well, here we go. rarely has a film been so widely anticipated and heavily criticized in roughly equal measure from the time of announcement right through to the actual release as Terminator Salvation has.
in regards of the former, well, it is the film that was to finally deliver the "man vs machine" battle promised in the first three films. in respect of the latter, a good deal of misguided "fans" believe that only James Cameron can make a Terminator film, leading to rather unwarranted slamming of the fine third film and an apparent threat to boycott this one. well, their loss really. until such time as a film studio chooses to hand these fans hundreds of millions to see if they can make a film, they might want to just get on with watching what has been made instead of dreaming about their own ideas.
insofar as *** SPOILERS *** are possible in the realm of Terminator films, there may be some below, so consider this your warning!
as far as the plot goes, we are indeed in the future, where SkyNet has become "self aware" and has decided to rid the world of humans by means of a range of mechanical wonders, the most wonderful of all of course being the series of Terminator cyborgs. John Connor (Christian Bale) has known the war is coming, and has a legion of followers who accept the "prophecy" that he will lead the human race to victory.
on top of the raging war against the machines, John Connor is preoccupied with finding Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who for obvious reasons he has to keep alive and send back in time, and unraveling the mystery surrounding a stranger who has arrived amongst their ranks, Marcus (Sam Worthington). to a disturbingly lesser extent, Connor has also apparently married Kate from T3 and they are expecting a child, although this plot thread gets nothing more than visual presentation.
now, a great deal of fuss was made about the fact that Terminator Salvation was made with a lower age rating in mind, presumably to boost the potential box office audience. the removal of foul language is not that notable (except when you raise an eyebrow at the rather restrained language John Connor uses when faced with a life or death situation), but the spectacular effects and action sequences do somehow manage to feel rather cheap with the lack or fear of close-ups and dwelling on certain scenes certainly evident.
action scenes are certainly what this film is about, as set pieces certainly get more attention that developments of the plot. for the most part, though, the rather spectacular special effects and sequences are undermined by (yet again) the decision to have a rather shaky, "reality" cam effect when filming. As amazing as this was in the Bourne trilogy of films, not every film requires this "let's make the audience dizzy so they think they are in the action", fourth wall breaking effect, and this once certainly did not.
as far as the acting goes, well, it does the job. Christian Bale does his usual effort where he is the leading man surrounded by considerable talent (take that as you wish), and the criticism that he is outshone by Sam Worthington isn't entirely without justification. i suspect that this is more down to the makers deciding "well, everyone watching this film knows who John Connor is, so let's not worry about developing or expanding the character too much" than any fault with Christian Bale; the same is certainly the case with his efforts in The Dark Knight. as Marcus is the (ahem) shiny new character, the writers seem to have been more concerned with him, really.
The biggest disappointment is that it's all very much about the male characters. in The Terminator and Terminator 2, the strong resilience of Sarah Connor was a major factor in the success. Here we have one reasonably strong, female character, Blair (Moon Bloodgood), but her part is limited to showing mostly how violent she can be rather than any strength of character.
star of the show is this young lad Anton Yelchin as the teenage Kyle Reese. he plays the part perfectly and, allowing for the "mystery" around the Marcus character, is by far the most entertaining to watch.
oh yes, there is the appearance of that other actor associated rather heavily with the Terminator films. i didn't intend to mention it here, but since the studio decided to include it in the trailers and promotion work, here's Arnold.
or rather, there was a computer generated Arnold Schwarzenegger face on another actor. something of a nice touch to bring him back into it all for the devout fans, and to a degree adds to the continuity of the series. his introduction does hint at a fifth film, ending presumably with two familiar characters travelling back in time to start the cycle once again.
time travel is notably absent from this Terminator film. as the makers rightly pointed out, a fourth film with basically the same plot would be a film too far. having said that, one could go as far as saying that the entire concept of Terminator has gone too far.
the greatest trick in any horror film is not revealing too much of the monster. in the Terminator films, the "monster" was always the future, and the horrific war which it would bring. the snippets in the first films were scary; an entire film dedicated to it makes it somewhat sanitized and acceptable. fear of the future was a great part of the suspense in the series, if you show the future being conquered, where is the suspense?
Terminator Salvation is an average slice of science fiction action entertainment. that's the problem, as the high standard of the first three films doesn't allow for average. all involved do the best that they can, but the reality is that the Terminator concept has been routinely exhausted. if this is really the best effort which can be mustered, then i am not going to be surprised or critical of the lack of tolerance if they announce a fifth film in the series.
there are enough slices of interest for Terminator fans to make this worthwhile watching, but in no way will this be as cherished as the other films.
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