Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard
“Come with me if you want to live”, says an under-age resistance-wannabe to a complete stranger. It’s nice to know that, even as a teenager, Kyle Reese (Yelchin) was still using that pick-up line. But we can forgive him that: he is, after all, the father of John Connor (Bale). John Connor, the self-prophesied saviour of mankind in our apocalyptic rage against the machines. The man who, in 2018, is still yet to take up his post as leader of the human race. The gravel-voiced hero who loves shooting things. And sometimes sounds a bit like Batman.
But, what if Skynet (evil robot corporation) got their way and wiped out Kyle Reese? Then he wouldn’t be able to go back in time sometime in the future and save Sarah Connor in the past – using his trusty pick-up line. Or, to put it simply, John Connor wouldn’t exist. Bad news for the resistance. Good news for the toasters.
While John races to rescue Kyle from their computerised clutches, the Terminators are hard at work, developing a new robot that (shock, horror) looks human. Into the fray steps Marcus Wright (Worthington), a man who died back in 2003. 15 years later, he walks out of a mushroom cloud (naked, of course) with no idea of who – or what – he is. The perfect target for Kyle’s unstoppable chat-up technique.
And so the plot unravels, sandwiched in between the time-travelling arcs of Terminators past. Shirking the franchise’s typical chase structure, it bowls along nicely. But where the previous entries – well, 1 and 2 – had a sense of character (and even humour), here we have hollow explosions. The effects are impressive, sure, but the only person with any substance is the mysterious Marcus Wright. And his identity is obvious from the beginning anyway.
The problem, perhaps, comes from the predestined back-story; we know John Connor survives, and we know Kyle will live to be sent back in time. So no matter how big the robots get (and they get pretty damn big), there’s never any sense of danger. Not even when our old friend the T-800 turns up – a nice cameo, which fits in well, despite the derivative final smack-down.
Admittedly, McG’s washed-out war film is well-paced. It zooms along at full throttle (like, say, Charlie’s Angels 2), trying to distract you from the failed attempts at Battlestar Galactica-lite philosophy; as a gritty action movie, McG definitely knows his stuff. But with such a shallow script, it’s up to the cast to keep things going. The charismatic Anton Yelchin is good as the young Kyle, Bryce Dallas Howard tries to get screen-time as Connor’s non-existent girlfriend Kate, but the real star of it all? Sam Worthington.
Compared to that butch cyborg-hater, who cares if John Connor is the Messiah or not? He’s going to live through it all anyway. Besides, as far as action heroes go, he is seriously bland. Like, I Can't Believe It's Not Emulsion bland. A tape recording of his mum has more emotion. The only depth to Connor’s character comes from trying to spot when Bale flips and goes berserk. My bet is 76 minutes.
A hard-hitting action machine, McG’s soulless Terminator has lots of brawn but not much else. It’s good for busting blocks, but that’s about it.