Thursday, 4 June 2009
Churn out a few pleasant trailers and even the most hackneyed product can start to resemble something worthwhile. Terminator: Salvation's ad avalanche promised a wasteland flick heavily indebted to George Miller's white-line nightmares - the well from which much of James Cameron's kinetic original sprang. Salvation's teases posited a relentless chase narrative, full of cobble-armour juggernauts and the zip-machines that hunt them. On the night, we are instead presented with a sanitised apocalypse, manned by herd friendly heroics and incompetent ILM cast-offs.
This time John Connor's ranting mission statement is time-loop self-preservation. Skynet has the kid who will become Connor's father, so naturally he must be rescued. In order to get the rest of the resistance on-side Connor cannily shifts the dilemma off his imperilled parentage and onto a humanist rhetoric about collateral damage. If only this duplicity was acknowledged, then you'd have a strong, distinct take on a man obsessed with his own importance.
Instead the contradiction hangs there, casting a cowardly stink over Connor's efforts. This is a bit of a trend in T4, nothing really adds up. Why does Skynet churn out machines with such obvious design flaws? Why does the hyper computer package hulking metal goliaths in rubber Halloween masks? Where is the industry that feeds the exhaustively manned human war machine? If McG et al really did have to junk Cameron's nightmarish neo-Stalingrad, they could have at least attempted to create something a little bit more interesting than a Michael Bay military recruitment vehicle transposed onto disaster year 2018.
Despite the surplus of excitement this film stands to mine from its two most significant prequels, T4 seems more interested in chasing 2007's Transformers. Futuristic antagonists blink and tinker like misguided comic relief, each blaring the unknowable machine language that made Bay's film vaguely tolerable. A wandering cyclops burps up morphing minions like cassette-bot Soundwave, and all machine dimensions seem calibrated for a chunky action figure range.
How else do you explain the anti-stealth monstrosity that passes for an LA infiltration unit? Clodding breeze-block feet, a bobbing carnival head, and a Gatling gun accessory permanently stitched to his arm. He's fooling no-one. These enemies are disposable, peril non-existent. Rather than rend and tear at their despised ex-masters, these machines would prefer to toss them about a bit, all the better to manoeuvre the stars near a handy machine-gun emplacement. Terminator: Salvation is so relentlessly wrong-headed, it's barely worth listing the flaws. Rest assured they are near total.
Amongst the dross there is one brief moment of interest. Deep into the third act a 1984 vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an appearance. Achieved through a CG alchemy that makes use of an ancient Schwarzenegger head-cast, and Arnold's officially sanctioned body double Roland Kickinger, this Frankenstein's Monster literalises the star as a walking special effect. This presents a dilemma for this viewer. I was never particularly taken with the idea that the Terminator series couldn't function without Schwarzenegger. It speaks to a lack of imagination, and simultaneously stretches credibility to breaking point. Why is the timeless mecha-man always played by a decrepit ex-bodybuilder?
It's not so much that Terminator: Salvation needs Schwarzenegger, rather it needs something like Schwarzenegger - an indefatigable presence to build its narrative around. By unevenly splitting the action between Sam Worthington's prototype assassin, and Bale's grumbly John Connor, T4 becomes a sort of collage, requiring acres of heavy-handed exposition to plug the leaks. It's a limping, toothless beast that only briefly springs to life when a nostalgia totem is trotted out.