UK Film Review: Terminator Salvation

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood
Directed by: McG

The terminator, as represented first and best by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an obvious signifier for brutish masculinity on film: black leather biker jacket, muscular build, modest dialogue. The irony being, of course, that he is a machine.

In Terminator Salvation (2009) this iconic manifestation stays in place, but the clothes and actor change. Not for the first time this has occurred (Schwarzenegger isn’t the only actor to play a terminator after all), but in this film his replacement looks more or less the same.

After the slim-framed T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and the female-framed T-X (Kristanna Loken), it is a back to basics approach that marks Terminator Salvation out as the freshest film in the franchise since number one.

The action itself is forgettable, with a string of mini-battles making up for one or two stand-out set-pieces (though Bale’s helicopter crash is exciting in its simplicity). There is nothing here to rival, say, the police station massacre in The Terminator (1984) or the storm drain chase in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991).

However for a director primarily associated with paper-thin fluff, McG has a real understanding and appreciation of the Terminator mythology. He doesn’t concern himself too much with its overall timeline, which is fairly kaput by now anyway; instead he focuses on sly in-references to spark recognition with the viewer.

Enigmatic Marcus Wright’s (Sam Worthington) long military trench for example. It’s sufficiently close to the lightweight coat first acquired by Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator, and the blue mac worn by lone protector Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).This is a subtle sartorial hint for those paying attention; it aligns Marcus as both friend and foe for John Connor. That Schwarzenegger later changes into black and Worthington into white is also ironically significant. Look out too for Bale’s army pants and young Kyle’s (Anton Yelchin) trainers – both are allusions to T2 and T1 respectively.

And yet for all the good work McG does in resurrecting The Terminator franchise, he ultimately falls prey to the law of diminishing returns.

It is a war film, but too many similar battles in succession and action fatigue sets in. The plot comes together in the final act with a smart twist involving Marcus and a blast from the past, but this only underscores the flimsiness of Terminator Salvation’s story up to that point.

Flawed though a worthwhile attempt, McG has laid the groundwork for a proper psychological follow-up; if there is any justice Terminator 5 should be the series’ Platoon.

© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.