Big, bold, brash and flashy. Those are four words you could use to describe this, the fourth film in the TERMINATOR saga, which has arrived in cinemas with a ton of publicity surrounding it. First off, the internet was abuzz when surfers discovered that McG, the director responsible for the execrable CHARLIE'S ANGELS films, had been hired, and then there was all that furore surrounding the leaked audio clip of Christian Bale ranting at some poor technician. In the end, the question is simple: is this a worthy addition to the series? The answer is yes and no. No, because no film in existence will ever be able to reach the heights of the Cameron-directed first two movies in the series, and yes, because this is nearly as effective a popcorn flick as TERMINATOR 3. Both the latter films are similar in that they're straightforward blow-em-up action epics full of effects and stunt work structured around a slim storyline.
Where TERMINATOR SALVATION has the edge over its predecessor purely because the plot isn't just a re-run of the last film's; instead, this is a movie that takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the world has been decimated by nuclear war. It's not the kind of dark and gritty future seen in the Cameron films, but instead a glossy, effect-filled landscape in which huge robots duke it out with human survivors. It's quite similar to the TRANSFORMERS films in that respect, but the script is far more intelligent – and the cast far better at their jobs.
Christian Bale is one of my favourite actors and he's fine here as John Connor, but his character really takes a back seat. Just as Bale faded into the background when paired with Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT, here he steps back to allow Aussie newcomer Sam Worthington his fair share of the spotlight. Worthington, in an emotional, multi-layered turn as a death row convict hiding a dark secret that he himself doesn't even realise is very good and has the potential to go far in Hollywood. Of the supporting acts, Moon Bloodgood excels as a tough femme fatale, newcomer Anton Yelchin is excellent as the young and determined Kyle Reese, and Michael Ironside lends much-needed gravitas as a seasoned rebel leader. Only Bryce Dallas Howard and Helena Bonham Carter suffer in what are extraneous roles.
Of course, those looking for substance behind the action won't find much, because TERMINATOR SALVATION is in essence a chase thriller, nothing more, nothing less. It's a string of blistering action set-pieces full of robots blowing people up and people blowing robots up. The CGI effects are for the most part very good indeed, especially the hulking robo-skeletons who blow away the rusty stop-motion of the original 1984 movie, although some of the backgrounds are very obviously non-existent. The scene with the massive people-collecting robot alone is better than the whole of that dratted TRANSFORMERS movie, while a road chase with robo-motorbikes is a fun nod to MAD MAX 2. Speaking of nods, there's a nice line in references to the previous movies, with Linda Hamilton returning for uncredited voice-over work and even Schwarzenegger himself making an appearance, albeit digitally rather than in person. I'm a big fan of action films and TERMINATOR SALVATION ticks all the boxes. I look forward to re-watching it one day to see whether it holds up to repeat scrutiny, but in the main this is an effective, crowd-pleasing popcorn flick that breathes new life into what was previously a dead franchise.