Guess who’s back?
Even though we live in a time that’s friendly to genre pictures and, even more so, to reboots of iconic science fiction and fantasy sagas, it’s difficult to believe that Terminator Salvation would ever have had it easy. Undeniably, the film stems from a rich SF tradition, being one of its most enduring franchises, and having the privilege of being imprinted into the public consciousness, whether we like it or not. Arnie’s cold but strangely sympathetic countenance, his trademark catchphrases (‘Hasta la vista, baby!’ and ‘I’ll be back!’), supplemented by a breakthrough in visual effects and an exploitation of the man-machine interface (an immensely hot topic in the eighties and early nineties), cemented James Cameron’s reputation as Hollywood’s go-to guy for awe-inspiring techno-thrillers (until he went and did Titanic, that is).
But there were several factors working against Salvation from the very beginning. The first was its director. McG (real name Joseph McGinty Nichol), instantly evokes revulsion in the heart of any discerning moviegoer familiar with his filmography: he was at the helm of the unredeemable blunders Charlie’s Angels and it’s sillier sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Why would this hack, who cut his teeth on music videos, shoulder the responsibility of revitalizing one of the most important franchises of the genre? Tensions on the set revealed that it wasn’t just the public that was sceptical of McG’s appointment as director. A few months ago, a now-legendary audio recording of Christian Bale ranting at Shane Hurlbut - the film’s director of photography - was released online. The four-minute, expletive-ridden diva fit was a double blow to the film’s potential box office standing. First of all, it alienated people from Christian Bale: the troubled actor’s anger issues had been flagged by the press in the past, this only confirmed and exacerbated them. Second, the fact that Bale was allowed to be so preposterously rude to an integral member of the crew simply showed us who’s really in charge of the film. Did McG have any confidence in his role at all? If Bale was allowed to push people around and tinker with the director’s vision, could we even call it a vision?
Unwittingly armed with the above series of doubts, I came into the fourth instalment of the Terminator franchise with stratospherically low expectations. As the suitably metallic lumber of the credits sequence (complete with the trademark percussive musical theme) gave way to the first scene, I was surprised to see Helena Bonham Carter addressing Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), an inmate awaiting death row. She convinces the murderer that the path to redemption lies in signing his body away to Skynet. That was 2003. In 2018, Judgement Day has happened and John Connor has yet to come of age as the supposed saviour of the human race: here he is merely a soldier of the Resistance. But as we’re sucked into the wonderfully matt world of post-apocalyptic browns and greys, one starts to think that maybe, it’s McG who has come of age with this film. While the film’s shortcomings are evident and plenty: starting from the predictable plot and down to the one-dimensional characters and action sequences that are a brazen re-tread of what worked in the previous films, Salvation brings in an element of adventure that feels fresh. Enveloped in a monochromatic haze throughout, the narrative sacrifices some of the heart (no molten lava thumbs-up in this one) and its comic relief is nowhere to be seen. But what is gained is a genuine atmosphere. The otherworldliness of the post-Judgement Day earth, even though it’s strictly speaking bleak, lends an aura of fantasy to the proceedings. And so, all of the explosions and action sequences are nicely framed within an escapist quest-tale, which only helps to get us involved for the duration of the ride.
Against all odds, McG and co. have managed to kickstart yet another genre reboot. And while many will doubtlessly miss Arnie, but those who think that his responsibilities as the governor of California have forced him into complete non-involvement with the film will be in for a bit of a surprise.
Actor profile: Christian Bale
The Welsh-born Christian Charles Philip Bale described his childhood (his mother was a circus clown while his father juggled the roles of entrepreneur, commercial pilot and talent manager) as ‘interesting’. And when the young actor was launched into the limelight, he was barely into his teens. Having done commercials for a fabric softener and a cereal when he was eight and nine respectively, he made his stage debut opposite Rowan Atkinson in a production of Larry Shue’s two-act comedy The Nerd staged in 1984.