Terminator Salvation

Year: 2009
Production Co: The Halcyon Company
Director: McG
Writer: John Brancato/Michael Ferris
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside

I've already heard several negative reviews and opinions about this movie, and all I can attribute them to was the kind of collective nostalgia that made us all so angry at the Star Wars prequels. The Terminator is one of the most enduring science fiction themes in the movies, but what did we expect? Did McG, to paraphrase, rape our childhoods?

One such criticism I heard was about how a guy getting a heart transplant outdoors in a windy desert was so ridiculous. Sorry, but – if after watching robots the size of four storey buildings pick people up in their pincers and terminator motorbikes that can spin and dodge balletically – the lack of realism of an outdoor heart operation bothers you, I think you might be in the wrong movie.

I for one couldn't even see the faults so many other people were complaining about. Just one was that John Connor's (Bale) character was flat, and that of Marcus Wright (Worthington) the more interesting. Did these critics and moviegoers think they were coming to see Hamlet, or giant robots kicking the crap out of each other (bit of a theme this year...)? Bale certainly gave it his all, but all he really had to do was look intense and shouty – the script didn't really make it worth the bad reputation resulting from a tirade of abuse leaked on the internet.

In fact, I found the whole thing as solid and entertaining as could be expected from the franchise, even coming from the director who's name has been mud among film fans for so long. I really liked the colourless, war-movie look, with no sharp corners, clear sound or stark colours of desert sand, green combat uniforms or blood. Eastwood went for a similar aesthetic in Letters From Iwo Jima to great effect.

And the action was big, loud, spectacular, dirty and (within the parameters of the premise) realistic, the CGI mostly seamless. The characterisations were pretty pat and despite his star rising faster than a starlet on coke, Worthington didn't seem altogether comfortable, his accent faltering more than once. But again, you go and see a Terminator movie for dramatic performance arts like you see a Nora Ephron movie for giant robots.

It's the future his mother always told us about, the one we've seem glimpses of since 1984. McG's designers have gone to town and the world is the polar opposite of Star Trek where's everything's shiny, new and self-maintaining. Here everything's a wreck, cities, cars, buildings and even the pre-Arnie shaped T-600 rough and clunky, a world rusted through misuse after everything's fallen away unless it has some utility for war.

All mid-level resistance officer John Connor has is tapes left to him by his mother Sarah, wondering how much she should tell him about the past including his father Kyle Reese, at that moment a teenager hiding out in the ruins of LA.

Marcus stumbles into the landscape, not knowing who he is or how he comes to be in this wasteland after being put to death by the state years before and leaving his body to science, signing over his remains to an enigmatic representative of a biotech firm called Cyberdine (Carter).

He teams up with Kyle and his small, mute colleague and they tag along on his quest to find out what's happened to him, hoping to meet up with pockets of resistance around the country.

Meanwhile, Connor and his superiors are aware of a strange new program being carried out by Skynet, one causing a rash of attacks taking humans prisoner for transport to Skynet's hell-like San Francisco headquarters. At the same time an experimental interference signal that shuts down Skynet assets promises to turn the tide of the war, and the high command is only too happy to use it.

When Connor captures Marcus, the truth is revealed about what Skynet are doing, and he realises that if they attack Skynet they'll kill the hundreds of prisoners. The conundrum gives rise to the high concept ethical hook at the core of the story – if we're prepared to sacrifice our own, won't it make victory hollow and make us no better than the soulless machines we're fighting against? It's not the most nuanced emotional core of a summer blockbuster but it's as good as the 'boy and his first car' of Transformers.

And by the time it's over, you've seen thrills, spills, action and some drama, all painted in effective colours with effects that are slick and gritty. What else did you want?

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