Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter
It’s a shame when a movie series hits the point where only this question is left. Terminator: Salvation is the equivalent of which Planet of the Apes?
No, I’m seriously asking. I really don’t have my Planet of the Apes straight. But T:S would be the one where the series finally collapses under the weight of its premise and only targets the devoted fans, the ones who really give a darn about an apocalyptic finale.
There comes a sad moment in every series where things have worn out their welcome. By the fourth film, we expect the premise to be tired. What disappoints most about Salvation is that its action is tired, too. For instance, a scene we’ll call “The Attack of the Forty-Foot Terminator” starts in terror, then turns to a long, listless chase, and creeks to a slow end in a showdown between a real tow truck and a few flying computer images. In this film, there are guns, robots, motorcycles, warplanes. Plenty of firepower, but not nearly enough excitement.
Terminator Salvation is an inverse of the Terminator formula found in the series’ previous three films, meaning a man comes from the future to protect a figure in the past. This time a person from the past, a death row inmate named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), mysteriously appears in the series’ apocalyptic future. He’s come for a reason, to find certain people, but he doesn’t quite know why.
That future is the one we know from the previous films, with a genocidal, post-nuclear war between the last humans and “the machines,” an army of robotic terminators roaming the wastelands of cities at the command of the evil supercomputer Skynet. The human leader in spirit is a grownup John Connor, who believes he has found a way to finish the robots end the war. But before he can finish off the terminators, he must overcome a ruthless series of contrivances and characters making ludicrous decisions.
So first things first – if you had “method acting,” you win. I know that I had that as the reason for Christian Bale’s infamous onset blowup. In this film, Bale generally acts like you just woke your father up early on Sunday morning. I think the world of Bale, but his intensity comes across as overacting here. I’ll paraphrase what Mick LaSalle had to say in his San Francisco Chronicle review: at some point Bale will have to choose between being Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage. I agree, and that moment is fast arriving.
Would McG take quite so much McGuff if he did not call himself McG? It takes the talent of a Prince to pull off such a name. Strangely, McG fights against his reputation for a wasp-wing editing style. Several times, he composes action scenes in long takes. A weird transition, but not particularly successful. The scenes come across as aesthetic rather than vital.
McG also has a reputation for using a referential cinema, in which many scenes have precedents in other films. It’s a little like watching a Brian DePalma movie and trying to sort through all of the allusions. We have stuff from The Great Escape and, using Worthington’s Mel Gibson resemblance, The Road Warrior. Is that stealing? You decide. But it definitely does not save the movie.