May 24, 2009

I Machine, Red In Eyes and Itchy For Fight!!

Well, we all knew it would come sometime. It was inevitable that the money guzzling powerhouse known as Hollywood would one day decide that one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises in history still had some steam in it, long after it had been put to sleep for good. So, that powerhouse decided to make Terminator 3. 6 years later they do it again. So now, we have Terminator Salvation, a great looking flick that is devoid of all humanity and subtlety. It is also quite possibly the loudest movie that will come out this summer, other then Transformers 2
So, after a title sequence that pays obvious homage to original, we meet Marcus Wright, a death row inmate who is given the chance to help a good cause by donating his organs when the big men upstairs decide to shuffle him loose the mortal coil, which he accepts, because he's one of those remorseful types, you know? Fast forward 15 years, and the world looks a little different. Machines, led by the computer program Skynet, have rained an ungodly amount of nukes on humanity, and the survivors of the fiery holocaust are fighting back. At the heart of this resistance stands John Connor, who has not yet risen to his destiny as the man who will one day lead humanity to victory against the metal menace. Lately he's been receiving a lot of jaw from his commanders, which is seriously ticking him off. Most of his efforts are on locating and protecting Kyle Reese, his father, who is actually younger then him, but goes back in time to fight off a Terminator sent to kill John's mother, and impregnates her there. It's a little weird. Watch the first one. Amid all the chaos, a new player emerges. It's, guess who, Marcus, who, we are meant to believe, has been comatose for the last decade and a half. As Connor and Marcus' paths cross, more carnage and explosions occur, all culminating in a massive confrontation at the Skynet HQ with a ridiculous cameo from a certain someone. In terms of story and characters, Salvation fails miserably. Like the last entry in the series, it relies more on action and bigger and bigger explosions to tell the story, rather then actually telling the story with, you know, talking. 
Christian Bale plays Connor. To be honest, I was actually really bored with his rendition of this human messiah. It's not that it's something we've seen in the character before, it's just that it's the exact same thing Bale has done in all of his recent movies. I want to see Bale play a smooth talking, slightly disturbed, extremely vain business man again like in American Psycho. Here, he plays Connor so gruff and agitated, you'd think he forgot to take off the bat ears. Sam Worthington, as Marcus, on the other hand, is very good. Worthington, an Australian brick layer, was largely unknown until, well, Friday, but now, with this and James Cameron's Avatar this winter, he is fast becoming a star. And Thank God, because he has the chops. Most of his dialogue is ridiculous and cheesy, but he handles it surprisingly well. In reality, this is Worthington's movie. Sure, Bale is listed as the main star, but Worthington's character gets the most screen time and goes through the biggest character arc, which is a good thing, because Marcus struggling to cope with an unfamiliar world is so much more interesting then Connor shouting a lot. There are really no other performances worth mentioning, except for Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. He's fine, but I couldn't looking at him without think "What the hell is Chekov from Star Trek doing in this movie?" As with story, Salvation is weak in terms of acting. It is only saved by Worthington.
Now, apart from acting and story, Terminator Salvation is not the pile of garbage that we all thought it was going to be, and all that is thanks to action and special effects, which are top notch. Unlike most action directors, MCG (Now that's a name) is smart and relentless with his violence. Like Zach Snyder, he crafts meticulous, well shot, exciting, and very satisfying scenarios rather then shaking the camera or going the documentary approach on the whole thing. A lot of the action scenes are quite well done, especially the one from the trailer that has Kyle and Marcus in a truck running from machines that look like motorcycles. The opening sequence actually reminded me a little of Apocalypse Now, with helicopters dropping off soldiers and planes dropping napalm. As a plus, the explosions in this movie are awesome to behold, and there are a lot of them. In just the first 20 minutes you will see an air strike, a guided missile, various grenades, and nuclear warhead, all go up in flames. Let me reiterate, that's only the first 20 minutes. The rest of the special effects are quite good as well, especially the iconic terminators. In past movies, they've moved around like a 70 year old with arthritis, and, despite looking scary as hell, never seemed to pose much of a threat. Not the case here. Thanks to special effects wizardry, the T-800 in this movie is agile, swift, and dangerous. Actually, come to think of it, all the machines in this movie look ten times more dangerous and scary then in the others. The familiar ones, like the Hunter Killer and the regular terminator look so much better, and the new ones, like the Hydrobot or the hulking Harvester are welcome additions to the series. Not all the special effects are fantastic though. Yes, I'm going to give it away, but Arnold does make an appearance via CGI as a muscle clad terminator. He looked like a ken doll. It was a little off putting. 
Now, despite all the action in this movie being so damn exciting, a lot of it does nothing to further the plot. It is all just chaos. In the last three movies, there was a clear villain, something that needed to be killed. Here, it's a little harder to determine what the main villain is. Sure, the computer controlling the machines is the obvious target, but we never see it. And since there is not a single one terminator that is constantly harassing our heroes, a lot of the action goes nowhere. Thousands of men are dying all around you, but you never got a chance to know them, so all the attachment that was felt in T1 and T2 is completely lost. MCG directs his action very well, but, when it comes to crafting characters we care about, a story that is compelling, and getting acting that is up to the caliber of the stars, he is hopeless. 
Terminator Salvation is not the abomination that we all thought it would be. Indeed, it is actually surprisingly decent as an action movie, and will provide surefire entertainment for a solid two hours. However, if you are looking for a movie on par with T2, look elsewhere. The next installment in the Salvation series may come closer to being up to snuff with James Cameron's masterpiece, but, as it stands, it will have a long way to go. B-

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