. After taking such pains to stay hidden and silent, the Resistance makes an awfully noisy go of trying to apprehend an escaped prisoner in one loud, undoubtedly expensive and essentially pointless sequence. A Resistance fighter (Bloodgood) is convinced way too easily to go against her commander’s wishes. And Bryce Dallas Howard always looks as if she just stepped out of a beauty parlour.
What the film really lacks, though, is some real depth to John Connor. This is understandable if you consider that initially, Connor wasn’t even supposed to have that big a role in the film – it was meant to be Marcus’ story, actually.
The expanded Connor role doesn’t give Bale much to do except be really intense and strike heroic poses, but the character ends up being somewhat two-dimensional as a result. Still, anything is better than “Bratty John” that we’ve been getting on The Sarah Connor Chronicles over on TV.
STRANGE AWAKENING: ‘I just woke up alone in this hospital-like place surrounded by weird equipment. I’m not pretty enough to be Milla Jovovich, so this can’t be Resident Evil.’
It’s really Worthington’s show, and his is by far the meatier of the two principal male roles. The actor, who will be seen in several more high-profile films including James Cameron’s Avatar and the Clash of the Titans remake, seems bound for great heights.
Here, he cuts a sympathetic figure while still exhibiting the physicality to be an impressive (borderline scary) action hero – and I can’t help but wonder if this movie would have been much better if the story was made more Marcus-centic.
T2 blew audiences away because it managed to dazzle us visually, engage us emotionally and even gave us pause to consider our disconnection from one another on the reckless run down the road to self-destruction.
While T3 was mostly just an empty action flick, Terminator Salvation offers us a fresh setting by taking place almost completely in a dark future. But it just engages us on a purely gut level, occasionally touching our hearts, but almost never providing any food for thought.
Still, machines don’t require sustenance, do we? I mean, “they”, of course.