Man Versus Machine

Style unfortunately rules over substance in 'Terminator'

I'm amazed that somebody didn't veto the beginning and ending of Terminator Salvation, the fourth and least successful movie in the 25-year-old franchise. Director McG starts and ends his film so badly that most of the life is sucked out of the ever-important middle part.

Overall, Salvation isn't a complete waste. There's some interesting stuff here, and while Christian Bale is given relatively little to do as the new John Connor, he's a good actor who might be able to do more with the role in future chapters. My vote would be to keep Bale, but jettison McG and his writers. While Terminator Salvation looks interesting, it lacks soul and suffers from mundane, sloppy storytelling.

Things start off horribly, with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death-row inmate in the early 21st century, getting visited by an ill scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) who requests that he donate his body to science. The dialogue is so awful that it left me with a true sense of dread: Was the whole picture going to be this bad?

The answer, thankfully, is no. The film has its moments and features some good-looking man-versus-machine battles. The action picks up in the future, after the nuclear war that ravaged the planet at the end of the mediocre but slightly superior Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which, oddly, featured only a slight hint of the machines.

This film, in contrast, has machines aplenty, with iconic metallic skeleton robots, motorcycle terminators and big Transformers-looking bastards snatching up humans for nasty reasons. In fact, there may be too many machines in the film, because the human element is almost completely lost.

Meanwhile, Bale is stuck shooting at things, yelling from time to time, and listening to an old-school tape recorder playing the rambling warnings of his mother, Sarah (still the voice of Linda Hamilton). Don't you think Connor would've transferred these treasured tapes to something more durable?

Bale's character is more of a plot device than an actual human being. Worthington's Wright is given some of the film's only depth for reasons that the advertising campaign has had no problem revealing. (I will refrain from explaining in case you don't watch television.)

There is a much-ballyhooed cameo appearance by a certain California governor, thanks to a body mold made by Stan Winston during production of the first Terminator film. The moment he appears is arguably the film's best, but it is ultra-short. Anton Yelchin serves as the film's best potential element as Kyle Reese, the man who will eventually become John Connor's father. While Yelchin is very good, the script fails him by shoving his character off to the side.

If you visit Internet movie chat groups, you probably read about the leaked ending, and how the director allegedly changed it to throw off the gossip-mongers. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that the leaked ending seemed better than what ultimately transpired in this film. The conclusion is hokey, misplaced and poorly conceived.

Producers need to dump McG and hire somebody like Ridley Scott or J.J. Abrams to get this franchise back on track. Terminator Salvation is a good-looking but empty-headed entry from a director who favors style over substance. Some action franchises require a better balancing act, and Terminator is one of them.

Terminator Salvation is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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