Terminator Salvation

“Terminator Salvation” (2009) movie poster Disappointing. But go see it if you can sucessfully lower your expectations and smirk at the awful plot holes.

In a way this is a dreadful, dreadful movie. But in another way, composed as it is from the scavenged flesh of previous Terminator movies (and WWII action movies) laid over a mechanical script, and executed by soulless, unstoppable actors, it’s quite impressive to watch from an (emotional) distance.

The biggest question this movie raised for me was: how come Terminator robots are so rubbish at fighting? Their basic martial arts technique is throwing people into stuff. To some extent that can work, in that: if you throw Michael Baen/Christian Bale into enough filing cabinets/walls/windows, you will eventually wear them down, but if you were a huge, mechanical Arnold Schwartzenegger with superhuman strength, why not just take the easy route and crush their puny human heads, or rip their arms off. (The one in this movie even grabs the gun from the hands of a human at one point and chucks the gun away, before proceding to throw the human against more metal cabinets. Arnie in the first movie was smarter than that.)

The first movie was smarter than this one. Much smarter. It had a kind of gritty realism which made the outrageous premise (time-travelling killer robot from the future) credible. This movie is big and dumb and the woeful script is plainly just there to give an excuse for the explosions and the robots. (And the exploding robots, and the robots causing explosions.)

High points: visually it looks quite tasty. The post-apocalyptic wasteland looks lovely and cold and desaturated. In fact the whole film is art-directed to within an inch of its life.

Also, Sam Worthington, as the half-man-half-Terminator—(He has a metal endoskeleton, and a controlling microchip which appears to a) do fuck-all, and b) be embedded conveniently near enough the surface of his neck than he can just pull it out at an importantly emotional moment before saving the day)—is generally very watchable. He does proper acting and things, and his disbelief and inner conflict are all very believable.

Oh, and John Connor’s doctor girlfriend is very pretty. (Very pretty. Kind of a weird eye thing going on, but that’s quite endearing.) Anton Yeltsin is alright as a young Karl Reiss. Bale, as Connor, is, adequate. Spends all his time grumping.

Like I said, though, my main problem with the film is that it’s complete nonsense. There’s no logical, believable thread through it to make you care about the exploding robots. It feels like stitched-together other films. Very post-apocalypic-zombie-movie near the start, with Terminators that look like reanimated metal corpses; scenes and shots which appear to have been lifted wholesale from other movies in the franchise: the motorcycle/truck chase; the melting-the-robot-then-freezing-it-routine; the climactic fight in the factory. All the explosions and helecopters make it look like umpteen Vietnam movies. When Worthington first appears, reborn as a Terminator, he’s covered in mud and screaming, either like a newly-born Urak Hai in Lord of The Rings, or that guy in Apocalypse Now. Ho hum.

Then there’s the constant prompting the audience via clunky lines in the script. “Prepare medical team, stat. By the way: it’s John Connor.” Pish. The gurrilla resistance all seem like clichés, barking some orders, and bravely defying other orders, and, for some reason, amazingly well equipped and all looking like be-stubbled male models, as they cluster round their radios in a selection of apocalyptic international locations.

All in all, it’s what you should expect from the 4th film in a blockbuster Holywood franchise. Written by a committee, directed by a moron, and probably focus-grouped to within an inch of any remaining artistic life.

It was quite fun to watch a digitally-recreated naked Arnold Schwartzenegger throw Christian Bale into metal cabinets, but really it made me want to go back and watch the original The Terminator again. For all that that film’s effects don’t really stand up terribly well nowadays, it manages a wonderfully sustained tension, brilliant performances and a thoroughly engaging emotional core that Terminator Salvation doesn’t come near. The terminators in Salvation are just not as terrifying.

(Oh, and how much of a bastard is John Connor for accepting that donation at the end?!)

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