Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation (2009)

oooops, I've been sitting on this review for almost a week. Meant to write it up and post it sunday or monday I think and then just forgot. It's been a week since I saw it and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I sorta liked it coming out of the theatre, was also frustrated by it. I liked it a little more the more I thought about it and, now, I may like it less, who knows? I'll try to separate my thoughts for you to understand.

There are several things I liked about this picture, but also some things I didn't. I've been dying to see a movie made of that future war we kept seeing in flash forwards from T1 and T2 but, unfortunately, this isn't really that movie. Instead of a future society of humans liviing in a junkyard, we have a future society of humans, with global communication links, living in a desert having access to fighter jets, helicopters, submarines, nukes I think, etc. Instead of a rag tag bunch of soldiers fighting off infiltrating terminators with whatever they can get their hands on, we've got a fairly well organized army that seems to be doing more than their share of damage to Skynet. So, anyway, not exactly the movie I wanted to see. Hopefully, we'll see that picture next time.

Terminator Salvation takes place in 2018, post "Judgement Day". The humans, at this point, are led by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside) whose hidden away in a submarine somewhere. Ashdown may be the official leader, but humanity looks to John Connor (Christian Bale) for their...uh...salvation. Meanwhile, JC looks to Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) or his dead mother (Linda Halmilton) - via audiotapes. The humans have also uncovered a frequency that will disable the machines. All they have to do is set it off at Skynet central which I guess is located in a San Francisco remade to look like Blade Runner's L.A. Oh, meanwhile, there's some machine running around (Sam Worthington) thinking he's human. Connor, needs to find Reese (just a teenager, not yet a part of the resistance) before the machines. Also, I think the old T-800s fits in here somewhere.

I don't know, the more I think about it, the more I wish they had gone with a different story. I guess this is another one we can chalk up to the writer's strike. The picture follows Marcus (Worthington) around a lot and these scenes aren't bad. He ends up in L.A., encounters a teenaged Kyle Reese, and has no idea what those robot things trying to kill him are. All of this could have been great in a fish out of water sort of way if we didn't know Marcus' secret immediately. There's an awful prologue which shows Marcus on death row (2003) being asked by a dying Helena Bonham Carter to sign away his body for cancer research. A chance at a second chance is something like what she said. So, how else could Marcus go from death row in 2003 to post-apocalyptic L.A. in 2018. Also, he's first seen walking out of a terminator facility that Connor and his boys just destroyed (at the cost of everyone's life, but Connors). In a neat twist on the other films, Marcus (naked) removes the clothes from a dead resistance fighter. See, that's how we know he thinks he's human. A machine that knows what it is would have found a living human to beat the shit out of and throw on a stove top or something. Also, instead of going to the past, he went into the future. Except his mode of transportation was being excectuted by lethal injection and then having his body transformed into a terminator. Another neat twist.

The performances in this thing are pretty varied. Worthington I actually kinda liked. He had a small role in Rogue where he started out as a douchebag, then turned heroic, then got eaten. He made it work. In this, he seems like a good guy. He's kinda like Jason Bourne in a way. No real memory, amazing fighting ability, travels around trying to figure out who he is, etc. Worthington shows a good presence. Bale as Connor also shows a good presence but it's such a damned limited character. We don't really care about him. Also, no way does Edward Furlong grow up to look like this guy, I just ain't buying that. Anyway, the script really let's Bale down. He delivers all his lines in the same strained way, mostly yelling, frustrated, upset, etc. I wish the script had let him relax for a second, kiss his wife, smile. I know it's the apocalpyse and all but shit man, why so serious? Hopefully, in the next one, when he's a father, he'll lighten up a bit. The biggest surprise of the cast was Yelchin as Kyle Reese. I didn't think he was a great Chekov, but he really nailed this part. Lots of one armed shotgun cocking, "come with me if you want to live"s and so on. He even looked kinda like a young Reese should look. Everyone else wasn't really around long enough to give a crap about. I mean, Bryce Dallas Howard was beautiful as Connor's wife, although not sure why she'd show up at a certain battle scene nine months pregnant, but that's a nit pick. Moon Bloodgood resonated somewhat as Blair Williams, a resistance fighter. Rapper Common...didn't really resonate at all. Just kinda angry all the time. Bonham Carter wasn't as terrible as everyone says she was, although her last scene could have been extracted completely if the script had been better (it was like Spock's exposition scene with Kirk in the new Star Trek). Any picture with Michael Ironside is usually pretty good. Unfortunately, his appearences in this thing are limited. He's got one good moment and it's right before he's - spoiler - fucked.

