Theatrical review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation is a loud exercise in post-apocalyptic mayhem. When the dust settles and the action subsides, an intriguing story flourishes. Expect sequels – just don’t count on them to be as resolute and contained as this.

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Released: 3 June
Certificate: 12A
Director: McG
Screenwriter: John D Brancato, Michael Ferris
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood
Distributor: Sony
Running Time: 114 mins

2018, post-Judgement Day. Skynet’s cataclysmic attack on the human race has rendered civilisation obsolete. Almost. Out of LA’s desolate wasteland comes hope in the form of John Connor (Bale), hero of the resistance and supposed savour of mankind. This sets the scene for a thrilling post-apocalyptic war film, and with only a few compromises made, Terminator Salvation wins the battle to meet expectations.

During Salvation’s production stages fans were quick to complain about McG’s appointment as director. A chequered past in filmmaking (Charlie’s Angels, We Are Marshall) did nothing to quell this storm. Yet in an instant retort to these complaints, McG deploys an opening 20 minutes that never let up on action. As Connor and his team scout a Skynet facility, a trap is sprung that starts off a breathless chain of events. It’s a frenzied and realistic set piece – one that puts the viewer in the passenger seat of an escaping chopper, and then tugs you straight back into the lion’s den. Shot in one continuous take, this moment thrusts you into a film that is quite simply relentless – but herein lies the problem.

Salvation has action, lots of it. Those glimpses of the future war in James Cameron’s original films depicted a world that viewers wanted to see more of. Yet in this fourth Terminator outing we hardly get a chance to absorb some starkly realised landscapes. As Marcus Wright (Worthington) takes the first steps into a fascinating odyssey, his progression is constantly interrupted by the next big set piece. There’s almost a repetitive nature to the way in which McG crafts his action. As a result of this, Salvation has a tendency to dull the senses. Regardless of these issues, there are moments here that can easily be deemed as standouts in the franchise. Wright’s alliance with Kyle Reese (Yelchin) spawns a barrel-blasting freeway chase that will leave you gasping; an escape from resistance headquarters sees Wright squaring off to Connor, complete with eel robots and cheesy pyrotechnics; while a finale staged in Skynet’s robot lab hurls forth both spectacle and plot curveballs to pleasing effect.

Through all of this apocalyptic bombast John D Brancato and Michael Ferris have crafted a strong story. There is a real purpose to their screenplay and no scene feels wasted. Character-wise, Wright and Connor’s relationship was over egged in the film’s promotional material – this film is just as much about Reese as it is these two gravelly-voiced heavyweights. The characters Reese, Wright and Connor are integral – they keep the narrative moving and ensure that the film sticks to canon. Thankfully, despite the constant volley of explosions and breakneck shifts in action, their arcs remain intact.

The main aspect of Salvation that is going to split the fanboys from the film fans is its reverential nature. Hearing Reese spout “Come with me if you want to live” is merely the tip of the iceberg – the film simply can’t help itself with regards to nods, winks and clumsy nudges towards past Terminator movies. The sight of Arnie stepping out as the first T-800 in full-on killer mode is a neat touch, but do we really need to hear Guns N’ Roses’ You Could Be Mine or witness Connor utter “I’ll be back” to be reminded of this film’s legacy? In a backhanded compliment, Salvation has the mettle to stand up on its own and doesn’t need to rely on its predecessors in order to gain an identity.

Treading that fine line between dark and light, McG has turned in a big, brash summer blockbuster that refuses to play it too safe. Ignore the much-bemoaned PG-13 rating (the film is much gorier than its certification denotes); Salvation can be unrelenting in its brutality. Bale’s Connor is played coldly and to the knuckle. He isn’t gifted with the dialogue he perhaps deserves, but still carries the weight of his leader role well. Worthington fares better and although questions about his character’s past are left unanswered, you get a real sense of inner conflict from his performance. Yelchin is hardly stretched as the teenage Reese – his character’s only distinguishable by the trademark shotgun – while Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard are sidelined in pedestrian roles.

Whatever you were expecting from Terminator Salvation is present in one form or another. Be it high-octane action, sci-fi smarts, franchise references or good old-fashioned endoskeletons going postal, all elements are present and accounted for. No doubt the future has already been decided for this franchise; and although a slew of sequels will inevitably follow in Salvation’s wake, many viewers will be left feeling quite content. Content in the notion that this film is good enough to send the franchise out with an acceptable bang.

Verdict:

Terminator Salvation is a loud exercise in post-apocalyptic mayhem. When the dust settles and the action subsides, an intriguing story flourishes. Expect sequels – just don’t count on them to be as resolute and contained as this.