Terminator Salvation

With Batman on hiatus, Christian Bale’s back-up blockbuster franchise finds him playing John Connor, leader of the human resistance in a futuristic war against artificially-intelligent robots. Connor’s destiny, as laid down in the first trilogy, is to lead the human resistance army against the evil technological empire of Skynet, a defence system that turned on its creators. Opposite Connor stands Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death-row inmate who donates his body to science in 2003, only to wake up, bruised and baffled, in 2018, in need of an oil-change. The process of re-establishing these characters and fitting them into a pre-determined timeline forms the majority of the story in Terminator Salvation. The rest of it is composed of fight-scenes and explosions.

Those arriving fresh to the story are not given much in the way of explanations to help figure out the tangled storyline or the significance of certain moments in the franchise’s long mythology. Frantic, confused and undeservedly self-important, the storytelling in Terminator Salvation is as grindingly mechanical as the robot villains. Fans of post-apocalyptic science-fiction will get some satisfaction from the occasionally arresting images of ash-strewn devastation but the action sequences, the main draw for the summer audience, are disappointing.

McG throws the camera around with abandon but, barring a couple of genuinely thrilling moments, the effect is more like playing a video game than watching a movie. It is understandable, given the iconic status of the series, that the new film would reference the Terminator franchise, but the director’s reliance on nods to other classic films; from The Great Escape to War of the Worlds, Alien and Blade Runner, are far less forgivable. Either McG is worried that his images will not carry any weight without echoing a greater work or, as I suspect, he is simply incapable of creating something original.

Bale is an actor that is at his best when grim-faced and taciturn, but he goes too far in his characterisation of John Connor, turning this legendary hero into an action-movie caricature. Monotonously intense and belligerent, Bale does achieve something original - or at least I have never seen it before – managing to shout each line of dialogue through gritted teeth. I was surprised to see Connor take orders from a squad of generals, headquartered in a secret submarine, as the Terminator mythology had consistently established that Connor was the boss. His mantle as the last messiah is further undermined by equipping him with a newly-developed gadget that, with a few frantic button presses, overrides the robot’s defence systems. Doesn’t that make the gadget the real hero? And isn’t the gadget a machine and therefore part of the problem?

Intended as a reboot for a long-dead franchise, Terminator Salvation lacks the emotion and innovation of the first two films, being a closer match for Jonathan Mostow’s uninspired third instalment than James Cameron’s original diptych. The script, which has passed through the hands of dozens of screenwriters, is constructed along an unswerving trajectory through a series of action set-pieces. Bale and Worthington aside, none of the secondary characters are given an introduction, arriving in the story when required before disappearing into the digitally composed background. The lack of connection with the characters means it doesn’t matter what happens to them, the effect is like watching a stranger crack open a toaster with a lump-hammer. There is a lot of noise and sparks but in the end, it is impossible to care.

With Bale having already signed up for two more Terminator films, the last ten minutes are spent setting up the sequel. On this pre-programmed evidence, the war might already be over. The robots won.

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