Terminator Salvation

June 9, 2009

Sticking to the recent trend of unnumbered sequels, the latest Terminator movie (the 4th in the series I guess) is hard to place amongst the summer blockbusters that have already been released. Unlike Angels and Demons it is not offensively bad, but it’s nothing like as triumphant as Star Trek. I won’t go into the plot but for fans of the series there are some nice little nods to previous films, and one massive cameo/use of likeness that will have some grinning with glee and some shaking their heads. It all depends on how jaded your feelings are about the Terminator series. The script is about as ridden with cliches as any Hollywood block buster and there are some groan-inducing lines, but it’s not going to destroy your enjoyment of a film whose driving force is set piece on screen action and lots of it.

Since the audience interest is sustained only by the stringing together of one action sequence after another, that action has to be good. Luckily, action is something that director McG really does well, taking both modern and classic techniques of shooting action and blending them together seamlessly. I was glad, after having watched the appalling but fun 12 Rounds, that he hadn’t just gone for the post-Bourne style of placing the camera so close to the action that you don’t know what’s going on. A perfect case in point would be the Transformers movie which is filled with impressive robots but insists on showing us their transformations and innards from so close that all we perceive is an incomprehensible blur. In fact I think most action films made today take their camera technique from Jamie Oliver’s early Naked Chef shows. Terminator Salvation’s camera is happy to take a step back and allow explosions and massive robots to fill the screen from a distance, making them more menacing as a result. There are also a couple of impressively long, flowing, CGI aided shots which stick with John Connor as he attempts to escape in a helicopter which is shot down. In fact I believe he crashes two helicopters in the course of the film, which must be a cinematic first. The whole of the final action scene is essentially a blending of the final fights from the first two movies, though I’m not sure whether I prefer the stop-motion terminator over its computer rendered contemporary cousin.

Christian Bale is in Batman mode, either gruffly shouting or whispering every line in a hoarse, manly way. It gets to the point that everything he says is a little bit funny because of his affected delivery style. Sam Worthington as the robot who thinks he is a man does fine with what he’s given, but the role lacks the depth that such a character could have afforded. When it comes down to it he could just as easily have had super powers or been Iron Man for all that it seemed to matter. Because this film essentially has dual lead parts there’s no focal point to draw audience sympathies, and even the inclusion of a voiceless child soldier cannot reign in the diffuse feelings of an audience reduced to indifference.

The ultimate question is should you go and see Terminator Salvation? Well, I found myself smiling for a majority of the film and if you like your action big and well done then there hasn’t been a better action film this summer. Unless you count Crank: High Voltage, but that isn’t exactly fun for the whole family. Don’t be put off by the 12A rating either as the film doesn’t feel toned down. In many ways it doesn’t matter if you haven’t watched all or any of the other Terminator movies because much of the plot has either been covered before, revealed by the trailer or is inconsequential because it is brushed aside to give more screen time to explosions.


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