Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

With Terminator Salvation, director McG almost makes you forget that he was ever known for the two Charlie's Angels misfires. He reignites what was once THE flagship sci-fi action franchise, and brings it into the 21st century, with a relentless juggernaut of a flick that evokes the same feelings The Road Warrior did so long ago. And just like in that movie, the one to watch is an Australian actor, Sam Worthington. He plays Marcus Wright, a death-row inmate executed in 2003, only to wake up in a Terminator hive in 2018. Finding everything a bit topsy-turvy after a nuclear war decimated most of the world, he soon finds two spunky young resistance fighters fighting cyborgs in post-apocalyptic L.A. One of them, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) is destined to play a major role one day as seen in the first Terminator (where he was portrayed by Michael Biehn). The three journey towards friendlier territory in search of a legendary prophet, resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale). But when Reese and his fellow fighter are imprisoned in a Terminator fortress, Wright must enlist Connor's help to break Reese out - something, as it turns out, Connor's very existence depends on as well. The Terminator series has always been a mash-up of sorts, a pastiche of all of the sci-fi stories and low-budget effects technology that influenced writer-director James Cameron (Titanic). So it's no surprise that a lot of this film steals from a number of sources. There are little nods to each of the three previous films, including the notable reuse of L.A.'s Griffith Observatory (where Arnold's Terminator first beamed into our time). Chase scenes in apocalyptic landscapes come directly from the Mad Max films. Snake-like robots with red eyes swishing furiously underwater are right out of The Matrix series. And the action setpieces in the Terminator hive are quotes of similar sequences in both the Alien and Resident Evil series. But it's what McG does with these lifts that makes the movie so special. With each scene of the film, he ratchets up the tension, and the stakes, for the heroes. Much of the attraction to this film was the anticipation in seeing Christian Bale play John Connor, a performance that should finally allow us to believe that Connor is the messianic savior the films claim he is. And on this count, Bale succeeds. The intensity and compassion he gives Connor outshines the qualities that similarly animate his portrayal of the Batman. However, the true heart of the film (literally you'll see) is Sam Worthington. Reminiscent of the young babier-faced Mel Gibson (a look which may have been deliberately cultivated by the Mad Max costuming), Worthington is the prime mover of the film's events. And it is through sheer charisma, not the paper-thin backstory of his Marcus character, that Worthington manages to engage us throughout the film to the near exclusion of the always dependable Bale. Can a blockbuster of this kind be so exciting that you wish they DON'T do a sequel? Where Star Trek seems to re-set the table, with the promise of future movies in the series providing the feast, Terminator Salvation completely satisfies one's appetite in this outing. And all of the credit should rest on the shoulder of McG and the film's lead. Sam Worthington, you're a star. Terminator Salvation opens in theaters nationwide this Thursday.

11 comments:

Devin said...

Can't wait. I was really worried about McG's involvement but it seems that I can set those worries aside.

J.D. said...

Hmm... this does sound promising. I too was wary of McG's involvement but it looks like the film succeeds anyways. Have to give it a look! Thanks for the insightful review.

Tony Dayoub said...

Let me know what you guys think after you've had a chance to see it.

Fletch said...

I'm with you here, Tony. I noticed that during the opening credits, sandwiched between Bale's name and the film title was Worthington's. I was a bit shocked when I saw that, but after having seen the rest of it, I'm glad. He, not Bale, was the star of this flick, and a main reason why I think it worked. I was personally sick of the Terminator storyline (I mean, really, how much could be squeezed out of it?), but they managed to bring a new character into the fold that I thought worked quite well, and Worthington sold it, with me seriously sympathetic towards him in spots.

Eric said...

One of the top 5 worst films so far this year. Sloppy editing, an embarrassing script (the same writers as 'Catwoman'), and a wooden performance from almost the entire cast.

For a film that purports to be about mankind fighting to survive it lacked the most important thing...humanity. Awful, awful film.

Hokahey said...

I wanted this film to be "a relentless juggernaut of a flick." I was dying for that kind of film - but it just didn't work that way for me. It feels like it opens blandly and disjointedly and the ending doesn't generate enough intensity. The first two films were more successful at being relentless juggernauts because there was always one formidable terminator that kept coming - and one formidable protagonist trying to protect vulnerable humans. The intensity of that simple storyline was absent here.

Fletch said...

Hokahey - I feel your pain and am okay with you not digging Salvation, but did you really want the same movie, again, for the 4th time? I welcomed the change of pace/tone; if I wanted to watch another chase flick, I can go back and watch one of the first three...

Tony Dayoub said...

Eric,

It's really easy to just list some negatives without giving some examples. Sloppy editing? I must have missed that one. The film was tight without degenerating into that "Jason Bourne" type of editing that only Greengrass seems to be able to get away with. Wooden performances? I'll give you that one on rapper Common playing Barnes. Otherwise, even Bale didn't seem to be phoning it in, as he's been known to when he is unhappy with a movie. And Worthington is very promising.

As for your crack about the "Catwoman" screenwriters? SFW! By the time a script makes it to the shooting stage, there are so many fingerprints on it, it's hard to rest the blame for that debacle solely on them. Besides, even Robert Towne found a "Tequila Sunrise" within him. And conversely, even John Logan found "The Aviator" within him. Cheap shot.

Hokahey,

I agree with Fletch. I also believe a film should be judged for what it is, not simply ecause it wasn't what you wanted it to be. I describe it as a juggernaut because the film hardly gives one a moment to catch his breath. And the fact that there is no numeral in the title clearly signals a departure from the earlier series of films.

need coffee said...

Terminator Salvation might have made Christian Bale a lot more money, but it definitely did not help to establish his reputation as a dependably good actor

Hokahey said...

Fletch and Tony -
Terminator Salvation did not have to be like the other movies. (I just cited the other films as examples of films that are relentlessly gripping.) I have no problem with a fresh approach. In fact, I liked the look of this new version. But to be a "juggernaut" it had to grip me relentlessly, which it didn't do. It lost me with the elements that were so much like Mad Max. And it kind of lost me with its disjointed focus - though I liked the focus on Worthington more than on Bale.

Stephen said...

Tony, I too like this film and thought you might be interested in a piece I've written on it at my blog.

http://checkingonmysausages.blogspot.com
/2010/04/terminator-salvation.html

I hope you don't think I'm being presumptuous.