Posted by: Dr P | June 11, 2009

Terminator Salvation

The 4th movie in the Terminator franchise on paper had the potential to be an absolute barnstormer. The 1984 cult movie developed into a worldwide phenomenon with the magnificent storyline and effects witnessed in T2, and the series moved on very well with the apocalyptic conclusion to T3: Rise of the Machines. In the 4th film we finally get to meet the grown up John Connor, the prophesised saviour of mankind and leader of the resistance to the Skynet machines which have assumed world domination following nuclear war.

My initial reaction to this movie, which I watched on preview night in a packed Cambridge venue rammed with overeager students, was “wow, that was a terrific film”. And, yes, as a standalone action flick, this ticks the boxes – it has dynamic effects, a loud, pumping soundtrack, non-stop action, and that sort of thing … but as a Terminator film? For me, it just didn’t quite live up to the hype. It almost felt like Transformers, but without the laughs.

Speaking of lacking laughs, I was away on my own on a course that week, and so naturally when you go out for dinner you tend to stand out a little when there’s just you. In order to maximise the situation further, the helpful chap at Chiquitos sat me right in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by couples and groups!!! Whilst I have little issue being on my own or enjoying my own company, that was taking the pee!

Anyway, if I had to put my finger on what let this movie down for me, it was Christian Bale’s stilted performance as Connor. This is, after all, the actor that can easily carry off both suave and dangerous, sexy and menacing, as witnessed in his excellent portrayal of Bruce Wayne in the Batman movies. OK, he may well have been blown out of the water by Heath Ledger’s remarkable Joker, but he still put in a strong, commanding and watchable performance. More to the point, John Connor is supposedly the charismatic figure who is bringing together the remnants of mankind to ‘rage against the machine’. For me, he is just a soldier in this, not much of a leader, and that was very disappointing.

Far better is the portrayal of Kyle Reese, ironically a youngish boy who – as followers of the franchise will well know – is actually destined to become Connor’s father, by virtue of being sent back in time at a later date to protect Connor’s mum from a terminator. Anton Yelchin follows his nice bitpart in the Star Trek movie with an assured and sparky effort here, and is probably the pick of the acting bunch. Although the audience and indeed the machines must clearly be aware of the time paradox, there seems to be a massive lack of initiative here – surely the machines should have been hunting high and low for Reese, wiped him out and then stopped Connor’s arrival on the scene? Assuming it would have worked like that. Bit confusing this time travel malarkey.

The other main plot thread running through the film concerns a character named Marcus Wright. As the film opens he is in a cell awaiting execution, when he is visited by a skynet worker who wants him to sign over his body for medical research. Given that he is then apparently killed, but then reappears in the post-apocalyptic world with an apparent indestructibility, it takes him an awful long time to realise he might be slightly less human than before … trust me, the audience got it straight away. You’d have to be a bit dim not to in fact, and yet the filmmakers clearly expect us to be shocked when Wright is later revealed as the first human-looking skynet machine … doh! Yet again, the character is not one with which you empathise or connect in any real way – folks might like the muscles and the tough fight scenes, but he’s not otherwise watchable.

Given the detachment from the central characters, I actually found myself rooting for the terminators for the second half of the film! Oddly, I felt most of the people watching alongside me were too! It was obvious that Connor’s character must survive beyond the film, and there’s a problem – we know that he ultimately beats the terminators, but in this film he is portrayed as in constant peril – clearly not!

Don’t let the negatives put you off too much. It’s still an enjoyable action romp, but I came away feeling that it could have been so much more – let’s hope they rectify these niggles for T5!

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