There’s nothing harder than trying to write about a film that leaves you utterly torn between what you know the film to be on a critical level, against how much you enjoyed it as a spectacle and Terminator Salvation is such a film. I’m one of those people who wants to enjoy something more because of what it represents to me on a personal and emotional level than find fault in it because I know, deep down, that it wasn’t the movie I’d hoped for.
To give you an example, just think about Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. When I came out of the cinema, I’d enjoyed what I’d seen but I found myself unable to properly enthuse about it. And the reason I have chosen that example is because Terminator: Salvation has left me with the same feeling.
If all this sounds terribly negative then don’t be too alarmed, T4 is good and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but at no point did I find myself reacting on an emotional level and that, for me, is a real shame. The bitter irony (which you’ll appreciate after you’ve seen the film) is that it has no real heart, no real emotive impact, so it becomes incredibly difficult to be thrilled and involved with what happens on screen, regardless of how good it looks.
Christian Bale’s John Connor is so focused on the war, that we never actually get to see him do more than brood or become angry, which would be fine if not for the fact that he is the hero of the future and a figure that we should all be able to empathise with, especially considering all we know of his history. His wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) has very little to do besides looking a bit weepy from time to time. There is no real dialogue exchanged between them of a personal nature – there isn’t even any mention of the fact she is pregnant or if their baby even remotely matters – and she seems quite happy to enter the battlefield, while John exhibits no paternal instincts whatsoever. Thinking back to the trailer, there was a shot of John Connor placing his hands on Kate’s pregnant belly, which alongside other moments in the trailer, were noticeable by their absence and imply that the cinematic release of Terminator Salvation has been heavily cut to make a slicker, yet shallower and less brutal film, than we can expect to see on DVD.
The brunt of the sympathy and emotive force lies with Sam Worthington’s character Marcus, which in itself is a strange decision as right from the outset we become aware of the issues he’s burdened with, which combined with his actual physiology- sadly ruined by the trailers – make him a strange centre for the film’s moral core. Yet despite Worthington’s strong performance he’s never really given enough to make us truly care. The problem this lack of characterisation raises is that while the action is fantastic to watch, we never really have the adrenaline-driven excitement that an action scene should have, especially when you already have a working knowledge of who’s most likely to survive.
Thinking back to the original Terminator, its strongest asset was the relentless threat that just a single Terminator could present. Yet in Terminator Salvation the world is overrun by them, but somehow the situation never feels as desperate and urgent as it should. If you saw the final T4 trailer which showed us the sinister sight of a harvesting robot snatching up human survivors, then like me, you might have envisaged a frightening and disturbing scenario in which the humans were seen to be experimented on, or mutilated, in Skynet’s quest to further its Terminator project. Yet nothing of this nature is shown and the purpose of harvesting survivors is never actually explained. However, to director McG’s credit he does at least produce a strong final act, which is normally the undoing of a major, summer blockbuster and for that very reason, I won’t discuss it here as the less you know, the better.
To end the review on a high note, I can state that my single biggest concern for Terminator: Salvation and one which could have single-handedly ruined the entire film for me, was the portrayal of Kyle Reese. Reese as portrayed by Michael Biehn in both Terminator 1 and 2 is one of my all time favourite on screen heroes and Biehn has always been my most championed underrated actor so, I was naturally apprehensive to see anyone else in that role, especially a baby-faced Anton Yelchin. Amazingly, not only did Yelchin manage to avoid the trappings of playing a teenage role by seeming to be either brattish or arrogant, but managed to sound like Michael Biehn and in some scenes actually bear an uncanny physical resemblance. Sadly, his opening line made me wince, as unlike some of T4‘s references to the previous Terminator films, the use of some lines of dialogue were far too heavy-handed and felt painfully contrived.
I suspect the film will leave people utterly divided, especially based on the conversations I had with other writers after the screening. A fellow Terminator fan was left completely flat and underwhelmed, another seemed vitriolic towards the film’s 12A rating (and to some degree he was right, as a film with the name ‘Terminator’ in the title should really involve some form of brutality). I, on the other hand, did really enjoy the film particularly as the lynchpin for the Terminator geek in me was resting on the shoulders of Kyle Reese’s portrayal and in that respect I was left satisfied. I do worry though that Terminator: Salvation is a film that we will never get to see fully on the big screen as a better version is surely yet to come on disc.
In an age where children’s Terminator toys are being mass produced and even more alarmingly a child’s Terminator voice changer mask (for ages 4-10 yrs) is available, the biggest threat to humanity is not from Skynet, but from the corporate need to dilute and distribute our favourite film franchises at the expense of a film’s soul.