Terminator Salvation

Bale me out


TERMINATOR SALVATION directed by McG, written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, with Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood and Helena Bonham Carter. A Warner Bros release. 114 minutes. Opens today (Thursday, May 21). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN


Terminator Salvation is utterly unnecessary, if you think about it.

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The series has already established that the future is a closed loop. All anyone can do, we learned in Part III, is delay the inevitable. Everything we were told will happen in James Cameron’s original Terminator is going to happen – it’s only a matter of when. Like its immediate predecessor, Terminator Salvation is just here to fill in the blanks.

This one’s set in 2018, a decade and a half after the nuclear apocalypse of Judgment Day, with John Connor (Christian Bale) and the ragtag human resistance trying to figure out whether their new weapon can take down Skynet’s killer machines, and whether the odd new fellow in their midst (Sam Worthington) is friend or foe. Pro: he saved some kid named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) from the robot army. Con: the last thing he remembers is being executed in 2003, which can’t be good.

Thing is, if you know your future history, 2018 is a good decade away from the events that set the series in motion. Thus, the stakes are minimal no matter how much Bale might yell about preserving the future, and all the frantic running around and exploding is just there to keep everyone busy.

Fortunately, “busy” is the watchword of director McG, who can’t go 10 seconds without something booming on the soundtrack or crashing into the frame.

Apparently attempting to shake the Charlie’s Angels movies off his resumé, he’s built their opposite number. Terminator Salvation is a loud, grim, angry thing, which is sort of a mistake for this franchise. Even the clunky third instalment allowed itself a little fun in the shadow of the apocalypse.

Not here, though. The actors pitch their performances as though they were Kiefer Sutherland on 24, while McG applies the same urgency to his action sequences.

There’s an impressive single take that follows Bale scrambling out of a missile silo and into a helicopter, which he pilots into the sky for a minute or so before it’s knocked out by an electromagnetic pulse and goes into a dive. Then it crashes and he crawls out of the cockpit (which is now upside-down) to behold the mushroom cloud of a Skynet-detonated baby nuke emerging from the silo from which he’s just escaped.

The camera’s tight on Bale for most of it, so we have no idea what’s going on, what with all the smoke and the noise and the intense Welshman in the centre of the frame. It’s beautifully orchestrated but ultimately kind of pointless.

Sure, that sort of thing sets Terminator Salvation apart from its predecessors, but at a cost. It doesn’t much feel like a Terminator movie until the last act, when the script finally engages the mythology head on. By then it’s too late.

normw@nowtoronto.com

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