Sunday, August 09, 2009

Come With Me If You Want To Live

The aptly titled Terminator: Salvation was about as good a Terminator as we could expect to see given the circumstances. Long before the economic recession hit us we were faced with an intellectual recession which struck Hollywood particularly hard as can be evidenced with the barrage of sequels, prequels and remakes that assault our senses and insult our intellects on a weekly basis. One of the problems is the tendency of big studios to whore out their properties for a quick buck without regard for good story telling, competent acting or exploring larger concepts in any meaningful way. As with Star Trek I was extremely, extremely hesitent to get my hopes up when I heard they were making this movie. And I believe that after the crime against humanity that was Terminator 3, I tink that my apprehension was justified. Honestly when I first heard about it I had absolutely no desire to see it whatsoever. I would rather go swimming in a pool of AIDS-infected, super-intelligent, Nazi sharks than sit through Terminator 3.5 which is what I expected this movie to be. But gradually after reading more about the production, learning of Christian Bale's involvement, and eventually seeing the kick-ass trailers I was slowly won over. The power of adversising. I must admit that I am not totally impervious to it even as I am conscious of its intent.

All that being said I was very impressed with McG's entry into the Terminator pantheon. Although in my humble opinion (which, as my wife constantly reminds me, is completely irrelevent) another Terminator movie shouldn't have been made, I'm glad at least that if it had to be made it turned out to be Terminator: Salvation. Honestly James Cameron's vision was wrapped up quite nicely in Judgement Day and the way it ended didn't really lend itself well to any more sequels and he thoroughly and effectively explored some very important and powerful themes, something sorely lacking in #3 and Salvation. On the surface Terminator 2: Judgement Day was an amazing action film laced with state of the art special effects and a well-written story with characters you could empathize with. But what really made it one of the best movies of all time was that it had something to say. It explored themes like fate versus self-determinism, the value of human lif'e ("If a terminator -a machine- could learn the value of human life, then maybe we can too.") and self-sacrifice for a greater good. Plus it left off with that powerful image of the highway rolling out in front of us indicating that there was hope for the future. The new movies have been reinvented as straight up action movies, and are quite explicit in the fact that we are indeed completely fucked in the future in complete contradiction to the ending scene of Terminator 2.

I know it seems odd that I'm spending so much time review James Cameron's masterpiece when I'm supposed to be reviewing McG's paint by numbers project. This is because Judgement Day is a far superior film and without it Salvation wouldn't exist. You may also wonder why I have yet to mention the first Terminator movie that started it all. Well you can wonder no longer because I just mentioned it.

Anybody who experienced the first two Terminator movies will already know the basic plot of this movie. It outlines the ongoing war between the humans and the machines. The specifics aren't that important. It follows the exploits of John Conner, who is not yet the leader of the resistence and struggling to function within the confines of a larger beaurocracy, which seems to be becoming a common theme in movies these days and reminds me of Morphius in the two Matrix sequels. Along with this there is the story of the mysterious stranger Marcus who finds and befriends a young Kyle Reese, who as we all know ends up going back in time to become the father of John Conner in one of the most famous cinematic time paradoxes and mind-fucks of all time. Of course even if one hadn't seen all the spoilers in the trailers that had been released it wasn't too hard to figure out that Marcus was in fact some new (or old) kind of terminator. As it turns out he is some kind of new terminator with the internal organs of a human being who doesn't even know he's a terminator until about halfway through the movie. Of course all that talk about how strong his heart set off some alarm bells and you just knew it was going to come up later in the movie which it did in a slightly cheesy way.

Everybody kept raving about how Sam Worthington -who portrayed Marcus- put forth a phenomenal performance and was the shining star of the movie. Well in all honesty I was not as easily swayed as some other critics. He did an adequate job, but I was not blown away by anything I saw him do. In my mind Christian Bale was the shining star of the movie, as he is of any movie he is in. Of course those of you who know me know that I consider Bale to be the single best actor working in Hollywood today, and I am completely biased towards him in every way. His portrayal of John Conner was phenomenal. Anton Yelchin held his own as a young Kyle Reese and I'm thinking that we're going to be seeing more of him as he was in not one, but two summer blockbusters (the other, of course, being Star Trek). I'm also looking forward to seeing Worhington in more stuff. Although not blown away by Worthington I'm sure now that he's being groomed to be a leading man in such future blockbusters as Jason and the Argonauts and James Cameron's eagerly anticipated Avatar we'll be seeing lots more of Sammy boy. Bryce Dallas Howard did a good job as John Conner's pregnant wife, although her character was kind of thrown away. John Conner's unborn child for Cyberdine's sake! Common and Moon Bloodgood helped round out John Conner's team of ultimate badasses, and their brooding, tough guy (or gal) characters played into the whole bleak atmosphere of the dystopic future. Also much to my pleasure Michael Ironside made his presence known and didn't disappoint as he is always good for two things: dying and being dismembered. Helena Bonham Carter was also in the movie in a surprise little role which was nice to see.

The only other thing besides giant homicidal robots and Christian Bale that really sold this thing for me was the nostalgia value. I mean you get to see what John Conner was up to, hear some old tapes from Sarah Conner, watch as Marcus taught Kyle Reese some important survival tips (like attatching your gun to your arm with a rope, a nice homage to the original Terminator) and of course the ultimate computer-generated cameo courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The CGI for the T-800 is honestly some of the best I've ever seen and it totally looked like Arnold, although we never got a shot of T-800 ballsack for total authentisity.

All my negativity aside, I actually did enjoy this film, with the proviso that I hope to God that there are NO MORE TERMINATOR MOVIES. This was a solid action flic with good pacing and top notch special effects. As a Terminator movie I would rate this as a 5/10, but overall I would rate Terminator: Salvation a 7.5/10 = One Evil Cybernetic Soldier's Head With Fantastic Teeth.