starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood, Common
written by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris
directed by McG
original release date: 21 May 2009
The Halcyon Company, 130 mins., 2009
Pretty Frakkin' Good
On break one day I opened up the Official Terminator Salvation Movie Guide and read the interviews with actor Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) and director McG (Charlie's Angels), and they both emphasized that story was their prominent and overbearing concern, and that the emotional journey of legendary character and leader of the Resistance John Connor would be central to the movie, and potential trilogy. This news gave me hope more than anything else that Terminator Salvation would be more than popcorn kiddy-fodder.
Sadly, it is not. However, the action is so intense and the performances so very good that I can, somehow, overlook - although begrudgingly - its failure in this regard.
To sum up the movie is simply as possible without giving away OH MY GOD THAT'S AWESOME!!! spoilers (I kid, I kid), Terminator Salvation takes place in a post-Judgment Day world (the year is 2018, in fact) as machines are currently winning the war against the depleting human race. However, the Resistance will not give up without a fight, and although not the official leader of the pack, most of the Resistance looks up to a man named John Connor (Bale) to battle these soulless, ruthless robots of destruction! Meanwhile, Connor's also on the look for a guy named Kyle Reese (Yelchin), but his search has come to no avail; but that's not trouble for Marcus Wright (Worthington), who stumbles upon Reese in a demolished city and forges a sorta friendship with the young adult. But there's something a little odd with Wright...Who will win the battle for supremacy? Mankind or the machines? Will John Connor fulfill his true potential? Check out the first in a planned trilogy to find the answers!
As John Connor, Christian Bale is awesome as per usual. Any faults with his character lies with the poor script, which doesn't give us much of an insight into any of the characters above a one-sentence vague description. Sam Worthington (Rogue) steals the show as Marcus, the human/machine/human/conflicted dude who is conflicted with who and what he is; but his performance is nearly outshines by Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett), who plays a young Kyle Reese perfectly as a young adult hellbent on exacting some justice, and if death is his destiny, he'll be damned to die without taking a few machines with him. Bryce Dallas Howard (Lady in the Water) does the most she can do with the little she's given, but is far from a prominent figure in the movie; and Moon Bloodgood's role is nothing more than a plot device.
And now we come to director McG, who has made quite a fuss about his renowned "nickname" and how Salvation is his T2 for James Cameron's Piranha 2. Well, you can definitely tell McG wanted to infuse Salvation with visual flare - of which there is plenty of - and prove that he's not just a fluff director. I admit, I gotta give the man props: Salvation is beautifully shot. There are some sequences (the post-credit battle and the single-shot helicopter scenes come to mind) that are fascinating to watch, but I can't help but wonder if McG shot it this way to say, 'Hey, I can do some cool Alfonso Cuaron action shots!' or thought it would genuinely help the audience get into the moment. I confess I initially had my fears that this would be as lazily shot as X-Men Origins: Wolverine by the quick-cut pace of the opening conversation between Worthingtons and Helena Bonham Carters characters, but those fears were quickly gone - McG can direct not only some good emotional character moments, but also some intense action sequences, which I'm about to touch on...
An action scene about forty minutes into the movie involving Marcus, Reese and Star as they try to outrun and/or destroy a bunch of Terminator robot thingies on the road is absolutely riveting; these guys simply couldn't catch a break - it's one thing after another, with multiple 'Oh shit!' moments a plenty. It's an awesome sequence that is not only entertaining, but serves the story to the point that it's quite pivotal - I like those type of action scenes. In general, Salvation offers up guns, explosions, and brawls galore, as to be expected; and the movie delivers in spades. In fear that the movie will be all talkie about time travel and robots, never fear - this film's action will probably only be surpassed by the other summer robot movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Addressing nothing particularly, I just want to bring up some stuff I noted while watching the movie: never before have I been afraid of a Terminator as I was this installment. And this point is kind of a testament to how well the action works - Connor and the Resistance are continually bombarded with one giant frakkin' machine thing, hardly ever catching a break, just like an actual war (nice touch). These Terminators, especially once Connor is in Skynet (er, I think), are freakin' frightening: resilient, beating at our heroes with everything they got, and seemingly indestructible. When one of our characters (even Connor) is locked in combat with a Terminator, I felt a genuine threat of jeopardy in these scenes - kudos goes to everyone involved. These Terminators are badasses, and I so wouldn't want to be stuck in a post-Judgment Day world.
Oh! And about the ending (spoiler), I thought McG & Co. were actually going to be ballsy enough to lie about the early reports on the ending and go ahead with it as originally planned, because some stuff went down I didn't expect. Instead, it went to a generally audience-pleasing, safe conclusion with a wide-open final monologue leaving the doors wide open for possible future installments. Of course. The ending came kinda abruptly, and although it did make this viewer ready for more, it didn't exactly leave me jazzed nor did it leave me with a sense of conclusion to this story (for an example of what I mean if I'm not saying it right enough, think of the Lord of the Rings films and the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy).
Once Salvation was over with, I absorbed what I just watched, and was struck with the question: 'What was the purpose of all this?' T1-T3 was all about stopping Judgment Day, and this new (potential) trilogy is about what happens afterward (obviously), which is an interesting topic to explore, but Salvation simply feels like there is no point other than to see shit get blown up. The question is posed, 'What make an human human? What separates a Terminator from a person in the case of Marcus?' The ending even further hammers down the question with the intent of making us think it over after a nice dinner/breakfast session at Perkins, but just feels tagged on as a way of saying, 'See? It's not all about the explosions.' But, if the IMDB Trivia is any indication, perhaps the novelization by Alan Dean Foster (Star Wars: Splinter in the Minds Eye) is worth checking out to see how character-based it is as opposed to the final product.
The CGI was extremely well done; for trying to accomplish a realistic post-Apocalyptic setting with robots pretty much everywhere, everything looks fantastic and looks 100% real (at least, from my point of view). And there's also a completely CGI cameo that will definitely make fans of not only the Terminator films but also action movies in general go ga-ga, and I can say it's a thousand times better than the piss-poor work on Patrick Stewart in Wolverine. Basically, the machines, the Terminators, the ships, the digital characters - splendid work. On another technical level, the score by Danny Elfman (Spider-Man) is quite nice, and perfectly melds with the other installments whilst creating its own uniqueness to the franchise. And the cool thing is that it doesn't feel like a bloody Elfman score, and it wasn't until the credits when I found out who the frak actually composed it. Kudos to you, Elfman.
The script is just fine for what it sets out to be - summer blockbuster flick with big explosions, but it lacks the real human element that the interviews with Bale and McG made me believe would play a crucial part of the movie. Aside from when he's yelling, I don't understand what John Connor is going through; none of the characters - with the possible exception of Marcus - are ever fully explored enough that we get to know and care about them. With Reese, we only care because of his role in bringing about Connors existence (no offense to Yelchon), and with Connor...well, we spent three movies caring about whether or not he lives or dies, we sorta can't help our caring. But believe it or, with all the time travel questions it raises, the only script gripe I had was a side comment from a Resistance fighter mocking Connor and his "prophesied" leadership role; um, who aside from the now deceased Sarah Connor and John's wife Kate know anything about his supposed destiny? That line made no sense, and threw me off moreso than anything else in the movie. A little sad, I know...
Terminator Salvation isn't about to become a fan favorite, nor is it remotely close to the best of the series, but it's a fun ride and is wholly enjoyable. Big explosions, gun fights, Christian Bale, more explosions, robots, Terminators, CGI cameo, time travel - what's not to love? It may not be the most brilliant thing to come out this summer, but it's certainly worth a look.