Tuesday, May 19, 2009
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.