Terminator: Salvation is the fourth film in the famous franchise, following the first two classic installments and one not-so-classic episode. It is the movie set that gave us the famous tape of Christian Bale bawling out a hapless crew member with language far too colorful to use here and, confusingly, it is also both a sequel and a prequel to the previous movies. Directed by McG (yup, that’s the name his parents call him) it is a bigger, louder version of the Terminator tale, and the first film in the series to receive the PG-13 certificate in the United States, but is it the best of the bunch?
Set post Judgment Day, in the year 2018, a nuclear holocaust triggered by the artificial intelligence network Skynet, has destroyed most of the world. A band of survivors called the Resistance and led by John Connor (Christian Bale) struggles to keep the machines from finishing the job. When a stranger from the past named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) appears Connor’s confidence that Skynet can be beaten and the world saved is shaken.
Like the recent Star Trek reboot Terminator: Salvation respectfully pays homage to its roots. Listen for an “I’ll be back” riff, a snippet of Guns and Roses and there’s even a computer generated cameo by a bodybuilder you may have heard of, but unlike Star Trek, which succeeded because it melded story with cool action, Terminator Salvation tries to win over the audience with bombast.
It looks really cool, with excellently realized Terminator machines and a wild and desolate post apocalyptic landscape but director McG is a little too in love with the style of the film—the look of flames set against the film’s grey and beige desaturated color palate and wild camera moves—and not in love enough with the other stuff—plot for instance.
There is a story but it gets lost in the din of the overwhelming sound design, massive CGI and explosions! Explosions! Explosions! McG never met a building, car or machine he didn’t want to ignite and blow to bits, so every few minutes a blazing mushroom cloud of flames lights up the screen and burns out our retinas.
When he tries though, he can stage an action scene. Near the beginning he uses flashy camera moves—the kind that make David Fincher look restrained—as he has a camera swoop from the sky into a helicopter that is spiraling out of control. It’s a wild shot, but for all the style there isn’t one image here as memorable as Arnold’s entrance in the original film or Robert Patrick’s shattered Terminator reassembling himself in T2.
James Cameron guided the Terminator franchise to greatness with the first two movies, but without his leadership it has floundered. It’s a shame because Salvation had the chance to be a great sci fi film, but it’s been dumbed down to one long action flick. It’s fun enough, I suppose, but it’s not up to the standards of the first two films in the series. I guess the next science fiction big screen event to pin our hopes on will be James Cameron’s next film Avatar.