Entertainment

'Terminator Salvation'

It's the end of the world as we've known it (in previous films).

By Steve Burgess 22 May 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film every other Friday on The Tyee.

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Mechanical blockbusters: programmable?

Terminator Salvation, fourth in the killer robot series that gave California its governor, takes place in a future totally controlled by machines. In other words, there are no political problems left for the Tar Sands project. The planet is a nuclear wasteland; flying weapons platforms hunt human prey; Oprah's ratings are way, way down.

Striding through this hellish land is John Connor (Christian Bale), attacking Terminator robots with carefully targeted hissy fits. "You and I are done, professionally," he tells one robot after it mistakenly brings him a coffee with two sugars (that scene may be a DVD extra).

Well, you can't always be nice when you're trying to save humanity and revive a franchise at the same time. Bale's now-famous temper tantrum during filming was a small price to pay for attracting a hot star to a series that might otherwise have been drifting towards straight-to-video status. But with Batman on board and McG directing, Terminator Salvation is poised to rank with the summer blockbusters.

This wasteland looks familiar

It has already sewn up the prize for most interesting cast names. Terminator Salvation co-stars Moon Bloodgood, an action movie vet whose name has more o's than a British MP's expense claim. Also appearing: rap star Common, a guy who must have some serious sibling rivalry with his brother, Special; and a very young lady named Jadagrace, who plays a silent child named Star.

The latter character will remind some of the Feral Kid, another silent tyke in an 80's-era apocalyptic future, that one dominated by Mel Gibson. There are definitely echoes of The Road Warrior here, and a bit of Spielberg's War of the Worlds too. Plus, of course, the expected references to the Terminator series itself, from clumsy catch-phrases to chase scenes involving heavy equipment. It seems the more civilization is destroyed by nuclear holocaust, the more it stays the same.

Ultimate facelift for Arnie

The original trio of Terminator movies often made reference to Judgment Day, the coming machine-triggered nuclear war. It finally happened at the close of #3, and this installment picks up the tale in 2018. John Connor is busily fighting the toasters, which is to be expected. So is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), which is less predictable, since in the opening scene we have seen him being executed by lethal injection in 2003. Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) signs him up for an experiment just before he takes his dead man walk. It must have been some experiment, because in 2018 Mr. Wright is looking good. What's with that? Plot, that's what.

Wright hooks up with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), whom series fans will remember as the original 1984 hero -- then played by Michael Biehn -- who came back through time in search of Sarah Conner. Moviegoers won’t have to think back that far to remember Yelchin, though -- already onscreen as Chekhov in the new Star Trek, Yelchin is going for the elusive two-blockbuster summer. Here he's lost the cute Russian accent. Or maybe he picks it up around 2200 CE on his way to the Enterprise?

Good old Michael Ironside is here as resistance commander Ashcroft -- hired no doubt for his familiarity with the Terminator model as it appeared in Total Recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself returns, albeit only digitally. Playing a newly-built T-800 robot, his smooth 1984 face is pasted onto the naked body of Roland Kickinger. (He's hung like Ken.) Arnold gets no lines, but his arrival does get a well-deserved cheer.

Apocalyptic philosopher

McG drains the colour from his future vision. It's your standard apocalyptic desert (why does the apocalypse never happen in the verdant mountains of West Virginia?) Terminator Salvation looks like money, and clips along ably enough. But it never catches fire. It's hard to put a finger on why the first two movies in this series worked so well, but they did. If you like this sort of flick you can't do better than Terminator II: Judgment Day. No one is likely to make that kind of claim for this version.

At one point, Connor makes a radio address about the nature of life and spirit: "It's not something you can program," he says. True dat. Nonetheless, Hollywood builds these machines every year. Some of them even become human. This one? More of a robot.

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