It’s 2018: Battle-weary members of the human resistance are rising up against killer machines, desperate to claw back the arid, devestated nuclear wasteland that used to be (fanfare!) the U.S. of goddamn A. Why on earth they’re actually that bothered about fighting for some half-yard of radioactive cinder is anyone’s guess. Everyone’ll be living on Jupiter in 2018.
The fourth in the Terminator series, Salvation takes the interesting move of jettisoning any pretensions to a modern-day setting, which is handy, considering Judgement Day – the aforementioned apocalypse – happened in 1997. Or 2004, depending on which film you’re watching. Chronological absurdities aside, the plot concerns Christian Bale’s John Conner leading a rag-tag bunch of freedom fighters in a do-or-die assault against the Skynet base. Complicating matters is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a half-man half-machine whose loyalties are very much in doubt.
After the lacklustre Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, expectations were high that Salvation would raise the franchise back to the heights of perennial favourite Terminator 2. And while it doesn’t quite get up to T2‘s greatness, Salvation certainly didn’t deserve the critical mauling it received on its initial release. The war with the Terminators is something fans of the series have been hankering after for some time, and in that respect Salvation certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Action sequences involving eel-like Terminator submarines and 100-foot tall human harvesters are great additions to the previously explored world. In fact, the design in Salvation is one of its strongest points. The script is fairly standard, hokey blockbuster fare, but serves its purpose admirably well. Christian Bale (when he’s not going ape at assistant sound recordists, etc.) chews the scenery like a man half-starved; it’s lucky Christopher Nolan managed to pull him back when playing Batman otherwise he’d have put in a performance that would’ve made Adam West blush to the tips of his ears.
And even though die-hard Terminator fans would principally be more interested in following the exploits of Connor and his teenage dad Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the addition of Worthington’s complex cyborg raises the plot suprisingly well. It all moves along with a speedy, explosion-driven immediacy that’s even – in its own way – quite charming. McG has at least partially redeemed himself for the abysmal Charlie’s Angels films there. So don’t believe the hype – while it’s nowhere near its first two installments in terms of quality, Salvation is still a refreshingly cybernetic slice of bold, pacey hokum.