This is not the future James Cameron told us about. He promised us a sci-fi franchise that was as thoughtful as it was action packed. I’ve seen the new Terminator film, and I no longer think we can win this war … against listless, nonsensical, committee-developed money-generating bland-busters that is. Yep, lower your expectations friends: McG has broken his promise and failed to deliver the goods with Terminator Salvation. Looking back now, I can’t believe I even had high expectations. The director calls himself McG.
The plot of Terminator: Salvation is almost too stupid to recount, and I fear the more I talk about it, the less sense it will make. But for tradition’s sake, I’ll just get on with it, shall I? The year is 2018. John Connor (Christian Bale) is no longer a wiry, sarcastic teenager; he’s evolved into a raspy-voiced and charisma-free GI Joe. He leads a small band of resistance fighters against the machines who annihilated the rest of humanity on Judgment Day. His regiment includes Common, Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard. I wish I could give you their character names, but the film doesn’t go to any efforts to characterise them, so why should I? Howard was quite pregnant during the film’s production, but I feel the credit for that character trait belongs less to the screenwriters and more to her real-life husband.
Anyway, Connor is desperate to locate his teenage father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) before the machines do, and if that needs to be explained to you, go rent the original Terminator right now. It will be a far more enjoyable experience than seeing Terminator Salvation, and maybe even more enjoyable than reading my eviscerating review. Reese is being hunted by the machines, because they want to kill him before Connor can send him back to the 1980’s to father him, thus negating Connors existence. Have you ever heard of the snake ouroboros? You should google it. Meanwhile, ex-con Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) wakes up naked in the middle of a war-zone (always an ominous sign in the Terminator franchise), unaware of his past and true identity. His last memory was of being executed on death-row, and now he’s alive with super strength and agility. Why, whatever could he be?
Oh man alive, McG really dropped the ball on this one. Once upon a time, the Terminator franchise had a fairly consistent internal logic. Here we see a bunch of confounding and impossible elements clashing heads and raising unanswerable questions. Before you call me a whinging fanboy, I’m always the first to drop questions of logic if I’m being entertained. But Terminator Salvation is too boring to be considered a popcorn film, and too dumb to be considered a thought-provoking one. So if we can’t rely on story, surely the film has strong characters to grab onto? Nuh-uh. Terminator: Salvation doesn’t feature a single interesting character or arc for the audience to connect with.
I will relent (slightly), and admit that a couple of the action sequences are pretty spectacular, including one Children-of-Men-cribbing single take helicopter flight. The robots do move flawlessly, and the explosions look beautiful. Every cent of the film’s $200 million budget appears on the screen. But here’s the thing: no matter how cool an explosion may look, it doesn’t scare me. I’m not afraid of explosions. What I am afraid of are relentless, hulking, robot assassins that disguise themselves as family members, kill anyone that looks at them and literally never stop coming after you. They are called TERMINATORS, and this film doesn’t feature a single one. Sure, there are big, strong robots that get into fistfights (!) with the humans. But at no point during the quiet moments of the film did I think, “You better not get comfortable; the T1000 is right behind you!” That’s because it’s not. It never is.
So what has McG left us with? A Terminator film without many Terminators. A sci-fi film with no internal logic, and no thought-provoking elements. An action film with mostly uninspired action scenes. Completely one-note performances from Christian Bale and Sam Worthington. And he wants to make two more of these? Listen, come over to my place this weekend; we’ll rewatch Terminator 1 and 2; we’ll listen to “You Could Be Mine” by Guns N Roses; we can even discuss Edward Furlong’s “career”. And let’s just pretend Terminator Salvation never happened.