Christian Bale - Terminator: Salvation

Martin Goodhead 10/06/2009

Rating: 2.5/5

Mc G's Terminator: Salvation is a conflict between spirit and machinery. Christian Bale's John Conner is prone to making prophetic sounding assertions, and at one point proclaims “human's have a strength beyond imagining”; presumably exactly the thought flying through his mind as he's pummelled by an endoskeleton t-800. But the wider conflict lies between Terminator the creative soul of the B-Movie and Terminator the interchangeable franchise machine; the quipping “uncle 'bob'” Arnie learning eco-lessons about the human spirit and a row of interchangeable tabula rasa killing machines stacked for a destruction which multiplies like arithmetic. It's fortunate then -for allegory fans and critics- that the film's plot machina is all about ambiguities and hybrids.

So this is an action thriller penned by previous 'art-drama—thriller' hybrid creators Paul Haggis- Crash (fatuous though it was) to James Bond, and Jonathan Nolan 'Memento' and The Dark Knight. Re-tooled by these writers over an initial pulp framework provided from a script by Brancato and Ferris-'auteurs' of (yes, that) 'Catwoman' and nineties paranoia pot-boiler 'The Net' along with a T-3 primarily significant for primped-up T-1000 Kristinna Loket's artillery.

On the plot: Terminator: S tracks the interwoven stories of Bale's Conner and Marcus Wright, an amnesiac convicted-murder-though Marcus seems to be-boom- a completely re-invented guy come the future. Wright' died' fifteen years ago, after signing himself medical science, 'crucified' by an array of lethal test-tubes injections before the opening credits and then resurrected in the future from 'nothing'- the first sign of those obligatory 'salvation' metaphors pervading every terminator since JC- Cameron invented his JC John Connor as the future 'saviour'. But not before 'tasting death' with 'scarf-headed leukaemic scientist Helen 'Gotham' Carter-looking like living with a (judging by Burton's filmic style) Victorian gothic fetishist, has paid off for the role: her skin tone's completely alabaster doll. Connor is, meanwhile, just a lieutenant in some sub-strata of the resistance : the internal politics left fairly murky except to substantiate Bale growling and scowling at radio'd superiors with suitable 'i-should be leader' messianism; that is, when he's not sounding like 'Whispering' Bon Harris meets a Texan Wingnut Radio host(one of those Prison-Planet Alex Jones style anti-government paranoiacs CAPITALISED ) to an audience of wannabe acolytes through ham tin radios. From Bale's 'bring forth Zion' Biblicism comes the 'evolution'-- a shift in timeframes and the appearance of disoriented time-lagged Marcus, metres away from the opening gambit ambush of Conner's crew at a Skynet outpost, howling and covered in mud like mucus or embryonic cervical fluid from some primordial swamp of the post-human; and (presumably) briefly naked in a world of body armoured and exoskeletoned fighting.

It's not coincidence Marcus's being there, nor his need to find answers, and certainly not his meeting a young Kyle Reece-played ubiquitous Anton Yelchin who in turn is connected to Conner's fate in ways that anyone with passing terminator familiarity knows all about. Neither is subsequent capture of Yelchin and blank-eyed dust- rat Star with in one of those unnervingly intense kid actor performances. Meanwhile the resistance cracked Skynet's files, which seem-unnecessarily-written in English (no evidence of humans working in the labs- why doesn't Skynet just speak binary or CTT logorithins and be done with it) and 'espionage'. Already the film brings up some puzzling possibilities which- plans as the first o0f three- you could kindly say were 'set-ups'; parts of the canvas in time. We get introduced to the Sarajevo/ Basra echoing landscapes of a ruined post-industrialised deserted desert city scape and to rubbery-skinned hulk-humanoid bots T-600'S, which seem to communicate in creaks of their oily joints like sea bassoons, along with machine gun fire- to Conner's small colony of cohorts in the resistance, learning that the team -even in times of apocalypse- has an armband-/no armband 'stripes' code to distinguish itself from the motley cohorts of survivors(and they don't just hand-out red-stripes to anyone) and to the hostage taking Hunter-Killer ships like Megaloid transformer bots. Numerous gravity-defying explosions and evasions-on car-chases, motorbikes, all filmed within a saturated dry-lens like a knuckle-blistered head-banging children of men, with added Skynet work camps which resemble disco's on crack.

Despite a re-assembled storyline, and Mc G's promises that Salvation will be the antithesis of his commercial-and Charlie's Angels-laden oeuvre, there's one tool-grafted, computer-generated simulacrum of humanity acting as a Trojan horse withinthis movie. And it isn't just the plot twist which the publicity material has been so profligate in sharing. Salvation continues the slightly disingenuous 'realism' approach found in last year's Dark Knight and predecessor Batman Begins, a neo-liberal version of the age- old neo-cyborg hardbody hero nonsense of Arnie to Bond: protags can -- with token gestures of 'training'-- emerge unscathed from situations the human body can't ever endure—i.e. travelling across space from a metal fist at frequencies and angles which nigh-on curve metal at the other end of the underground laboratory in which this man-machine scrap-out plays out. And all in landscapes which are in fact hyper-real feats of design despite the full-scale model work simulation of tactile textures.

