Monday, May 25, 2009

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation **
Directed By: McG.
Written By: John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris.
Starring: Christian Bale (John Connor), Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright), Moon Bloodgood (Blair Williams), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Serena Kogan), Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese), Jadagrace (Star), Bryce Dallas Howard (Kate Connor), Common (Barnes), Jane Alexander (Virginia), Michael Ironside (General Ashdown).

I am a big fan of the Terminator franchise. The original movie is a low budget, sci-fi masterpiece. The first sequel is one of the best action movies ever made. Even the third movie is a hell of a lot of fun and better than just about 95% of action movies that come along in any given year. Which is why I was so disappointed in Terminator Salvation. This is a series that should be able to support this new chapter, and had it been done right, it no doubt could have. But Terminator Salvation is a poorly conceived, poorly written movie, leaving its talented cast twisting in the wind. Sure, if you want to see shit blow up for two hours, it does that well enough. But the Terminator series has always been more than that.

The year is 2018. Humanity is scattered, with lone pockets of people trying in vain to fight against Skynet and the machines that it has sent to kill them. The army, lead by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside) is leading the fight against the machines, but most of the people are more loyal to John Connor (Christian Bale), the prophesized leader. Connor is among the army leaders, but his ideas have not endeared him to the upper echelons of power. He is almost more of a cult leader than a military one.

But before we even get to Connor, we meet Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). In 2003, Wright is sitting on death row when he is approached by Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), about donating his body to science. It will be his opportunity for a second chance. He agrees. In 2018 he shows up with no memory of anything between the time he was put to death and the present. He has the jacket of a resistance fighter, but no idea what these robots trying to kill him are. He meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), a teenager who is the leader of the LA pocket of the resistance – which is just Reese and a mute kid named Star (Jadagrace). Together they try and make their way to see Connor. Connor has been informed that the army has gotten some information that may save humanity – a signal that will essentially terminate the terminators. But they have to act quickly. Among the other information they have intercepted is a list of name of people who will be killed within a week. Connor is number two on the list. Reese is number one. No one accept Connor knows that this young kid is Connor’s father, that at some point in the future he will send back to protect his mother in the first terminator movie.

So that’s the basic story. Wright and Reese try to get to Connor, as Connor tries to figure out how best to use this frequency to kill the machines, and at the same time save his future father. The Terminators are gathering up people and bringing them back to Skynet for some sort of new project they are involved in. The army, armed with the frequency, wants to attack and the hostages are just out of luck. Connor wants more time.

Directed by McG (still the stupidest name of any director in history), Terminator Salvation is executed well enough. There are more than enough action sequences to keep fans of that sort of thing satisfied. And they are handled well enough, even though at times they do appear to be directed by an epileptic monkey on speed (or Michael Bay), they are much more clearly thought out than many action sequences these days are. You can always tell what is happening, no matter how quick the editing is. Things blow up real good, and there are lots of gun fights, and an entertaining fight in the water with some sort of multi-tentacled water monster. But I have to say this – just two days after seeing the movie, many of the action sequences have evaporated from my memory. There is nothing akin to the chase sequence in Terminator 2 through the drainage area, or even the crane sequence from Terminator 3. They are well done action sequence, but nothing that sticks in your memory as being all that special.

The performances are a mixed bag. Bale, as usual, does a wonderful job playing an overly intense character. I still think he needs to lighten the hell up once in a while, and maybe make a romantic comedy, but he plays Connor quite well here. He is convincing as a man who could command the loyalty of those around him. The other fine performance in the movie is by Anton Yelchin, so good as Chekov in Star Trek a few weeks ago, he is quite good here as well. He is pretty much the only character here who seems to be trying to hold onto his humanity. Less effective is Worthington, who is too wooden and uptight as Wright, but then again he is given a character that is nearly impossible to play, as he has a secret that he doesn’t know until near the end of the film (but one that even the biggest moron in the audience will have figured out). Talented people like Bryce Dallas Howard, as Connor’s pregnant wife (taking over for Claire Danes), Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside and Jane Alexander (!) are completely wasted and given nothing interesting to do. Newcomer Moon Bloodgrace, as a woman who helps Wright, is certainly pretty, but doesn’t show much range here – but then again, she wasn’t given the opportunity to.

Perhaps if this movie was not called Terminator Salvation, I would have enjoyed it more. I have high expectations for the Terminator franchise, as it has always been so much better than the action movies around it. Terminator Salvation is a decent action movie, and if all you want to see is some stuff blow up and have a mildly good time for a few hours, then it does the trick. But it could, and should have, been more than that.

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