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Review: Terminator Salvation

Unusual in my relationship with big summer blockbuster movies, I was late getting to see Terminator Salvation, which inevitably meant I had to suffer that which I despise so much that I specialise in attending London-centric preview screenings. And perhaps inevitably, following Christian Bale’s much publicised rant and the franchise’s woeful third instalment, those reviews have meandered the road between the fanboys’ outraged disgust and the better critics’ more-considered average ratings. All of which meant that I entered Manchester’s Printworks’ Odeon suitable braced to exit feeling cheated out of the very reasonable £8 ticket cost.

The first thump of the opening them is so perfectly “Terminator” my spine chilled. The words start to litter the screen like simplistic computer code. And then the three letters that have been pricking the back of my mind since the movie’s conception: McG, a music video director who got lucky and miraculously continued to do so despite no apparent talents. He has always struck me as little more than a well executed marketing gimmick of his own creation. Had they not announced it was he grasping the helm I may even have allowed it to be pulsed from my mind by the pulsing base.

The film starts in such familiar territory as to catch you off guard. I was expecting a post singularity wreckage of a planet but was instead presented a shaven headed Helena Bonham Carter and a death row convict. Now while structurally I would have preferred the prologue before the opening credits, I can’t deny its impact.

Once we enter the body of the narrative it is as advertised and as predicted best in Judgement Day. The resistance, while better equipped than expected, are present and correct and fighting the machines that absolutely will not stop (unless dismembered, crushed and finally shot in the head). Machines which, to the production’s credit, finally verge from being solely humanoid.

John Connor is truly the hero finally and a hero requires a special actor. Bale does a good job of convincing us he is Connor rather than a misplaced Bruce Wayne. Although his voice does occasionally echo the Dark Knight, with some of the post production Madge Bishop gravel removed. He certainly plays the icon within the movie’s world believably, throwing out Obama-esque quotables and troop-unifying speeches. It would have been nice to witness Connor’s development from teenager to the father-to-be/leader-to-be ideal soldier, but that may require another movie (or TV series; The John Connor Chronicles anyone?). As with so much in the terminator realm, his awesomeness must simply be accepted without question in order to encourage enjoyment and prevent total disruption to your mental faculties.

Greater credit must, however, go to the lesser known members of the cast. Sam Worthington’s schizophrenic Marcus Wright and Anton Yelchin’s familiar Kyle Reese are particularly strong. Their relative freshness to the screen allowed them to embody and develop their characters, with Yelchin’s role as grandfather of the revolution being a big pair of boots to fill. None of the other characters of the cast members fail, although the inclusion of Jadagrace’s Star is a little inexplicable. One can only assume that the mute child’s importance will be revealed should a sequel materialise.

The story itself is not Earth shattering in its inventiveness and even lacks potentially its biggest surprise thanks to some poor decision making regarding the trailer’s content. None the less, it is satisfying and offers its payoffs pleasingly. A few untidy strings remain frayed at the finale, but perhaps these too will be explained at a later date. This is a Hollywood movie and it is made as such.

And as such, there is a suitable quantity of in jokes, references and tips of metaphorical caps to the fanboys. While not appreciated by all, as a quick scan of certain internet reviews reveals, this fanboy enjoyed them.

Visually McG comes into his own. This is a domain he understands and he understands he is making an action movie. Some of the actions scenes wouldn’t look out of place in a Michael Bay movie (until movie one-upmanship gives Bay the stage next week with Revenge of the Fallen). The post apocalyptic San Francisco is surprisingly unrecognisable, with even the Golden Gate Bridge resembling a crumpling locomotive siding. McG hasn’t relied on American pride in their cities by scattering devastated landmarks about. He states where you are then presents and Anywheresville rent apart by nuclear war. Even the CGI, at times risky in its execution regardless of being loving in its intent, is outstanding. Only twice did I question it and only once did the answer fail to satisfy.

The sum of its many parts may not quite add up to something greater than its whole, but definitely something equal. The biggest problem one faces as a viewer is remembering that while this is a Terminator movie, it is not Terminator 4. This is something different. It’s a sci-fi war movie set in the Cyberdyne realm. This is post rather than pre self awareness. We are in the Terminator’s world rather than being hosts to them in ours. The game has changed. So take your knowledge of the Terminators that came before, treat it as a reference guide and enjoy this new land with your awareness of its past.

One Response to “Review: Terminator Salvation”

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