We know why Sam Worthington's Marcus is able to survive being rag-dolled around my hunter-machines, dropping a hundred feet into treacherous waters (actually this Doesn't make complete sense on either level) and sustaining sucker-blows from steel-towered mecha-beasts without fainting (although, mysteriously, not from his own team). But perma-clenched John Connor? Maybe it's a parody; Bale doesn't play him as particularly human- - even the moist moments at best chaste, otherwise mechanical, simulations.

A metaphor for the drama itself; the battery fuel milk of empathy, where all these poor survivors suddenly demonstrate that indefatigable human essence which can resist an organisation equipped with a chess-computer ruthlessness and virtually infinite technological capacity, showcased through the assault of situation after situation in which they prove this indefinable spirit. Alternatively those two minute spaces low in the sound register around which Mc G assembles the real movie—a super-cool chain reaction of car—pile-style sequences to leave your limbic brain vibrating and ignoring the fact no conversation that wasn't assembled from rudiment skeletons of writing guru Robert McKee's 'screenwriting basics' until midway through. Despite those sunbaked grimy textures- impressive fx work and set construction from the visual imagination, Salvation's world hasn't been endowed with a complimentary anthropology of post-apocalyptic living; it's not interested in humanity save the opportunities Marcus offers to deliver a little exposition. Jet planes can still be fuelled on whatever energy source remains plunderable from the earth but as for food? Considering it's been fifteen years in this alternative time-line since Skynet blew normal existence into a shell- urban- combat gear - clothes, as well as weaponry- seems to be accessible. But what about new rituals, entertainments, post-apocalyptic metaphysical beliefs ?

What pathos there is then, rests symbolically in and around Marcus, atomised in a sub-movie of soft-glow highlights and rare frissons respectively. There's one beautiful junk-yad California hideout scene with Yelchin bathed in lyric orange-grove Mesopotamian- hence subtly apocalyptic -- pairi-daeza lighting,. And then there's Blair Williams. Blair--played by the splendidly nominered Moon Bloodgood , which perhaps she should have stuck to in the movie-- is simultaneously nuclear-nails tough and flirtatious in that mildly neurotic way- a warrior who wants to be a girl too but locked in a place where any relationships not involving grim=punching or grim stoicism and the occasional guilty perfunctory lay, are only mystic or nostalgic; sentient full of the madness around her, for Marcus she's the enigma key in both senses and then too a droll stand-up date ,whose flow always gets checked by the ponderousness of Skynet and Conner's universe, leaving her continually trembling with fibrulous energy. Or maybe the resistance has an underground Speed factory- to keep everyone up combating the unsleeping robots and Blair's just twitching. Nonthelessthese two possess an underused-connection; her tender and mocking eyes fixed around his uncontrollable heart and faintly absurd manly stoicism; as if to scold those militaristic boys club tendencies of Conner's crew with subtext, she wraps around the tensed up Wright-man for warmth; injecting by some stunt-scening those virtues encapsulated which the film otherwise plays lip service to

Given all her proleptic ironies about 'stronghearts' and observations on how human Marcus is-how vulnerable and- slightly clueless for such a chiselled dude when it comes to the girl-what a rough lost soul he looks, its inevitable something must hinge on those set-ups. Especially since he's so perfect, he can see off three of her wannabe attackers of the sex-starved scavenger sort with a series of quick blows; 'you'll never win the war like this' calls out one- ' but who is 'you'. It hinges on the hinges; in Marcus, as it were. A mine-field leading up to camp leaves him very much existentially shattered: 'mine' self shattered and self-examining.

An explosion which represents the film's latent tendencies Romance in general is sadly lacking in Terminator's priorities, declined in favour of the pre-adolescent nightmare logic of dust, camera-angle blows and motiveless Dadaist action, action spectacle boom. Declined for being useless in a world where-conversely the stated moral is not to abandon your humanity-, abandoned with the same militarised cynicism of plotting as tactics employed by Michael Ironside's scene-chowing colonel in a semi-straight version of Starship Troopers mock-fascism. Bryce Howard as Kate Brewster has a drawn-out cameo- a functionary discovering Marcus's secret and to sigh, weep and hug John at appropriate moments as Bale proves that whatever his intensity as an actor he hasn't done a convincing 'intimacy'/scene that didn't involve socks, Genesis-- and flying chainsaws. When the production literature tells us she's pregnant you start asking iuf John's an evolution too the film's sneakily concealing—a cyborg with sexual capabilities . Or whether he got one of his slightly less oil-jointed sidekicks to fulfil his duties. On Bryceps face painted stock expressions like from a crayon medical abc textbook; emotions like block letter strokes—like humour, the remainder of the spectrum blurred one long corporate post-grunge video- lots of moody greys over transcendence and entertainment alike in this android paranoia,

Aside from a few char-long-baked dry quips about Yelchin's driving skills- (which makes sense it is a Swartznegger movie after all, just about ) Terminator: Salvation has been dour and furrowed. I'm trying not to push the easy joke analogies of evil-Skynet/ T-Salvation's creators trying to imitate human behaviour through workshop cut mechanics; the cutie-pie mad=-max imitation kid the star cameo, the love scene. But it's true. Fitting; the most human looking architecture is Skynet's facility which looks-like typical corporate headquarters, it's most sympathetic characters an ex murderer and a girl who sabotages her own resistances. Perhaps this is the nuance they brought those heavyweight writers to the table to; if so, why cloak it in100 minutes of visual tricks and take-offs from Mad Max writ small. Still, it`ll all rinse at the MTV visual awards.