Sunday 21 June 2009

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

The good guys are very macho, the bad guys are very macho, the women are very macho, and the machines are (of course) very macho. In the post-apocalyptic Terminator vision, those who do not drip machismo will be dropped dead and abandoned among the carnage of broken buildings, broken cars, and just plain broken civilization.

The fourth episode of this franchise that started all the way back in 1984, Salvation takes us for the first time into the future that was only hinted at in previous episodes.

The year is 2018, and human soldiers lead by John Connor (a macho Christian Bale) are fighting the war for the survival of the human race against the SkyNet machines that launched Judgement Day on the planet. A mysterious stranger called Marcus (a very macho Sam Worthington) drops into the battle, and we know from the movie's opening sequence that Marcus was a death row inmate who donated his body to science back in 2003.

You would need to be very new to the Terminator concept not to suspect that some re-incarnation of Marcus has been sent through time, this time forwards, probably with some ill intentions towards Connor.

The overall battle between humans and machines then becomes the backdrop to the evolving tension between John and Marcus, with the usual complications thrown in such as major disagreements between Connor and his submarine-dwelling commanders, and a bond that develops between Marcus and one of Connor's soldiers, female (but still macho) pilot Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood).

Bloodgood has probably the most interesting character and performance on display, but unfortunately she fades away due to neglect from the final third of the movie.

Terminator Salvation does only a few things, but it does them well. Director McG ensures that things blow up with big bangs. The war equipment looks authentically grimy, and the set-design is quite brilliant. Those familiar with the computer game Fallout 3 will instantly recognize the striking similarities in the look and feel of the movie.

Terminator Salvation does not pay too much attention to characterizations or any attempts at developing much of a emotional centre of gravity. The characters remain for the most part cardboard cut-outs with dialogue lines inspired by comic books, or previous movies. Michael Ironside as the overall leader of the resistance mails in a performance -- and dialogue -- that he has mass-produced a good dozen times in much worse productions. And there is even a mute long-haired kid here who seems to have time-warped straight in from the set of Mad Max 2 (1981).

Taken as almost a straight-ahead war story with a bit of routine human drama tossed in, Terminator Salvation certainly delivers, but do expect a bit of a hollow spot where the soul of the movie usually resides.

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