You're terminated, franchise ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

You're terminated, franchise

Terminator Salvation
My rating:

The new Terminator movie distinguishes itself in a number of ways. First of all, there's no time travel - it's set in the post-apocalyptic future of 2018, during the human-machine war. Secondly, there's no one unstoppable Terminator - there's a whole army of them, from flying ones to aquatic ones to 'moto-Terminators'. Finally, it's not a chase movie like every previous film in the series - it's essentially a sci-fi war movie. So to be fair, it deserves to be viewed and judged on those terms...

...aaaand it still falls short.

The war between the remnants of humanity and the forces of Skynet are in full swing. John Connor heads his own Techcom unit, but his is only one part of the Resistance. While the Resistance leaders plan to use a signal that acts as an "off switch" for Terminators, a mysterious man named Marcus Wright awakens - after having been executed for murder 15 years prior - and meets up with the young Kyle Reese. But when Reese is captured by Skynet "harvesters", Wright and Connor must join forces to rescue Connor's future father - and Wright will discover the secret of who and what he is.

A little behind-the-scenes info should shed some light on why this movie falls short: Christian Bale was originally cast for the role of Marcus Wright, who was meant to be the main protagonist. But Bale insisted on playing John Connor, and brought in screenwriter Jonathan Nolan (most well known for writing The Dark Knight) to beef up the Connor character. And that right there is the movie's biggest problem - it simply doesn't know who's the main character in this story. Wright seems to have the more compelling character arc, whereas for all the time we spend with Connor he barely has anything to do for much of the film besides look emo and yell a lot. Then again, which genius thought it would be a good idea to make a Terminator movie in which the hero is some unknown guy instead of John Connor??

The trailers have basically spoiled the reveal that Wright is actually a machine himself; that's his arc and the film's theme, his struggle to maintain his humanity in the face of evidence that he is anything but human. I should rather say, the film's attempts at a theme, because Wright's story has clearly been truncated. There are a number of key relationships in this story: Wright and Reese, Wright and kick-ass female pilot Blair Williams, Wright and Connor. The bonds that (are supposed to) form between them drive much of the plot, but none of them are well developed. Williams defies her comrades to free Wright and help him escape after it's been revealed that Wright is a machine... why? Because she feels for him? Nope. Not buying it.

And if that escape isn't the longest scene in the movie, it sure feels like it. It's a decent action scene and all, but it's boring - because by then, you'd already know that Wright and Connor are going to join forces. You'll just be sitting there while things are blowing up on screen, thinking "Stop fighting and get on with the plot already!" It's a prime example of an unnecessary action scene.

What McG and his writers are obviously attempting here is a bold new take on the Terminator mythos, and all due kudos for that; unfortunately, the direction they took is simply misguided. Trying to make Marcus Wright the hero - and John Connor a minor character - was a bad idea from the start. And where they would've taken the story, if this rumoured original ending is to be believed, is such an epic fail you want to smack them for ever getting their hands on the franchise. The ending they settled on isn't much of an improvement - in fact, it's downright lame. There's little humour in this film, but the ending is likely to make you LOL at the sheer cheesiness of it all. (On the other hand, the rumoured ending would've made you throw your popcorn at the screen.)

I wish I could say something good about Christian Bale's performance, but the best I can offer is that he's convincing; the role itself is so underwritten that he never gets to do any actual acting (besides the aforementioned yelling), and so never really wins us over. Sam Worthington has the juicier role in Wright, but he doesn't really impress - he was just kinda wooden most of the time. I was expecting to hate Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese, but I didn't - he's nowhere near as tough as Michael Biehn, but he's supposed to be a much younger Reese anyway. Moon Bloodgood is solid as Williams; I would've liked to see more of her. Bryce Dallas Howard as Connor's wife Kate had nothing to do, and neither did that cute mute kid besides look cute.

Okay, okay - I gave it the same rating I gave Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, so the movie isn't all suck. The action scenes kick appropriate ass, and the variety of Terminators display impressive creativity. The post-apocalyptic landscape is quite effectively realized. A digital Arnie makes an appearance towards the end that's downright cool. And it does successfully prove that you don't need time travel and sticking to the unstoppable-bad-guy-chases-good-guys formula to make a Terminator movie. All of this is potential that the film squanders. The story is fatally flawed, and raises questions as to whether the filmmakers even get the franchise at all. It's still an enjoyable movie all in all, especially during the action scenes - but in the end, there's still only 2 Terminator movies, and they were released in 1984 and 1991. Any other is a pretender.

NEXT REVIEW: Monsters vs. Aliens (finally)
Anticipation level: meh


McGarmott said...

I'm beginning to think I'm the only person who enjoyed the film completely, thought the filmmakers steered the franchise towards a very interesting direction, and actually look forward to the next one. (I would much rather watch this than the first one.)

TMBF said...

Blasphemy! :)

You'll be waiting a while for the next sequel, methinks - this movie didn't do too well at the US box office. I wouldn't mind being proven wrong though.

gwailo said...

the digital arnie was ridiculous! and it's what turned the movie from okay to fucking horrible.

Why did they make terminators with organic skin?

- To disguise the fact that they are robots! It's one of the basic tenents of the whole franchise.

Don't you think 100's of identical Arnies may be a little bit of a tip off to the humans?