Monday, June 13, 2011

TERMINATOR SALVATION


McG, 2009
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard

Yup. It's hard to believe or accept, but there are four of them now. The first two films, as everyone knows, are amazing blends of sci-fi and action, but 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an utter piece of shit. I was really, really doubtful about the fourth, Terminator Salvation, but the trailer lured me in.

Sam Worthington (Avatar) plays Marcus Wright, an executed convict who has agreed to donate his body to science. Unbeknownst to him, he comes back as a cyborg. While he is undergoing his mechanical change, Skynet is activated and begins a massive assault on humanity, leading to the current war being fought by the Resistance. John Connor (Bale), one of their leaders, discovers plans for the development of a new robot that incorporates human tissue, much to his horror. The Resistance plans a major offensive against Skynet in San Francisco using a radio frequency that will allegedly shut down Skynet machines. Connor intercepts a list of Resistance leaders that Skynet plans to assassinate in the coming week -- Connor is included on that list, as is Kyle Reese. Though Reese, a civilian, is unknown to the rest of the Resistance, Connor knows he is his father.

Marcus arrives in L.A. and is saved from Skynet machines by young Kyle (Yelchin), who lives on his own with a young mute girl, Star. Kyle catches Marcus up on current history, namely Skynet and the war on humanity. They hear a radio broadcast from Connor and decide to search for the Resistance, which results in an attack by the machines and Kyle and Star being taken prisoner. Marcus searches for Kyle and comes across Blair (Bloodgood), a stranded Resistance pilot. Marcus is wounded and when Blair takes him to the Resistance base for treatment, they discover he is a cyborg. John demands Marcus's destruction, but Blair sets him free, leading to a showdown between Marcus and John. Marcus saves John's life and they form a shaky alliance. Marcus will break into Skynet and disable the defenses while John saves Kyle.

Overall Terminator Salvation -- aside from its absurd title -- is pretty entertaining. It obviously doesn't touch the first two films, but it's nowhere near as abominable as the third. I think the film's biggest problem is that it is absolutely humorless. Director McG, usually known for his MTV style action films like Charlie's Angels, tries hard at a bleak, post-apocalyptic atmosphere. He achieves this, but spends so much time on atmosphere that any possible character development fades away as an afterthought. I suspect that much of this problem is due to the unusual situation of the film's development. It is apparently the most expensive independent production to date. McG, who seems to have had complete creative control, relied on the input of the two stars for help with the writing and editing. Allegedly Bale would go over the dailies every day with McG, which shows his enthusiasm, but fails to change the fact that he's not a writer or editor.

As much as it pains me to say this, the movie fails, in part, because it became the Christian Bale Show. I used to love him and he's legitimately amazing in some films -- American Psycho, Velvet Goldmine, even Batman Begins. Hell, Newsies? But in the past couple years he seems to have dropped the ball. Calm down and stop trying to fight people, Christian Bale. Originally John Connor was supposed to have a smaller role, but after Bale's involvement in the script writing, his part was made equal to Marcus.

Aside from the substandard script, everything else is decent. I was impressed with Sam Worthington. He doesn't have much range, but he's kind of a hunk and pulls off the whole action hero thing. I also really enjoyed Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. He's been in a lot of films already, but seems like an actor to watch. For instance, he just played Chekov in the new Star Trek and is slated to follow up his role in the sequel.

Terminator Salvation received poor critical reception overall, though I think my sentiments are similar to James Cameron's: I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would and I definitely didn't hate it as much as T3. It's a beer and popcorn kind of movie. I didn't miss Arnold's presence, but I did miss the level of excitement and action he seemed to bring with him. Apparently Arnold was pumped about the film's release, but his duties as governor (HAHAHA!) prevented him from putting in an appearance. Whether that's true or not, there's something kind of beautiful in that statement. Ahhh, the Governator.

On a final note, there are also a surprising amount of live effects in the film, as McG wanted to steer as clear from CGI as he could. He gets a lot of brownie points for that one in my opinion. See it, don't see, it doesn't really matter. If you like robots, explosions, and people punching each other, you're probably going to enjoy it. As far as I can tell there are two version of the film available on DVD. A regular, theatrical release and a Blu-ray special edition with an R-rated cut that has three extra minutes and bonus material, including director's commentary and a digital comic. I'm reviewing the theatrical cut.

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