'Terminator Salvation': Resistance Is Futile

Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation i i

Angels & Terminators: Christian Bale stars as John Connor in the most recent Terminator film, directed by McG — formerly of Charlie's Angels fame. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures
Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation

Angels & Terminators: Christian Bale stars as John Connor in the most recent Terminator film, directed by McG — formerly of Charlie's Angels fame.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Terminator Salvation

  • Director: McG
  • Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy/Adventure
  • Running Time: 114 minutes

PG-13: Intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language

With: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard

In Terminator Salvation, machines have exterminated most of humankind and now run the planet; I think they had a hand in the movie, too. It's barely storytelling; it's programming.

James Cameron's 1984 The Terminator and its showy sequel, T2, were also mechanical, but their killer 'bots had charm: Arnold Schwarzenegger's metallic readings and bodybuilder arrogance meshed riotously well with the part of a cyborg assassin; and Robert Patrick's T2 was a witty, preternatural blank — with adorably incongruous teacup-handle ears. The fourth time out, the bad machines are steel-skeleton FX, and most of the humans are even less compelling.

It's not really the fault of the actors or even of the director, McG, who expertly storyboards the jangly fights and chases and crashes and explosions. As I said, it's the machines — or, more precisely, the fearsome Hollywood Machine that sifts through books and old movies in search of the holy "franchise," then generates non-essential sequels.

The Terminator began with a cyborg-villain and a human hero, Kyle Reese, traveling back to 1984 from the future; Terminator Salvation is how they try to get to the point where they go back, if that makes any sense.

In 2018, John Connor, the son of original heroine Sarah Connor and destined to be mankind's savior, must defeat the nefarious machine-run corporation Skynet and send Reese to 1984 to save Connor's mom — and also get her pregnant so she'll have ... John Connor.

Of course every time trip has its perils — just ask the Vulcans in the new Star Trek. Maybe in this time loop Skynet will kill John before he kills them, and humanity will perish. Don't you love these ridiculous time-travel permutations?

Alas, the movie isn't as much fun as it could be. With McG's migraine-inducing jerky-cam and a monochromatic brown palette livened only by splotches of rust, Terminator Salvation is numbing.

There is, however, a novel element: a second protagonist, Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright, who's executed by lethal injection in the movie's prologue, set in the '90s. But first he signs away his body to a terminally ill scientist played by Helena Bonham Carter.

Then, in a post-nuclear-holocaust 2018, Wright bounds naked from some wreckage, looking remarkably buff. Is he ... a cyborg? Something has been done to him. When he confronts Christian Bale's surly John Connor, he has to convince the resistance fighter that they're on the same side.

I won't deprive you of the pleasure of figuring out Marcus's secret for yourself, which you'll do about an hour and a half before it's revealed. The key is that he himself doesn't know what his purpose is, and he's furious about it.

Worthington is an Australian actor who had a brief but vivid role as a handsome hooligan in Greg Mclean's delectable killer-crocodile picture, Rogue — now available on DVD, and highly recommended. He manages to suggest a soul in torment with a minimum of inflection, and he gives the movie what innards it has. It would be nice if Terminator Salvation centered on him, since Bale is a big drag.

Millions of YouTube devotees have viewed Bale's abusive tantrum on the set of this film, and the interesting thing is that he's equally unpleasant on camera. Connor's mission here is the apogee of sci-fi nuttiness: to find his dad, a teenager, and keep the guy alive long enough to impregnate his mom and save the world from an army of titanium-girded Austrian musclemen. But as mankind's savior, Bale is such a sour prig you wonder why he doesn't terminate himself out of spite.

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