Terminator Salvation is based in a not-too-distant future where computers appear to have taken a violent stand against Windows Vista and where human beings lie scattered across the planet in small pockets of resistance fighters, living amongst rubble and ruin, inhaling the cinders of mankind and rueing the day alt-control-delete stopped working.
Director McG, whose name and level of cinematic comprehension resembles that of a burger, applies his ham-n-cheese fist to the Terminator franchise and cooks up a hardcore action sci-fi: hardcore in the sense that this agonisingly loud movie generates more gunfire than a pro-George Bush parade in Israel and a running time with at least as many explosions as there are minutes.
Terminator Salvation is set in a post-apocalyptic post-Vista 2018 and John Connor (Christian Bale) is regarded as something of a prophet, like Neo from The Matrix. There are wild theories out there suggesting the two series can be stuck together to form a relatively fluent narrative. I sense an essay that somebody – certainly not me – might like to write.
The future that Connor was raised to believe is shook up by the appearance of Marcus Write (Sam Worthington) who we first meet as a man on death row. Anybody who’s watched the trailer will have had the twist concerning his character carelessly spoilt, in the unlikely event they couldn’t have figured it out for themselves. Suffice to say Write is integral in the nefarious plot from Skynet, the robot manufacturing company with a presumably excellent share price, to eradicate humankind and put an end to error reports for good.
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But discussion of even the broadest of storytelling strokes seems to be missing the point: McG treats the gig as a pass card for barraging the audience’s senses and the movie consists of characters running from explosions and gunfire, darting from one robot-terrorized location to the next, pausing only to catch a breath and grumble something about a) courage or b) futility. When your life’s spent battling maniacal robots, it’s gotta be a fine line.
The action is brought to head-pounding life with an excruciating soundtrack, each cataclysmic effect seemingly engineered to blast more brain cells than the last. No one should see this movie with a hangover.
The techno broth of beeps and squeals and pulsating ear-bashers is peppered, somewhat incredibly, with snippets of Danny Elfman, whose score fights to be heard in a sea of vibrations and mechanical mash-ups, and it all boils into a nerve-jangling stew of metallic-sounding thuds, whirrs, wails and wallops, which feel obscenely futuristic in an indescribably wrong kinda way – like (here goes) a group of raunchy robots engaged in an electronic gang bang with half-animal cyborgs and a bunch of cloned Richard Nixons.
This ravaged futuristic world, crushed and pulverised by machinery (oh the humanity!) resembles a planet used as a stomping ground for a robot equivalent of Woodstock, the earth left trashed and weltering in its aftermath, and no matter how many times Christian Bale says “this is John Connor…” some poor robo-sod still has to pick up the trash – the empty cans of bootleg WD40, the used wrappers of anti-virus protection strewn across the cement…
The sheer sound and fury and remorselessness of Terminator Salvation made this 27-year-old film reviewer feel old and jaded, like Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino. I felt like hollering “will you buggers keep it down!” not at audience members but at the movie itself. The absence of story is what done it. Make brain go bad. By game’s end I was walloped into despair, tired and fed up by all these metallic nasty pasties, and, sick of seeing their ugly robo-skeletal faces, I wished they would bugger off and get a cyber life – go to a clubmed.com or a seedy chat room, have a robo boogie, down a few terrabytes of alcohcom…Whatever. Just leave me out of it.
The first two (James Cameron-directed) Terminator movies were quality but the revival of the series in 2003 (Rise of the Machines) was crap and the fourth arguably worse. Christian Bale, whose acting career is becoming more of a joke with every new performance, doesn’t improve things by employing an only slightly scaled down version of the 20-a-day don’t-shower-and-proud-of-it voice he used to ghastly effect in the Batman movies. “If we attack tonight, our humanity is lost forever,” he grumbles. Well, that may be so, but isn’t it a little too late for you Christian? To cap off McG’s hammy movie migraine, the director throws in a super-sized side of god-awful voice over about how you can’t program the human heart. Arnold Schwarzenegger was never a person employed to make a movie more credible, but surely even he wouldn’t have stood for this.