Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Sitting in the theater, I began to wish that John Conner would send a machine from the future to terminate this franchise. Terminator Salvation gets some things right, and it works better than Terminator 3, but that doesn’t make it good by default. My one word review is “unnecessary.” The filmmakers obviously hoped to reboot the franchise, but this franchise should’ve ended in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The innovation of the first two films has dried up, and now it just feels tired.

This fourth installment unfolds in the year 2018, several years after machines have wiped out humanity in a nuclear holocaust, dubbed “Judgement Day.” The few survivors of the human race have formed a resistance movement against the machines, led by John Conner (Christian Bale). Not everyone recognizes Conner’s leadership, while others treat him as a near-religious, messianic figure. While fighting to ensure humanity’s survival, Conner sends out radio broadcasts in an effort to locate Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man who eventually becomes his father (Reese later goes back in time to impregnate Sarah Conner, which almost makes sense, but not quite). Reese journeys alongside Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a mysterious stranger whose true purpose is gradually revealed.

My biggest complaint stems from an overall lack of purpose. The cast performs well, in spite of unimaginative dialogue, but the predictable plot holds no revelations or big surprises. I sat in the theater, thinking of various plot twists that might have made the film relevant. Still, the post-apocalyptic California feels extremely real, thanks to some top notch visual effects. Most of the action sequences achieve a gritty, war film realism, and I must confess that I was prepared for campiness that never came, which was a pleasant surprise. The superb design of the film actually made the film’s other lackluster aspects all the more apparent.

The first two Terminators (especially T2) have a good mix of humor, drama, and various types of action sequences, but Terminator Salvation never strays from its dismal, monotone battle scenes. Is the future really so joyless? A world completely devoid of humor (or even smiles, for that matter) doesn’t feel very human. The compelling battle scenes marry phenomenal CGI with traditional techniques like handheld cameras and long, uncut shots, but the action isn’t grounded in characters that we care about. Some innovative dialogue with a little humor thrown into the bargain would’ve gone a long way.

It’s worth noting that I was fully prepared to love this movie. I saw it as part of a Terminator marathon at a local movie theater. The first two Terminator movies played, followed by the midnight premiere of Terminator Salvation. Seeing the films in one night made me aware of all the minor throwbacks and tributes in the new film, and there are several, but it also made me more aware of what the latest chapter is missing. When Terminator 2: Judgement Day ended, James Cameron obviously intended for the story to be over. Then other writers gave us the lackluster Terminator 3, and I at least hoped that this new film would provide some closure, but it doesn’t. The “salvation” promised by the title never arrives. The film ends completely wide open, guaranteeing sequels, but if the writers were going to relaunch this franchise, they should’ve started with a story that justified that decision. At one point, John Conner looks into the camera and delivers the franchise’s most famous line: “I’ll be back.” Here’s hoping he doesn’t mean it.

Click here to view the trailer

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language.

The violence in the film isn’t gory. Terminator Salvation has the tone of an R-rated film, but the content of a PG-13. There’s very little blood - mostly just explosions and shots of machines getting ripped apart. However, if your children haven’t seen the first two Terminator movies, they probably won’t understand this one, but if they have seen them, they’ve already seen and heard things far worse than this film has to offer. It’s almost like one of the time travel paradoxes from the Terminator movies ...

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