Review: Terminator Salvation [2009]

Dir. McG

Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Bryce Dallas Howard

When The Halcyon Company (the latest in a lineage of Terminator franchise owners) disclosed they were producing a new Terminator movie, to follow on from the monstrosity that was Terminator: Rise of the Machines, it seemed like the series was destined to be bastardised once again. Then, as if to add insult to injury from the perspective of the already disenfranchised fanbase, they inexorably announced that this fresh chapter would be directed by McG, who's solitary big budget experience, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, was not strictly the genre credentials everyone had envisioned for helming a righteous T2-worthy sequel. Add to this no Governator and some unknown actor constituting the lion's share of the screentime, could this truly be the film to extricate what seemed like a stagnant franchise?

Terminator Salvation takes place in 2018 in a post-apocalyptic California, the conflict with the machines is in full swing, and John Connor (Bale) is decisively establishing himself as the prophesied saviour of the human resistance. Meanwhile Skynet is routinely populating the West Coast with terminators, orchestrated to wipe out any opposition and to amass human specimens for analysis and experimentation, while John Connor covertly scours the pockets of emancipated survivors for Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the boy who will grow up to be his father. Both Connor & Reese cross paths with a perplexing man named Marcus Wright (Worthington), whose secret either possesses the key to their destiny or the path to the cessation of the human resistance.

The movie sagaciously steers clear of the labyrinthine time travel based chronology of the anteceding installments, empowering it play out as a creditably uncluttered sci-fi action romp. It does initially feel as though we are just  plunged into the epicenter of the conflict with minimal elucidation, and certainly newcomers to the series may be left in the dark about many of the finer points of the story arc. Fortuitously, the intrinsic dissonance fundamental in the Marcus Wright character delivers some added depth to the mythos and permits the audience to view the tale more readily from an outsiders perspective. Somewhat sadly it does so at the expense of broadening John Connor's character, but for most of us, the majority of Connor's history is being commendably executed by TV's The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

As anyone familiar with the series' 'flashforwards' should assume, Terminator Salvation is grungy and stark, both in tone and visuals, which may displease some viewers and the humour is very spare on the ground, although the somber approach does tend to serve the weighty, doom-laden subject matter perfectly. Without a doubt, there are numerous thrilling action sequences, all of which are undeniably on par with anything else you will see on the majority of contemporary DVD releases. McG tends to use physical effects and dynamic set designs where possible, successfully abolishing the ever prevalent CGI feel that countless, recent action movies are plagued by. Even with a 15 (PG-13) rating the action sequences never feel cut-down or compromised, and thanks to some great editing it doesn't suffer from the Wanted/GI Joe issues,  in that the action does not move so rapidly that it's impossible for the audience to take everything in.

Possibly the only substantial complaint with this film is the dialogue, John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris have undeniably fabricated some cringe-worthy moments, although, they thankfully never overpower the impact of the story. Woefully Christian Bale’s narration and unconventional speech patterns once again begin to grate on the ears after a while (much like his vocal delivery in both of his recent Batman outings). In general though, the acting holds up very well, Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood both cultivate cohesive performances, and Helena Bonham Carter pulls off a spectacular cameo as the sinister face of Skynet. However, the standout performance has to go to Anton Yelchin, who manages to meld the essence of both Edward Furlong and Michael Biehn, manifesting the spirit of the young John Connor together with the melancholy and bravura of the elder Kyle Reese.

For some reason, that this reviewer really doesn't comprehend, Terminator Salvation has been almost ubiquitously panned by critics and fanboys alike, what were these people envisioning? A reboot of the first movie? More of the frivolous hijinxs of 2 & 3? I probably think these people were anticipating Jesus Christ James Cameron to come back and wave his magic, cobalt-tinted, 3D fairydust over the franchise, and bring it crashing back into the 80s, well guess what, it's a whole new future, and this time it's darker, more brooding and slaked with furious rancor... deal with it... or go watch Avatar again!

Verdict: If you love the original and thought T2 was pompous and overblown... settle back and enjoy.

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