The “Terminator” franchise seemed dead and buried. Schwarzenegger would not reprise his role as the badass robot from the future, the third film proved that the franchise is not really profitable anymore, and on top of all that, the fan reception for #3 was rather poor. Yet, here they are, attempting to reboot the franchise with a new cast, a new concept and McG in the directorial chair. It's still a sequel to the previous movies, but at heart it's stil a reboot.
“Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines” ended with Judgement Day. Connor was powerless to prevent the war with the machines, because, well, it was a matter of fate. The idea was awesome and put a big smile on my face as the nuclear warheads ravaged the planet at the end of that film, especially because the rest of it sucked (in my humble opinion). The ending seemed almost cut out of another, more serious, movie. Now, with “Terminator : Salvation”, we get to see John Connor (Christian Bale) fulfilling his destiny as leader of the human resistance in the terrible war with the machines. The story is built around this new world and it involves such characters as Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) a death row convict awakened in the midst of the apocalypse, and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), Connor’s father, who in the future will travel in the past to save his mother from being “terminated”. You’ll find the impending doom that Connor must prevent, the rescue missions to save fellow humans, the running away from big angry robots, big explosions (and I do mean BIG), impressive visual effects and everything else that is characteristic of big budget noise-maker flicks like this.
The battle is desperate and hope is a luxury in this grim post-apocalyptic world, and everything is appropriately painted in bleak grey colors. The cinematography is actually the best part of this film I dare say. Everything screams “apocalypse” but it doesn’t go over the top. The climactic scenes in dark, intermittently lit industrial areas are especially creepy and effective, a nod to the first and second films. The visual effects are, as I said, impressive, but that’s not a big surprise in a film like this, although the robot designs feel somewhat removed from the spirit of “Terminator”. At times I had the feeling I was watching “Transformers” (visual effects also by ILM). It was fun to see humans battle machines with classic technology, like helicopters and bombers, napalm strikes and semi-automatic rifles and the action scenes are well conceived and executed. There’s even what I felt was a reference to “Mad Max : Road Warrior” (the truck chase). It’s full of delights for the action crowd, and even “Terminator” purists, I would say (including a CGI Schwarzenegger cameo). There’s also a very interesting twist for the Marcus Wright character, which unfortunately was ruined by virtually every trailer and promotional material out there. The fact that Marcus is in fact a new type of machine is revealed late in the film, and seemed clearly designed to act as the big reveal. Why they would go out of their way to ruin it during the marketing process, is a mystery to me, almost as big as Bale’s violent rant on the set of this film.
Speaking of Bale, I’m sorry to say this is his clearly his worst effort ever commited on the big screen. His monotone gruff voice, a lack of emotion that makes him look more like the machines he’s fighting on-screen, and the occasional scenery-chewing outbursts all add to the most unconvincing work he’s ever done, which is especially dissapointing. It’s not that it’s catastrophically bad, it’s just too formulaic for him. Sam Worthington on the other hand, while playing his character in a similar formulaic manner, seems a little more at home in his role. There’s a meaty cyberpunk subtext to the robot that thinks it’s human theme and Marcus’ journey from the wastelands to the heart of Skynet feels almost like “Alice in Wonderland”. Anton Yelchin also has a few nice moments. The rest of the cast is furniture.
They’ve also managed to make this one a PG-13, making it the first one in the franchise to be kids-friendly. Not even Cameron, a friend of the PG-13 lately, never compromised his brutal vision of man vs. machine in his first two films. Neither did Johnathan Mostow in the third one. But you can count on McG do to that. Of course there’s a Blu-Ray Director’s Cut version out there, but don’t count on it to be an improvement. McG himself doesn’t exactly do a bad job. He’s clearly competent in handling FX and action, and doesn’t entirely prostitute the subject matter, but he does feel like a Michael Bay rip-off at times.
It’s quite clear that they will be back for a fifth one. The earnings for this one weren’t all that great, but I have a feeling it won’t stop them. It might delay them for a while before green-lighting it, but they’ll be back. Not sure whether or not there’s room to hope for a better film. It’s not an impressive reboot concept, but at least they’re done with robots travelling back in time to save or kill somebody. Sci-Fi wars have a broad exploration horizon, and who knows, maybe they’ll actually give Christian Bale something to do next time. Until then : “Come with me if you want to live !”