Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton
Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood, Common
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG (Intense Sequences and Some Violence)
Official Website: http://www.sonypictures.net/movies/terminatorsalvation/
Opening Day: 28 May 2009
In the highly anticipated new installment of "The Terminator" film franchise, set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Christian Bale stars as John Connor, the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet's operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.
Salvation? That’s a lot to expect from the fourth addition into the Terminator franchise, the first without a certain T-800 and an actor whose name and face has practically become synonymous with the series. Yes, Schwarzenegger is notably absent- though fans need not fear, this film pays homage where homage is due.
Question is: who’s going to take over his place to save man from the machines? The answer, Terminator: Salvation would have you believe, is John Connor, the person whom the first terminator protected through Judgment Day and the Rise of the Machines. Connor is now very much grown up and has become the de facto leader of the Resistance. His voice can be heard over shortwave, reminding any humans out there in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that as long as they are alive, they are part of the resistance.
Christian Bale plays John Connor, the one many look up to as the saviour of the human race. Bale himself is also somewhat of a saviour- just last summer his moody, brooding portrayal of a troubled Bruce Wayne propelled the Batman franchise once thought to be well past its prime into the biggest hit of the year. It is little wonder then that the producers have decided to bank on Bale to do the same for Connor what he did with Wayne- Connor himself also a tortured soul, his life from birth an endless struggle against the killer androids.
But Bale’s growling whisper and intensely furrowed brow are sadly misplaced in a film that requires him to be the calm amidst the storm, not the storm itself. This is someone who is supposed to inspire and motivate not just his crew of soldiers, but also the rest of the resistance fighters scattered throughout the globe. Whereas Batman was a hero by himself, Connor is meant to be a leader of men- and Bale’s similar portrayal of both doesn’t do him, nor the film, justice.
Indeed, it’s somewhat surprising that a relatively unknown Australian actor Sam Worthington actually steals the thunder from under Bale’s feet. Worthington is death-row inmate Marcus Wright, who wakes up in 2018, fifteen years after his supposedly execution, to find himself in a world overtaken by Skynet and its band of deadly machines. Wright turns out to be the salvation this film needs, the hero that Connor was supposed to be but doesn’t.
Yes, part of the point of the Terminator movies was to remind us of what it means to be human, to remind us what separates us from the machines. The lesson of humanity, and also the film’s humanity, is found in Worthington’s charismatic performance and also his more fleshed out character of Marcus Wright. It is Wright, not Connor, whom audiences will remember long after the deafening sounds of the machines have died down- and on hindsight, one wonders why Bale decided to turn down the role of Wright which he was offered in the first place.
The journey for Connor, Wright and the rest of Connor’s crew is as mind-boggling as it gets. Connor is out to rescue his father, a teenage Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), apparently sent from the past and whom his mother (a voiceover Linda Hamilton) tells him is the key to his existence. Connor is also now married to Kate (played by Claire Danes in T3 and now by Bryce Dallas Howard) who is pregnant with Connor’s child. Time-travel is apparently the answer to all these complicated tangles of events, and good luck to fans trying to sort them out.
There’s no doubt the needlessly convoluted story needs more work, so too the occasional laughable dialogue and at times all-too convenient setups especially leading up to Connor’s infiltration of Skynet’s headquarters. Blame falls squarely on writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris (who also wrote the underwhelming T3) for demonstrating once again that they have little talent for story (hey, these are also the guys behind the dismal Catwoman).
Luckily, Charlie’s Angels helmer McG proves to be quite adept at handling the technomayhem. His vision of a machine-overrun future is uniformly gloomy and bleak, a wasteland of dull, steely gray that conveys effectively the hopelessness and despair of what it would be like to live in such a world. He also moves the sometimes clunky story forward efficiently, directing the chases, fights and explosions with enough aplomb to keep you captivated.
Terminator: Salvation is hardly the salvation to restore this franchise to its glory days, back when James Cameron, Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger were still around. It’s loud and noisy summer popcorn fun, a tad lacking in humanity and a lot lacking in wit that made the first two Terminators such classics. Still, there’s enough big-budget action spectacle here to keep you entertained and the series alive.
(Terminator: Salvation does enough to save the franchise post-Schwarzenegger from the junk heap, but not enough to restore it to its glory Judgment Days)
Review by Gabriel Chong