Iconic, groundbreaking, terrifying, parodied and referenced to death, the Terminator films are some of the best popular sci-fi films. If you wipe number 3 from the world, of course. Making a fourth in the series with a different cast and the director of Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle wasn’t always the most exciting of news. With Christian Bale signed on, though, there was a glimmer of hope that this wouldn’t be a big pile of robotic shite.
And you know, it’s not actually that bad. Despite having a ridiculous name, director McG notches up a gear, throwing in some interesting tidbits such as the opening helicopter escape, the cameraman somehow hopping into a copter and following the action in a seemingly one-take shot. We have the world post-judgement day, with massive scary robots ruling the world and picking off any remaining survivors, and a strangely organised bunch of army types attempting to settle the score. On the goodies side is the grown up John Connor (Bale), who is heralded as humanity’s saviour, although you’ll be in big trouble if you shine light in his face…
Into the fray also is Sam Worthington, the anti-hero, doing a good job of looking vaguely perplexed most of the time. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag of tokens, with token hot lady who’s supposed to be well hard (Moon Bloodgood – what a name!) and Token rapper-turned-actor (Common – too good for two names). The terminators themselves are suitably nasty, but lack the original fear factor of the lone hunters from the first two films. Transformers-esque uber-bots are pretty cool, but slightly familiar.
In fact, there’s a lot that’s slightly familiar about this futuristic world. A heavy industrial setting, with big factories blowing fire and sparks out of the floor for no real reason. Human survivors who huddle in small groups wearing rags or building Mad Max style weapons. A small child who doesn’t talk but remains remarkably calm in all the chaos. It’s a bit like McG has researched the gig by watching loads of films from the same genre and then packaging them all up into one big fat cliché.
Not that it isn’t an entertaining cliché at least, and there are some fun nods to the originals (some low-key, some bleedin' obvious). But rather than take an ingenious yet simple set up from two insanely popular films and run the plot into new and exciting directions, Salvation just runs ideas into the well worn ground of futuristic chaos. And similarly takes an actor who can bring weight and a silly voice to something amazingly good (Batman), but leaves him to casually bark orders and run about a bit. Bale could have been replaced by any bog-standard actor or token and it would have had the same effect. A bit of a waste, really.
This could very easily have been a big mechanical turd, and it could also have been the revival of an exciting franchise. As it is, Salvation is a reasonably well done version of a familiar genre, but proof that sometimes you should leave some classics where they stand and perhaps try to come up with something brand new. Or just base something on a toy. Terminator Salvation gets a baseline CF0. Good, but not great.