TERMINATOR SALVATION is a technically well-made, visually interesting addition to the franchise. Problem is, the plot and character ideas are so ill-developed that the action sequences lose all meaning and dissolve into one long roar of sound and fury.
All if which is a great shame, because director McG (of CHARLIE'S ANGELS fame) clearly had aspirations for greatness, citing influences from THE GREAT ESCAPE to Cormac McCarthy's grim post-apocalyptic novel, THE ROAD. The colour and design of this film is sombre and the mood serious. We have shots of a concrete building collapsing on itself and white dust billowing over the wreckage - an image straight from 9-11. We have scenes of humanity turned savage, fighting over food and fuel. The only wink to the in-joke of the franchise comes late in.
The set-up of the film is promising but squandered. Christian Bale takes on the role of John Connor, prophesied leader of the Resistance against Skynet - the sentient defense machine that launched a pre-emptive strike against humanity on Judgment Day. Terminator robots were designed and sent back in time to kill Connor, his mother and his father with no success. Radical rethinking was required. Skynet creates a Cylon - half human, half android - a Terminator with a real heart. The stage is set for brilliant drama. How far can the Cylon have free will, and counter his programming to destroy the humans? In what sense can a woman really fall in love with a man who is half-robot? These are some of the questions that were explored with great insight and wit in the re-imagined BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.
But TERMINATOR SALVATION is only interested in these questions insofar as they provide breathing room between the set-piece action sequences. Time and again, we have rushed, superficial scenes that hint at deeper questions but never give them room to develop. Thus, resistance fighter Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood, weak performance) falls for the Cylon who saved her life, and risks her own life to set him free. All this is essayed in five minutes and one scene of laughably Mills & Boon dialogue. Later in the film, the Cylon confronts his creators and asserts his humanity. Sam Worthington gives a good performance despite his inability to hold down an American accent, but we soon jump back to Christian Bale's attack on Skynet HQ.
And what about Christian Bale? His involvement with this film will no doubt be remembered for his ill-tempered attack on the Director of Photography, replayed to the masses on Youtube. This draws attention away from the fact that he has turned in a very mediocre performance in a thankless role. As in the THE DARK KNIGHT, he seems to think that adopting a growling deep voice conveys profundity and authority. And, as in THE DARK KNIGHT, he is upstaged by another actor, for this is really Sam Worthington's film. Maybe Bale just wasn't inspired by a character that is basically one-dimensional. There is an argument that if you were raised by your mother to be the saviour of humanity you WOULD be earnest, single-minded and dull. But, Connor should be charismatic - and when asking the Resistance to commit mutiny - he should sound more convincing, more inspiring than he does. Anton Yelchin, as Connor's teenage father-to-be, Kyle Reese, has more charisma, and indeed, more screen presence, than Bale.
All of this speaks to the weakness of the script overall - as evidenced by the numerous re-writes. Let's only hope they do a better job on the already announced, McG-helmed, TERMINATOR 5.
TERMINATOR SAVLATION is on release everywhere but Japan, where it opens next week, and Mexico, where it opens on July 31st.