Archive for June 13, 2009

Terminator Salvation Review

The first Terminator is a sci-fi horror classic. The second, Judgement Day, is a sci-fi action masterpiece. Rise of the Machines is little more than a worthless sci-fi spoof of the first two films, saved only by its delightfully dark ending. So, can McG and Christian Bale put their heads together and craft a new chapter of the franchise that both continues the story in a respectful way, while leaving the foundations movies untouched?

In many ways, they can. On the whole, Terminator Salvation more than makes up for 2003’s horrendous drunken mistake and simultaneously manages to lay new foundation for the planned trilogy.

Things get off to a fairly uneasy beginning as, in the months before Judgement Day, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), an inmate on death row, gives his body to Cyberdyne in the guise of Helena Bonham Carter. A quick flash forward to the year 2018 and Marcus suddenly wakes up in a nuclear apocalypse ruled by robots where pockets of humanity are making their desperate stands.

It’s a decent enough set-up, with the character of Marcus playing the role of the confused audience in the future hellscape – even though the glimpses we’ve been shown previously are enough to tell us what to expect. Christian Bale’s John Connor is fairly one-note and a little dull, but he is mercifully not the standard action hero – no quips, no jokes, not even a casual smirk – this dude is hardcore. The rest of the cast are drones with dialogue, unmemorable and unremarkable.

The action is solid and the CGI is very good throughout, with the best being saved for the outstanding digital mapping of Arnie’s head towards the climax, which is so convincing it could well be the movie legend in the flesh. The various robots are quite nicely animated, with the expensive-looking battles genuinely pleasing on the eye and not all at confusing unlike, say, Transformers.

Real surprise of the show is director McG. For a man so venomously hated by the fans, he has pulled out all the stops to create a technically stunning array of well-shot, well-edited and well-paced action scenes that don’t rely on the same tricks being pulled time and time again. Given that he previously directed Charlie’s Angels: full Throttle, this is an accomplishment on par with curing cancer.

But while the action is brisk and fun, the plot is something of a let-down and all spoilt by the various plot holes woven through the script. The magic of the original (two) Terminator films lay in the knowledge that John Connor was so great at being a leader of the people that his death would mean the end of mankind, but also at not really knowing what his role was. Thus, the reveal that Connor has yet to become the symbol of the resistance is utterly disappointing and the fact that the last bastions of humanity listen to and trust him above the actual leaders is very confusing.

The movie’s biggest plot hole goes like this:

John Connor learns that the machines are hunting his father, Kyle Reese, to kill him and thus stop Connor from ever existing. However, Connor is merely a soldier at this point, and not at all a threat to the machines, meaning that Kyle Reese is still an insignificant survivor meaning that the machines would have no reason to be hunting either of them and given that the machines do not yet appear to have technology as advanced as time travel, they wouldn’t even know this. Not only this, but the machines go on to capture Kyle Reese… and not kill him. While a human survivor places her entire race in jeopardy… by trusting a machine.

Couple this to a plot that was mostly spoiled in the trailers with the most obvious twist in cinema this year and you have a humdinger of a bad story.

Biggest offenders are all the references to the previous films. Serving no purpose but to remind the audience just how cool the T-1000 was and how lame the movie’s main enemies (T-600’s and Hunter Killers) are, they stick out as though they were forced in just for the sake of it.

Another point of contention is that John Connor survives a nuclear explosion at the start of the movie. While filmed with a very creative way to show the damage – from inside the helicopter itself – it has nasty connotations with a similar scene in Indiana Jones and the Nuking of the Fridge.

All in all, a healthy reboot for a franchise. For those expecting more Terminator glory – leave your wishes at the door. Enjoy it for what it is – a bold beginning for what could be a very good sci-fi war series. And hats off to McG for pulling it out of the bag.