Just when you thought that it was safe to start investing in AIM companies developing artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, it turns out that by 2018 these machines would’ve become self-aware, nuclear powered and on a mission to destroy not only our financial portfolios (it appears the banks are quite good at doing that for us), but to wipe us from the face of the planet altogether. This is the premise of Terminator Salvation, possibly the darkest and most disturbing incarnation of the Terminator series since the fabulous original in 1984, when Arnie uttered his famous catchphrase for the very first time, “I’ll be back”. And indeed he was.
For those wanting a brief summary without spoilers: set in the future, John Connor (played by an ever-intense Christian Bale) and the human resistance are fighting against the ominous Skynet, a malevolent machine that wants to take over the world and rid it of humankind. Nothing new there, but unlike previous Terminator sequels this is set entirely in the future, in an apocalyptic world of charcoal hues and crushed skulls, not the kind of place one would choose for a summer picnic.
The plot is rather simplistic, if a little schizophrenic. We see Skynet’s creation of the flesh-covered T800 Terminator, and there are some convoluted throwbacks to the paradoxical time-travel scenarios of the previous films. Time-travel is only paradoxical if viewed in the linear form (as opposed to the parallel universe form), which is how most Hollywood time-travel is purported. This opens a Pandora’s Box of unexplainable illogicality that the writers don’t bother trying to untangle, because that would be like flogging a dead Delorean.
There are also mandatory ‘Hollywood moments’, by which I mean unnecessarily sentimental scenes, and a few characters that don’t contribute anything to the film whatsoever. The script is not especially original and somewhat worm-holed with clichés, and there are virtually no plot twists either, at least no unpredictable ones, so the film is largely held up by the sterling cast, their concentrated performances and the visual cinematic mayhem. Surprisingly, the acting and the effects are enough to make this film thoroughly enjoyable, and one can almost forgive the run-of-the-mill plot. Dare I say it, but despite his off-screen controversy, Bale certainly brings something special to his performances and this is no exception.
The visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic and the mise en scene of the movie are something to behold. It’s a film to watch on the big screen, preferably in a cinema decked out with THX to enhance the wonderfully disturbing sound effects. I attended a screening at the Empire in Leicester Square and one feels quite involved in the war-mongering action. Rather ironically, for a film about the human struggle against machines, watching the end credits reveals just how much of this film was made by computers (though in fairness, humans were pressing all the buttons).
Don’t expect any laughs (I counted all of one), this film is severe. In fact I think they could’ve done with going down the 15 or 18 certificate route by making it even nastier. That would’ve alienated a lot of commercial revenue, of course, but for purely cinematic reasons I think it would’ve transformed the film from Mad Max-inspired action entertainment to something far more sinister (and sinister is good, by the way).
To surmise, it wasn’t quite as polished as I’d hoped, content-wise, but it delivered on the baleful apocalyptic front and visually it’s quite stunning. It’s certainly a lot better than the previous two incarnations, though still not a patch on the paranoid original.
Terminator Salvation is now on general release at all participating cinemas.