Monday, May 25, 2009

Terminator: Salvation Review

McG's attempt to jump-start the "Terminator" franchise is just ridiculously inept and just all-around of those movies that just screams "turkey" from the opening shot onwards. Seriously, it's hard to believe, based on this film, that the guy had ever made any large-scale Hollywood film before in his life, even one as pedestrian as "Charlie's Angels."

The story is completely incoherent, both taken on it's own and considered alongside other "Terminator" films. After a brief prologue set in a prison in 2003, we open in 2018.  Skynet has control of the world's machines, and is waging a bloody war against the remaining pockets of human resistance, one of them led by John Connor.  Connor, over the course of the film, encounters a special and very strange Skynet project named Marcus (Sam Worthington), a machine that nevertheless believes he is a human.  Their meeting will drive most of the film's action, as well as its utterly predictable and ludicrous final twist.

Machines have spent 3 films going back in time to kill Connor before he can become a member of the resistance, and now that he is one...he seems to have no real leadership qualities and no idea what's going on.  Not sure what they were so afraid of.  Connor's team includes his wife, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard), some guy named Barnes (rapper Common) and a female character played by an actress named Moon Bloodgood, who really doesn't have much screen time to make any kind of impression, and none of them seem to have any kind of genuine ability to FIGHT BACK against a global network of killing machines that can mass produce themselves.  Late in the film, the united team of John Connor and Marcus have significant trouble killing a single Terminator.  Why would Skynet fear these two?  They could just roll over them!  We've already seen a TRILOGY of films in which John Connor MUST be saved so he can become the future's greatest badass...Haven't we waited long enough to see him actually take charge and act like one?

This was, of course, the genius of James Cameron's original concept for the film "Terminator."...A film in which a few people fight back against a worldwide army of death-bots would be hard to engineer believably, particularly using the special effects of the mid 1980s...So Cameron set his film IN OUR OWN TIME with the complexities of the future war left to the viewer's own fertile imagination.  It works beautifully. 

Now that the future war is actually upon us, it's pretty clear no one working on the series has any idea how to conceptualize it and make it feel compelling and visceral.  (Also, someone really ought to tell them that you're still fucked if you're standing very close to a nuclear explosion, even if you're not in the actual building where it has happened.  John Connor stands less than a mile away from mushroom clouds like 3 times during this film, and Bale barely even registers a reaction...Isn't it at least uncomfortably warm?  Couldn't you at least have him hide in a fridge or something?)

Overall, Bale is excruciatingly poor, delivering (mostly just shouting) generic "action movie" dialog in his Batman voice. More than a few line deliveries received big laughs.  It feels like he sort of mentally checked out at some point, and just decided to play a vague action movie cliche rather than a character.  Worthington, perhaps realizing that he's portraying one of the least likable Hollywood protagonists in recent memory, barely registers at all.  It's just as well...What could you possibly do with this part?  He's a death row inmate who is executed in 2003 and wakes up in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles with no idea what's going on.  He's never even given a scene in which he can act "surprised" at what's happened to him.  Anton Yelchin's Reece is probably the highlight, though he's saddled with the bulk of the film's exposition ("Hey, you're in Los Angeles in 2018!  There's a war between humans and machines!  Look out, it's a [INSERT GENERIC TERMINATOR-SOUNDING ROBOT NAME HERE]!"  Plus he's trailed by a plucky mute kid the whole film. (A nod to Cameron's "Aliens"? A lame pointless plot device? Who knows?)

As a director, McG can I put this...lousy.  He cannot set up a cool sequence or build suspense to save his life. He apparently doesn't even get what genre this is and unfolds each sequence like a horror film...Lots of really loud, chaotic gunfire, then all goes silent, then OMG LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU! A Terminator! And there's so much fake dust swirling around you can barely see anything anyway.

However, I honestly think that, hacktacular direction aside, the writing is the worst part. Whole plot threads are just abandoned without comment. Common and Bryce Dallas Howard are in a significant chunk of the movie but have no roles...literally no development, backstory or personality.  The series' trademark humor is non-existent. We build to a climax that's pointless and that we're even TOLD will be pointless.

In short, if it weren't dead already, "Terminator: Salvation" may have killed this franchise.  I have no idea where you take it from here, but I don't have any remaining desire to go along.  Boo.

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1 comment:

need coffee said...

Christian Bale is good but that new guy, Same Worthington, was great... in fact he pretty much stole the show