We wouldn’t win a war against the machines. Most of us struggle with spreadsheets. Humans, at a bare minimum, need: food, shelter, sex and shoes. Machines just need a plug. And therein lies my basic problem with Terminator Salvation; no matter how sexy the human resistance might be, you’d have to bet on the robots. Like the Terminator franchise, they can multiply ad-infinitum. They don’t need motivation to fight, or an explanation as to why they do things. I picture the resistance: bursting for a piss, unsure whose side the lights are on in the toilets. That’s not a battle I’d want to fight.
If anyone was going to punch a killer robot in the face, it would be Christian Bale. He starts the new movie by landing a helicopter on a Terminator. He’s the leader of the human resistance. Don’t bother trying to remember the other Terminator movies. We’re at war with the machines. The world looks like Duran Duran’s Wild Boys video. Bale looks so intense you could light a match off his eyeballs. But he’s not the only brooding hunk in this post-apocalyptic sandbox. There’s also a newcomer, Sam Worthington, who’s just woken from a cryogenic sleep. Together, he and Bale must kick some metal ass. Problem is: one of them is a machine.
Christian Bale works well in a post-apocalyptic environment. You can understand, here, why he’s so intense. In our world, he comes off like one of those guys who play paintball too often. But if the world ended tomorrow, I figure Bale wouldn’t take long to adjust. He scarcely even blinks at anything that happens to him in Terminator Salvation: whether he’s meeting his future father (long story) or machine-gunning a legless android to pieces. Still, would anyone follow Christian Bale? Tough as he is, I have a hard time seeing him as a leader of men. Bale’s more like the guy in the platoon whom everyone is secretly scared of. Even when he’s urging compassion, he sounds like he wants to bash someone’s head in.
Bale’s resistance movement is made-up of models and rappers. It’s the sort of army that marches on shampoo. Everyone dresses like they’re in a Che Guevara look-a-like contest (they’re all fashionably bedraggled). When Sam Worthington meets a sexy fighter pilot from Bale’s army, she seems amazed that he can actually fight. Actress Moon Bloodgood (birthplace: Marvel Comics) sums up the rest of the resistance: intensely turned-on by war, great hair, not especially convincing as a soldier. Worthington looks sturdy next to these guys because they lack gravitas. He’s tough the way G.I. Joe looks tough because a six-year-old is holding him.
“Future war” is a pretty antiquated concept in Hollywood. The main thing holding Terminator Salvation back is the way it imagines 2018. Director McG is more influenced by Cyborg than he is by The Matrix: there’s no sense of what the machine intelligence is after once all the humans are wiped out. For one thing, why does a computer program need a headquarters? I know the movie-answer is: so something can blow up. But it’s endemic of McG’s approach that the machines’ HQ is a office block-cum-factory. What is it with the Terminator franchise and big finales where guys crawl over pipes?
James Cameron never showed the war against the machines because he knew that was the crappy part of the story. Terminator 1 & 2 are warnings, not preludes. Once nuclear bombs lay waste to the world, it doesn’t matter if Christian Bale blows up a radio telescope. Win or lose, the post-apocalyptic world is only fit for machines. That’s why we rooted for Linda Hamilton in the first two movies, because she was fighting against further sequels. We need a world where dinner reservations are possible. As Terminator Salvation proves, there needs to be more to life than being stalked by your PC.