I have to say, I was not a fan of MCG before TS. I almost walked out of Charlie's Angels. The action scenes in this thing are pretty great though. The first battle scene, Connor's first appearence, his attempted escape are all wonderfully realized. Marcus' first encounter with a terminator was a nice scene. The harvester scene was great except that it reminded me a little too much of Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Also, what does skynet want with old people and children? We've yet to see "old" terminators or "kid" terminators. That could be pretty fucked up. Hopefully, in the next one. The last scene in skynet is pretty decent and features the return of an old friend. Connor shows he can take a lot of punishment, almost too much if you ask me. don't suppose he could be a...?

Like, I said, my biggest issue with the picture is the story and the more I think of it, that's a pretty big issue. We spend many early scenes following this Marcus guy around but we don't really care. After all, he's a machine. Kyle doesn't know it, his little friend doesn't know it, but we do. Why not tighten up the script? Why not get rid of that first scene on death row? If we follow around this Marcus guy, watching him do good things, helping Connor's daddy, getting cozy with Blair Williams, etc...then when he's finally revealed to be a Terminator it will mean so much more. There's limited emotional power in this picture. Connor's too angry to care about. Marcus is too machine. That leaves Reese, but unfortunately, he spends the majority of the film locked up in a skynet jail. Make me care about Marcus and then reveal he's a machine and see if I still care is what I'm saying. I'll give them credit for making Marcus into a new type of terminator, one that thinks it's human, with a human heart, etc. I guess we're approaching Battlestar Galactica or even Blade Runner realms. I just wish his secret wasn't given away in the first scene and also in the trailer too. Whatever.

I don't know man, I liked it. I just didn't care as much as I wanted too. I liked the look of the film, the action scenes. The terminators were wonderful. Just coulda used some better characterizations is all, a tighter story. I like that everything barrels ahead, there's some good momentum and shit, but I'm not sure I really gave a shit where it was all headed. The ending also felt like a bit of a cop out to me. The original ending was - spoiler alert for a movie that can only be made if someone goes back in time to put things right - supposed to have Connor die and then have his skin grafted onto a reprogrammed terminator, you know, to keep hope alive. I like that ending much better, but I guess Bale probably didn't think too much of it. Overall, story-wise it's not much better, or worse, than Star Trek but the big difference is this one lacks the character work or a consistent desire to have fun. Well, Terminator Salvation, as it is, is not bad, it's not great. It's fine. It's better than the last one (which, minus the terrific ending was pretty bad), much worse than the first two. I could probably go on, but I've run out of ideas. Should have stopped while I was ahead or at least outlined a tighter review. There's some good material in here somewhere.


elmo said...

Oh ye christ... they want to remake Alien. I sure do pity that fool.

brian said...

Yeah, I read that. Is the first one so dated that we have to stoop to this? Will kids today not appreciate it's use of minimal & practical effects? Must it be all quick cuts and space ships going swoosh swoosh as a CG alien picks off the young crew one by one? I don't understand.

elmo said...

That's the thing! Alien is a study in how quick-cuts and cgi aren't necessary. The franchise can be saved by the magic of something called WRITING.

briankirker said...

Look's like the new Alien will actually be a prequel, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott's company. Still, why bother?