Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Terminator Salvation (2009) Review

Terminator Salvation
He's back...sort of

Things were not looking good for Terminator Salvation on its way to the Cineplex. McG, as assuring as he was about living up to expectations, was not exactly a director that got fans excited (two Charlie's Angels movies would do that). The script was written by the dubious duo from Terminator 3, John Brancato and Michael Ferris, and then subsequently rewritten multiple times by Paul Haggis and Jonathon Nolan after Christian Bale signed on to play John Connor. Bale, of course, had his infamous on-set rant against cinematographer Shane Hurlbut that cast an air of controversy over the production.

Plot Synopsis: The year is 2018, and Judgment Day has come and gone. Skynet has become self-aware, the bombs have dropped on the world, and now the human race is scattered into pocket groups of survivors searching for the resistance army. John Connor, despite being the fabled leader and savior of the human race, is only serving as a foot soldier in the resistance because the leadership does not believe in his stories. The resistance soon picks up a Skynet transmission stating their top targets, with John at number two and his would-be father Kyle Reese standing at the number one spot. When the leadership denies support in his mission, John goes out on his own to try and find Kyle before the machines can get to him. But the road ahead will not be as easy traveled as it seems with the arrival of not only the new T-800 terminator model, but also Marcus Wright, an inmate that once stood on death row but is now possibly an early prototype terminator created by Skynet.


At first glance, Terminator Salvation appears to be a much different beast than its predecessors, and that would be somewhat correct. But if you look deeper then you’ll realize that many of the series’ original plot elements are kept intact. The main idea of protecting an important figure from harm is still present, as John’s very existence rests on his mission to reach Kyle before the terminators do. The appearance of Marcus in the future displays a new type of terminator (at this point, that twist isn’t really a secret anymore) that has not been seen before and John questions his motives much like Sarah did towards Arnold in Terminator 2. Oh yeah, and Arnold even manages to make a (digital) cameo in the movie (again, not a surprise anymore). For those that want a dose of classic Terminator, his scene will make them wet their pants in excitement. The movie even harkens back to Terminator 2s exploration of man/machine morals in Marcus’ scenes, something that I really enjoyed. Just read my review of T2 to get some context.

Marcus is probably the most complex character in the movie, which is ironic because he is a machine, and Sam Worthington displays his confusion and inner conflicts in a way that allows us to sympathize with him. Worthington’s an actor that you should keep an eye out for in the coming years, as his potential is clearly evident in his work here. Also impressive, despite being the weakest actor in the Star Trek cast, is Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. Yelchin shows the same battle-hardened toughness that Michael Biehn showed in the first film, but he also adds a certain level of innocence and protectiveness (as evidenced in the character Star) that wasn’t really seen before. Enough of Worthington and Yelchin though, how is Christian Bale? I wish I could say that he was great as John Connor, but truth be told he may be the most disappointing part of Salvation. He handles John’s gritty intensity probably better than any other actor that would have attempted the role, but John comes off as rather one-note. If Bale brought more dimension to the character, it was left on the cutting room floor. Like Bale, Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard, as Blair Williams and Kate Connor respectively, appear to have been trimmed down and their roles don’t have much significance.


But then McG comes in and ruins all cinematic goodwill! Actually no, the tri-lettered director may very well be the one person that holds Salvation together in this obviously edited theatrical cut. When you boil it down to the essentials, the movie is essentially a series of action sequences strung together by plot threads that come and go and just moderately advance the plot in a cohesive manner. The various threads, although pared down, are still significant enough to be important in the overall story arc. In the meantime, McG has finally decided to tone down his over-stylized directing from the past and bring the action a much needed grit and punch. Much like what James Cameron did with the first two films, McG has a specific vision for the picture (which T3s Jonathon Mostow did not have) that sucks us into this blown-out world and apocalyptic story with a sea of unsaturated colors and intense grays. The action scenes are the best I've seen in recent years, with the Harvester attack and subsequent highway chase the ultimate highlight of the whole picture.

Does the movie have great action? Hell yes. Is it a worthy follow-up? Not really. Should you expect a longer, more complete cut of the movie when the DVD rolls out? Yes, keep an eye out. For the time being though, sit back, eat some popcorn, and enjoy it for what it is...an enjoyable, eye-popping, mess of a movie.

Initial Rating: 2.5/4    Revised Rating: 2/4

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