Thursday, 4 June 2009

Terminator Salvation Review

Directed by McG, starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris.

Although one may want dismiss the latest in the Terminator series purely on the grounds of its director’s stupid name (who on earth is called McG?), I urge you strongly to reconsider. Rising from the mediocrity of T3, Terminator Salvation is a heart-pumping, immensely enjoyable action thriller, returning the terrifying scarlet glow of the terminator’s moribund eyes to the big screen with gusto and glee.

Terminator Salvation begins by introducing us to the matured, chiselled and battle-hardened John Conner (Christian Bale), who is an officer in the Resistance, a rag-tag band of human survivors fighting against the relentless force of the Skynet, a self-aware military defence network intent on the extinction of the human race through the use of metallic endoskeletons known as ‘terminators’. Conner is a messiah to many who believe he is humankind’s only hope, his quest at present to discover the location of Kyle Reece (Anton Yelchin), a teenager who will grow up to become Conner’s father through time manipulation. However, the mysterious resurrection of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a former death-row prisoner from years earlier, holds dark meaning for both Conner and Reece, and of course, the whole of mankind.

The latest in this summer’s group of franchise reboots, along with the dismal X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the surprisingly good Star Trek, Terminator Salvation has a vast universe to draw from, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. With the inherent time-travel story that runs through the Terminator narrative there are always theoretical issues for any nerd to pick up on. For example, if humans eventually can travel back in time, why do we show so much restraint in only using this technology to save John Conner, and not to go back and eliminate Hitler?

However, Terminator Salvation succeeds in bringing out the elements that make the Terminator series so popular. The visual style of the film is reminiscent of its predecessors, drawn from a very bleak pallet and using gargantuan industrial and technological environments as the backdrop for the film’s action. The evil mecha-beasts that are terminators appear in familiar forms, such as the towering humanoid T-600, but also include some new additions to their ranks, like the massive, steam-belching robots with shoulder-mounted cannons that snatch humans up to be experimented on, and the eel-like hydrobots that lurk in lakes and rivers, waiting for an unwitting human to munch upon.

A very good choice made by the writers of Terminator Salvation (John Brancato and Michael Ferris) is to avoid the folly of T3 and not dole another chase story, ground already majestically covered, and possibly exhausted, by the first two Terminator films. Although there are elements of this concept in Terminator Salvation (unstoppable machine pursues, frail human outwits it, machine rises up again, pursuit continues) the overall story is very enjoyable, if not exactly original or completely unpredictable. The familiar Terminator characters fit well into the almost Saving Private Ryan style war story and fans of the series will be delighted to finally be seeing the day after judgement day, the devastating war only shown briefly in the first and second films.

The elements that make up Terminator Salvation are all strong within their own rights. Bale is no stranger to gruff, rough and tough characters, but does not take a backseat in rejuvenating John Conner as a commanding by troubled man. Worthington fails to shine particularly brightly but does give a solid performance, in contrast to Anton Yelchin, the boyish Chekov in Star Trek, who presents us with a powerful and energetic vision of the young Kyle Reece. Also worth mentioning is Helena Bonham Carter's well played, small but crucial role in the film, which I will not discuss in detail so as to avoid spoiling plot points.  The music is dark and pounding, with the trademark metallic clashing familiar from the earlier films, supported by ear-splitting and floor-rumbling sound effects. The dialogue isn’t anything to shout about in particular, but when you insert the “I’ll be back” and the “come with me if you want to live” in the right places, there’s not much you have to do.

Cut from the same cloth as its predecessors, but forging its own path, McG’s Terminator Salvation is an incredibly fun cinematic experience, with explosive action, a thrilling plot, effective performances and the obvious possibility of sequels to come. Let’s hope the Terminator reboot can continue as strongly as it has started.

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