Unique moniker-sporting movie director McG isn't really reputed for helming bleak and dramatic projects like the Terminator movies. Best known for his work on the re-imagination of Charlie's Angels (and music videos before that) his movies tend to be bright, frothy and kind of ridiculous.
Terminator Salvation features only one of those three qualities and even as far as the ridiculous goes, enough people think it perfectly plausible that someday technology will become sentient and undertake to destroy all of mankind.
The first movie in the Terminator franchise (also known as director James Cameron's low-budget, modest cinema phase -- sarcasm fully intended), introduced us to the idea that Sarah Connor would mother the man who would one day lead the fight against the machines determined to dominate Earth. It also featured the fearsome, destructive T-800 robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger wreaking unholy havoc in its quest to kill her. The machines believed that killing Sarah Connor would ensure the end of the resistance even before it began. Future John Connor sent Kyle Reese to protect his mother and also impregnate her, thereby ensuring his birth. Confused? Only if you don't already know what I'm talking about; and hey, that was 1984.
In 1991 came the surprise move in the second movie when it turned out that the Schwarzenegger robot was now good and a newer, more powerful robot had been sent to kill John Connor while he was still young and (relatively) defenseless.
When Jonathan Mostow sat himself down in the director's chair he brought us the third movie in 2003, featuring an adult Connor, a female killer robot and Arnie still serving as Connor's Knight in Shining Exoskeleton.
Movie number four, Terminator Salvation, opens on one Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man awaiting his end on death row. He is visited by a scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) who is making a last ditch attempt to convince him to sign his body over to medical research after his death. After an act that can only be explained away as the desperation of a dying man, Marcus signs, receives his lethal injection, and the opening credits end.
From that seemingly disconnected prelude we are dropped directly into the future, the year 2018 to be precise, where man is engaged in a fierce battle with the unrelenting robotic force. Part of the Resistance (but not its leader) is John Connor (Christian Bale) and he seems to be the only one capable of appreciating the gravity of humankind's situation.
One of the things that John has to do, is find Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and protect him until he grows old enough for John to send him back in time to 'protect' his mother. The time-space logic has always been wonky in this franchise and there doesn't seem to be anything anyone can do about it, until somebody sits down, rethinks the whole situation and decides to 'reboot' the whole franchise thirty-something years from now.
John Connor is not the main character in this movie, Marcus is, and the relatively unknown Worthington does a fine job of inhabiting the character. He brings pathos as well as a heavy metal core to his performance. In the way he protects Kyle Reese, battles with the various robots sent to kill them, as well his actions in the movie's final moments lift this character to a higher level of heroism than Schwarzenegger's emotionless beast in the first three movies. Perhaps it is simply because the actor is actually capable of feigning genuine emotions; or maybe the script came together nicely enough to grant this character some real heft on an emotional level.
Besides Bale, Worthington and Yelchin few other cast members ring up enough screen time for their performances to be registered and calibrated. Moon Bloodgood (gotta love that name), as Blair Williams, plays the only female character who approximates the energy and ferocity of Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor from the earlier movies. The rest of the time it is man-versus-machine carnage at its most efficient.
The majority of this movie takes place in a grimy environment and the colour palette is subdued to near monochrome. The sound design is fully equipped to help us appreciate the mechanical clicks, grinds and whirs that must emanate from the machines that patrol this post-apocalyptic landscape.
For people interested in things going boom, this movie promises a great deal of satisfaction. The special effects department deserves massive props for generating so much artifice that looks and sounds believable. When the robots fight, or crash into vehicles and structures, or blow up things, or just gouge into humans, it all looks real. It feels like those actors really engaged with all that hardware, instead of flapping their arms about so that the effects guys could add the appropriate digital co-star during the post-production process.
There is a smorgasbord of Hollywood cinema opening at a multiplex near you this weekend. If you're in the mood for a non-threatening adrenaline shot, this is your best option this weekend. This movie does a good job of embracing the mythology of the franchise so while fans won't be disappointed, even newbies should be able to find satisfaction in the mayhem that unfolds onscreen.