Christian Bale and Sam Worthington in Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation is the fourth in the Terminator series, which has produced two memorable films – Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – and one bearable outing, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).

This new offering from the pretentiously-monikered director McG (Charlie’s Angels) falls into the latter category. In fact, I predict that Terminator Salvation will be remembered more for the notorious on-set tirade of its star, Christian Bale, which was leaked onto the web, than the film itself.

Salvation continues the story of John Connor (Bale), now an adult and the leader of the resistance against the army of machines that has taken over the world after a nuclear holocaust and intends to eliminate all traces of humankind. He’s joined by the mysterious Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who has been apparently resurrected from the dead and who may well hold the key to the survival of the human race. (Thanks to the time-travel hijinks so favoured by movie writers these days, Connor also gets to meet his teenage father.)

The results are the expected frantic and occasionally spectacular action sequences involving walking robots, flying robots and driving robots – both small and gigantic – doing their best to stomp, blow up or run over the characters.

The first two Terminator films featured an ordinary woman going to extreme and desperate lengths to save herself and, later, her young son in the face of extraordinary and inexplicable circumstances. (Now there’s a story for you!) Salvation, on the other hand, lacks this dramatic impetus and any genuinely interesting characters that we desperately want to see survive. This is in large part due to a faulty script that is unsure of who the film’s main character is; Connor or Wright.

In fact, the film’s most interesting character journey is that of the lesser leading role, Wright, and not Connor. Why Bale chose to take the role at all is unclear. The script gives him very little to work with; the character doesn’t have much to learn and barely changes through the course of the movie.

While Bale has deservedly earned a reputation as one of this generation’s finest actors he seems lost here (perhaps accounting for his on-set frustration and blow-up). He is meant to play a charismatic and inspirational leader, but his Connor – who audiences have invested so much in over the years – is instead dull, uninteresting, humourless and entirely one-note. Without this key core element to hold up the film, Salvation sinks into mediocrity as an enjoyable but disappointing action and special effects jaunt.

Australian actor Worthington makes an impact as the mysterious and confused Marcus as does Anton Yelchin as a young Kyle Reese (he also impressed as Chekov in the recent Star Trek). Almost everyone else plays the typical hardened gun-toting macho soldier we’ve seen a million times before.

McG, who displays a distinct lack of vision, had the opportunity to create a new world, one that was only hinted at in the previous Terminator films. Instead, he resorts to movie clichés of yet another post-apocalyptic society. The headquarters of the machines also proves to be a visual and conceptual disappointment. Apart from a few memorable sequences the film is sorely lacking that ‘cool’ factor. This ain’t no eye-candy-filled epic.

Despite a cheeky virtual “surprise” appearance by the original Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator Salvation is a typical popcorn movie that fails to rise to the potential heights of its pedigree. I wouldn’t avoid it all costs, but just don’t expect too much.

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