After 2003's mildly diverting but dumb third installment in the Terminator franchise 'Rise of the Machines' failed to match the box office success of its predecessor, it seemed that the franchise that made Arnold Schwarzenneger a household name was dead and buried. However, despite the recent cancellation of spin-off TV series 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles' after two poorly received series', and in an age where rebooting redundant franchises (Batman Begins, Superman Returns) is de rigeur; part 4 has finally hit cinemas, controversially helmed by the director 'McG', best known for lighthearted fluff such as the Charlie's Angels films.
Set in the year 2018, the film stars Christian Bale as a grown-up John Connor beginning his rise to prominence as iconic leader of the resistance. The movie serves as both a sequel and a prequel to the other films, although it's the first in the series to ditch the time-travelling aspect and instead focuses on the actual war mentioned in previous films between the humans and Skynet, the computer programme that enabled machines to rise up and conquer humanity. The film also follows the fortunes of Marcus, a convicted murderer on death-row, who agrees to donate his organs to the shadowy Cyberdine Industries represented by Helena Bonham-Carter. Little does Marcus know the use his body parts will be put to, or the impact that this will have, both on himself and on the whole of humanity.
The film certainly works for me as an all out action movie; its blistering pace rarely lets up throughout and the almost monochromatic picture lends the film a suitably bleak and washed-out feel. Despite its change in tone the movie has several nods to its predecessors, retaining the character of Connor's school friend Kate from T3, (now married to John and expecting his child), and using the miracles of CGI to resurrect another more iconic face.
Christian Bale was perfect for the rather one-dimensional Batman, however he occasionally seems ill at ease as John Connor; particularly bearing in mind the supposedly charismatic figure he is playing, although he is well-suited to the action sequences and generally plays second fiddle to the character of Marcus, who is really the linchpin in this installment. John's father Kyle Reese is also involved, as a freelance resistance fighter who is this film's primary target for the insidious Skynet.
The design in the film is particularly impressive; especially the sinister T-600 and T-800 Terminators, their iconic death's head features and blazing red eyes are still as chilling as ever. The tone though treads a fine tightrope between gravitas and being too po-faced for its own good, and the complete lack of humour is noticeable at times.
The movie also feels a little too much like it's been made with the Christmas toy market in mind - a host of new Skynet machines that appear during the film include Terminator motorcycles buzzing down wreck-littered highways, Terminator eels swimming in the rivers like mechanical piranha, Terminator robots the size of buildings that pluck humans and drop them in travelling cages, flying Terminator carriers and so on; a whole food chain of robot killers designed to hunt humans and look cool doing it.
Ultimately, Terminator Salvation is an engaging but slightly flat action movie, that despite not having the raw energy and relentless tone of the first Terminator film, nor the wit and character of T2, is very much of its time, and at least acknowledges its heritage without slavishly adhering to it.