Most true action fans would have been disappointed by the last installment in this cult 80s franchise, but as this film’s female lead proclaims; everything “deserves a second chance.” Perhaps to intentionally distance itself from it’s dismal predecessor and perhaps to validate Mr. Schwarzenegger’s claim that he’s actually governing California, Arnie plays no part this time, except a brief ‘cameo’ at the end. The new poster-boy is Christian Bale, who obviously excels in playing dark, charismatic roles.
Set on Earth, nine years from now, in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear war between Humans and The Machines, this film has the fashionable touches of a prequel as it enriches the narrative void between the end of the last film and the motivations of the first. If that seems confusing, then that’s because it is.
This film centres around the heroic leadership of John Connor (Christian Bale) – the son of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. A rebrief: In the first of the Terminator films, Skynet attempted to kill Sarah Connor by sending The Terminator back, but failed due to the cunning intervention of the then-adult Reese – who had been sent back by the Human Resistance to defuse the threat and impregnate Sarah with her future son.
In this film, Skynet has singled out the teenage Reese for direct assassination instead, because they already know that his future son, John Connor, will destroy Skynet. Physicists will have a field-day. The opening dialogue plays with the quasi-religious notion put forward by the preceding films that John Connor is the destined ‘saviour of humanity’, or perhaps just a ‘false prophet?’ A majority of the scenes unfold amidst stark desert wastelands, where advanced robots – sometimes the size of tower blocks – battle it out with pockets of human drifters, and the more-organised but nevertheless desperate Human Resistance forces.
The narrative of a second male lead intertwines, with Sam Worthington – who resembles a tough Ewan McGregor – playing ‘Marcus Wright’. He’s a confused death-row murderer-come-genetic experiment, who after waking from a nightmarish coma, seeks revenge upon the perpetrators of his bodily mutilation. On the way he befriends the ‘LA Resistance’ – the young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and his sidekick. Later they are joined by the exotically-seductive Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), who plays a reserved, but impulsive Resistance fighter.
The film is entertaining, with slick special effects, a fitting moody soundtrack (Danny Elfman) and dark gritty cinematography which oozes atmosphere. The acting is also on the whole not bad, and the demonic nazi-esque Machines do install a morbid fear.
However the narrative, whilst winding and with some (fairly obvious) surprises, could have been far more complete. Other than a split-second nod to nukes being fired, the film doesn’t bother to depict the actual epic moment when Skynet went AWOL and attacked, which although chilling, would have made great cinema. There are also several unexplained oddities in the plot and the robotic foes, whilst shiny, streamlined and cunning at times, mainly appear clunky and dim-witted, which makes for an unconvincing enemy. Less humans vs. advanced machines, but more humans vs. Microsoft Vista.
The humanising of the Machines’ ‘logic’ – for example Skynet Central is designed with conventional corridors, and their motorbike fighters can be hotwired – undermines the film’s overall success to the extent that it often appears creatively lazy. Reinforcing this is the warm anthropocentric egotism that this film fosters, that if humans ever did fight machines we’d win, despite our bumbling actions, due to the ‘power of the human heart’ alone. Although this might make good (but cheesy) film-making, it fails to deliver a poignant message, which would have been timely…
The US military is currently developing UAVs (unmanned assault vehicles) with the aim of having these pilot-less drones battle ready by 2016. Combined with the frantic worldwide research into A.I. we have the beginnings of Skynet. However, if such a calamity ever did befall us, we’d better not turn to his film for salvation. Your laptop is probably already smarter than the Skynet depicted in this film, and a showdown between man and his precocious technology would definitely require more than bullets.
If you are reading this, you are the Resistance to lazy Hollywood cash-ins.