Friday, May 22, 2009

Less Christian And More Arnold, Please

Terminator Salvation:
1 ½ out of 4

I had an issue with "Terminator Salvation" even before it hit theaters, and that was with it being muted down to a PG-13 rating unlike its three other R-rated predecessors. The only reason for such a move was certainly to draw in more viewers and make more money, and it's a move that never should've happened. The material is dark enough anyway to merit the R-rating, and it perhaps could've given it the potential to be more riveting than it turned out. Even with copious amounts of large, fiery explosions, this latest installment in the revered sci-fi series is quite a bore. The other issue I had was the director behind it all, McG, who doesn't have a very impressive resume to begin with: "Charlie's Angels," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," and "We Are Marshall." Maybe we could've seen something if it were put in more capable hands. As it stands, this movie can't stand up to what it's attempting to deliver and thinks it is a much greater movie than it really is.

Christian Bale plays John Connor, the prophesied one who is the head of the last remnants of human civilization on Earth, the resistance, and is supposed to be the leader of mankind. Bale does a good Batman, a real good one. As for playing John Connor, too, well he brings the same style to the part but here it works to a much lesser degree. For being the character who knows the defining difference between human and machine, he's a pretty soulless person himself. He spends most of his time on the screen yelling and scowling. John Connor worked as more of an icon in the previous films because now in flesh and blood, he's shockingly flat. I found myself preoccupied wondering just what exactly Connor's lover, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard), sees in him. Thank goodness, then, for Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who turns out to be the real hero, the man who was once a criminal but then turned into something inhuman. The question of humanity really gets tossed into play with his character because, although essentially machine, he acts more human than Connor. And even though Marcus is the machine for which we're supposed to have feelings, sometimes it's even hard to do that. Turns out the most sympathetic character of them all is a strong, sweet-hearted woman named Blair (Moon Bloodgood), the one who decides to assist Marcus in the first place while everyone else questioned his motives.

This fourth entry returns with another time-traveling plot, except this time it stays rooted in one time period, that being the year 2018. Judgment Day has happened, and Skynet's machines are on a rampage to destroy all human existence. The movie focuses entirely on John Connor's job of locating his teenage father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), and sending him back to 1984 (and consequently, the first movie) so he can save Sarah Connor, John's mother, so that Kyle will become John's father. Complicated, yes, but it's all breezed over and watered down so that "Terminator" newcomers can jump right on in. I think McG is considering this his warm-up as I'm sure he's got plenty more in store.

The movie is highly desaturated of color to the point where some scenes look as if they're entirely in gray scale, and although it creates an apocalyptic feel to everything, it's also just downright ugly. It certainly makes the explosions pop throughout each chase sequence, and good thing, too, since the movie is basically one, extended chase sequence. There are lots of different kinds of Terminators out there to kill, too. Along with the standard ones shaped as humans, there are motorcycle ones, little flying ones, big flying ones, massive and towering ones, and even underwater ones that look like eels made of scrap pieces out of a junkyard. It's all action all the time as the entire jumbled mess of chaos and crunching metal becomes essentially a futuristic war film, a mean, bitter, angry, blundering war film. And for what plot development there is, it's all padded with trite, clichéd dialogue. This certainly isn't the "Terminator" I remember. Gone are the hints of humor. Gone is the touch of tenderness. Gone is the fun.

McG's "Terminator Salvation" has two saving graces: 1) The awesome rising young star Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese, and 2) the cameo by a digitally recreated Arnold Schwarzenegger in all of his naked glory returning to his original role, which got the audience at my screening in a frenzy. The latter is definitely the film's shining moment among an otherwise bleak and disappointing venture.

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