Sunday, 7 June 2009

Terminator Salvation

Having faced a raft of challenges before hitting the big screen - it's the fourth in a franchise that many believe should have stopped at number two, it's from the oddly named bloke who directed the awful Charlie's Angels films - Terminator Salvation is finally here.

However aside from any negative press about its lead star Christian Bale throwing a wobbly on-set and how to pronounce McG, the results are surprisingly effective. There are problems - Bale's glowering sub Batman John Connor is one note and tedious, it lacks the humour of James Cameron's classics - but the film has a secret weapon up its sleeve. More on that momentarily.

With Cameron's grungy apocalyptic wasteland seen in The Terminator having revived dystopian sci-fi action in the 80s (not to mention launching the career of a heavily accented Austrian bodybuilder), the sequel Judgement Day did the impossible. It was a better film: on a larger, sleeker scale, taking full and clever advantage of Ahnuld's then megastar status and of course bringing CGI effects into a new age with the astonishing liquid metal T-1000. T3 was always going to be a thankless task but took a brave turn with Cameron's mythology in the closing reels.

Having already completed his more interesting character arc (from rebellious teen to man reluctantly embracing his own destiny), Bale's Connor is the fulcrum of the film but consequently not an especially interesting one. However the film revels in detailing the contradictions of Connor's future past: this time the race is on to find Kyle Reese (played as a younger man by Anton Yelchin), Connor's past (future?) father. Should the machines get to him first, Connor's entire existence will be negated (hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing).

However it lacks the incidental ironies present in the earlier films where cyborgs battled it out in the world we recognise (the glossier McG visuals prevent the sandblasted nuclear earth being as gritty as it should). The new Transformer-esque machines (including a 100 foot behemoth capable of levelling buildings), despite the excellent effects, lack the terror we first felt when Arnie rampaged through the phone book.
So far, so competent. Enter Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright though, and the film delivers that extra kick it has been promising. Introduced donating his body to Skynet, the mysterious Wright's origins provide a mystique and emotional heart ironically lacking in the central character of Connor. Ultimately the tantalising exploration of man versus machine generates more fireworks than a blast from a phase plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.

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