Terminator Salvation (2009) dir. McG
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Goodblood, Bryce Dallas Howard
In the Blockbuster Summer season when a week goes by most of everything before it seems like ancient history. Terminator is like ancient history right now, after an underperformance on its opening weekend and lacklustre rotten tomato standing this film will likely be labelled failure. Doesn’t mean I can’t still like the picture, which I did.
“Terminator Salvation” plays like a rusted metal version of the last couple of T-pictures. Taking place in 2018, post Judgement Day, if you have the T-timeline in your brain, in a George Miller-esque post apocalyptic world. Los Angeles is destroyed, everything burned to smithereens, with only the metal carcasses of the machinery we created and ultimately destroyed littering the landscape.
John Connor (Christian Bale) the prophesized hero is the leader of the resistance against the machines. After an underground mission to a Skynet laboratory, a new hero emerges from the ashes of the opening action sequence – Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row man we saw in a flashback donating his body to Cyberdine Systems. Of course we suspect he’s a terminator, but he doesn’t know that. Marcus wanders the landscape fighting machinery going about his own journey of self-discovery. He meets up with none other than Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), formerly Michael Biehn from the original film, and vows to protect him.
When Reese is taken prisoner by the machines he has to convince John Connor that his motivations are malevolent, not benevolent. Connor, who only sees the machines as his enemies, is forced to go against his instincts and trust someone who could be his enemy.
Unlike the story-bloat of “Star Trek” Michael Ferris and John Brancato’s script is a focused and uncomplicated affair, which carves its own path in the franchise while linking up and respecting the lore created by its predecessors.
Thematically, "Salvation" continues Cameron’s examination of the relationship of man and machine. McG and the writers find a rather simple but intriguing way to challenge Connor’s assumptions of the future. The central concept of a robot not knowing he’s a robot is the stuff of classic science-fiction. Though an opportunity is missed to explore John’s memories of his relationship with the Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator in T2 in “Salvation” the relationship serves to test humanity’s capacity for complex emotional thought, out of which some genuine heroism and male bonding emerges.
Christian Bale as John Connor, reminds us of Bale as Batman, a muscular but cold hero with a raspy voice, without any of the warmth of previous T-protagonists. Hollywood newbie Aussie Sam Worthington is a good match for Bale. The robo-human conflict within Marcus emerges as the heart of the picture, trumping Bale’s star-casting. And I can’t go without mentioning Bryce Dallas Howard’s lovely pregnant glow as John’s wife with child.
“Terminator Salvation” succeeds solely as a stone cold action picture. There’s not an ounce of humour in the picture, which, curiously, works to its advantage (box office notwithstanding). Shane Harlbut’s subdued colour palette makes it feel like a tougher and darker “Transformers”. The robot enemies are impressive, including a huge ‘Transformers-like’ metal monster which launches superfast motorcycle-bots. This sequence forms the main second act set piece, contributing to an intense and impressive thrill ride which, overall, clocks in at under 2 hours - a miracle for summer blockbuster entertainment these days. Enjoy.