Friday, May 22, 2009

REVIEW: Terminator: Salvation...


This summer has seen the return of many storied film franchises. Star Trek, X-Men, and now, the most beloved, at least by me, Terminator.

Under the control of Kalamazoo native McG, Terminator: Salvation is the newest film in the line of sci-fi action thrillers made famous by James Cameron, and the father of Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. However, with the last film, Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines being lackluster at best, can this film redeem this franchise?

Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Terminator Salvation follows John Connor, who is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. However, the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind, a factory of T-800's, and a cameo from a certain Governor of California.

Starting with Terminator, the Terminator franchise has seen its brilliant pieces of cinema (Terminator and T2), as well as its less than stellar outings (the aforementioned T3), and with Salvation, they have taken many steps in the right direction.

Throughout production of this film, there was much talk, as to not only who was cast in the film, but most controversially, in who WB picked to direct the film. Charlie's Angels director, McG. Whereas many of his previous films have been light and airy, with his typical corny direction, this is completely different.

From the very outset, you are thrust right into this war, and the world it's consuming. It's 2018, and Salvation is set in a post Judgment Day California. The film looks dark and the action is balls to the wall. There is one sequence in particular, a tow truck/ducati terminator chase that is not only set up after an intense action set piece, but what follows is not only completely ridiculous and can be seen as uncalled for, but what I saw it as was an intense and well done action set piece, of which there are many preceding it and following it. This film takes it's metallic fist and grips your balls, and drags you around by them for two hours. While this film takes a distinctly high budget fell into this series, which was created on a much more conservative budget, I think for what the film does action wise, it works. You get planted into the middle of the action, and it works, for the most part.

The cast does there best here. Bale plays yet another troubled man in the prophesied resistance leader, John Connor, and he's stellar. Yes, the role is one note, but that's not necessarily his fault. Anton Yelchin, who plays Connor's soon to be father Kyle Reese(yes, I know, it's weird) is great here. It's not a particularly heavy role, but it will be in subsequent films, and I feel completely comfortable with him in this role. He's a phenomenal young actor, and he only can grow as the films go on. However, the show stealer here has to be Sam Worthington as the human/machine (no spoilers there), Marcus Wright.

We first meet the death row inmate in the opening scene. He is about to be executed, and instead of simply being buried, he is given a neo-second chance in a special experiment, that he donates his body to. Little does he know that the experiment is for Cyberdyne, which later creates the A.I. network known as Skynet. After his death in 2003, Skynet forms, and decides to execute an attack on the whole of humanity. After a raid on an underground Skynet factory, Wright is awoken, dazed, and good hearted, yet left with no memory.

Where Bale seems to be hitting a single note throughout the film, Wright, who is the neo-main character of Salvation, is pitch perfect. He has the heart and mentality of a human, yet he has the makings of a flesh covered machine. Near the true climax of the film, he discovers the reason for his making, and that scene alone makes him an actor that everyone must pay attention too. He epitomizes what makes this character not only interesting on its own, but he also is the closest thing you get to to any emotional involvement.

That is this films major flaw. This film wants to try and attempt to be an emotionally stimulating outing, but this screenplay almost completely nullifies that. While it's not a horrible piece of writing, it is almost as mechanical and paint by numbers as one of Skynet's factories. It is chock full of cliches, that, while not drawing you out of the experience, make it less true. Screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris take the stock ideas of the Terminator franchise, robot sent to save someone, and simply make a fourth film with that story, instead of taking the franchise in a new direction. It's a big film with big ideas, that is given a small amount of time. There are also copious amounts of plot holes that really leave this film out in the open.

Another thing that makes this series such a classic film franchise, is it's intelligence within an action/thriller/horror setting. While there are moments of that here, there are far to many side stories that, while necessary for subsequent films, take away from the message a bit.

That said, there are many things to chew on here for the more intellectual film goer.

The main thing that this franchise talks about, almost to a fault, is time, and how it can or can't be changed. The biggest thing that this film tries to convey is the idea of fate, and if fate can be changed. While that can be seen a little bit here, the message for T4 is what makes a human, well, a human. Is it our heart? Is it our compassion? Is it our personalities? This film takes a look at that, and while it's not the most perfect allegory ever put to film, it does work.

All of that said, this film works as not only some form of thought provoking entertainment, but as just that, entertainment. Where other thrillers recently leave you not only wanting more things to mentally chew on walking out of the theatres as well as something to keep you compelled while in them, this film works on both levels. Sure, it's a much stronger action film, probably the most action packed one so far this year, but it also leaves you talking afterwards. The script is schlocky, but is saved by great performances, and the look of this film is perfect. Not the best in the series, but it's a welcome addition, and one everyone should check out.

TERMINATOR: SALVATION - 8/10

Go see something good!

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