Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Frank Review of "Terminator Salvation" (2009)

The Short Version? "Come with me if you want to run from a killer cyborg for a couple of hours for the forth time!"
What Is It? Action/Sci-Fi
Who Is In It? Christian Bale, Marla from Fight Club, Gwen Stacy, Chekov, Ham Tyler
Should I See It? Maybe.

I saw the first Terminator on VHS around 1986 or 87, and as James Cameron was wont to do, it rocked my fuckin' socks off. It wasn't at all like seeing Aliens at the bijou, but definitely in the Beastmaster realm of bossness. I was certainly primed for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which molested my senses as never before, and during those awkward teenage years when you need those sorts of experiences. However, I revisited both films throughout the '90s, and found myself increasingly aware of diminishing returns, as I grew more sophisticated and action cinema played catch-up. Sans the newness and spectacle, the Terminator franchise was left with perplexing temporal paradox and endless repetitive scenes of cyborgs running and getting hit without falling down.

By the time Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines limped onto screens six years ago, my enthusiasm was already about dissipated. On the plus side, this allowed me to be entertained by a middling feature with miscast leads and an entirely too old Arnold Schwarzenegger. I got a lot more out of Kristanna Loken's nude scenes than Michael Biehn's, but a Terminator without Linda Hamilton's milestone performance as Sarah Connor was about as welcome as a remake of Pulp Fiction. The only really money moment (besides the fire truck sequence) was seeing that the film at least had the balls to finally nuke the world already. Sure it's fatalistic, but the only way up for the franchise was to get down with the robotic Armageddon.

Which brings us to the latest, and most likely last, installment of the original Terminator series. The is "Battle for the Planet of the Terminators." This is the one where the concept has completely been exhausted, paving the way for a wholly unnecessary reboot attempt in a decade or so that everyone will hate. All logic is tossed to the wind, so distastefully Shyamalanian that even the biggest dopes in the audience will cry foul. Everything that should be cool is limp, and all promises are whelched upon.

This time, a death row inmate in the near present named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) signs his body away to the science of Skynet, specifically to the terminally cancerous Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter, allowing Marla to finally earn her place in group therapy alongside Chloe, and just as hard up.) Wright wakes up in the cybernetic future, meets a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin,) and takes every opportunity to swagger like a badass. Meanwhile, the finally grown up and decently cast messianic human resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale) does random shit that doesn't amount to much because Batman wanted to inflate his bit part (as originally scripted.) A very spoilery recap by Devin Faraci of the original script can be found at CHUD, if you're curious. From here, the movie builds stupidity to the utmost human tolerance until its retardation reaches the maximum allowable degree of are-you-fucking-kidding-me?

This is one of those movies where every single audience member rightly points out the cavernous plot holes and offers their own far superior revisions to the shitstorm on screen. Despite a several hundred million dollar budget, the majority of the props, sets, costumes and digital effects look low rent. For instance, I've been waiting decades for armies of T-600s to get fired upon by pulse rifles. Instead, many of the Terminators here look like cheaply made-up extras from Jean-Claude Van Damme's 1989 knock-off Cyborg, and the human's weapons are all modern military standard. Where I want to see tanks and crushed skulls, I get PG-13 visions that recall the Matrix sequels, Transformers, and of all things, Will Smith's The Wild, Wild West. Notably crappy director McG does a better Cameron impression than Jonathan Mostow, but the script is such absolute garbage that everything comes off as a mongoloid retread of past Terminator sequences.

Having already shat upon the movie at length, you may wonder why my recommendation to see it is set at "maybe" instead of "hell no." Like the also rather stupid new Star Trek, this movie's salvation is in its cast. These actors deliver the worst dialogue with such conviction and weight, you almost forgive them. Christian Bale isn't spectacular, but he sells himself as John Connor reasonably well. Despite slipping from a Southern drawl to his native Australian constantly, and being given no believable motivation, Sam Worthington has solid actioner chops. Anton Yelchin is fantastic as Kyle Reece, invoking Biehn while making the part his own in a manner not unlike Chris Pine's Captain Kirk. Bryce Dallas Howard takes a role with absolutely nothing on the page, and creates a more sympathetic and humanistic Kate Connor than Claire Danes managed with an entire film. Arnie's "appearance" is outstanding. And Michael Motherfucking Ironside is in this thing. Sure he's fat, old, and only in a few brief scenes, but we're talking General Katana here! Darryl Revok! Richter! Jester! Ham Tyler! Overdog! Darkseid!

Less worthy is Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, a creature that serves every inanity the script throws her way without the slightest hint of forethought or credibility. Bloodgood is pretty, but she comes off like she stepped out of an episode of Lorenzo Lamas's 1990s syndicated Renegade television series, and she actually did come off the starring role in the soon-to-be-notorious Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Jadagrace is alright as Lil' Black Newt/the Not-So-Feral Kid, a.k.a. Star, but she stays mute throughout. Helena Bonham Carter is a soulless machine that absolutely will not stop, ever, until you hear every ream of exposition.

So you take the goodish, you take the lousy, and there you have a barely passable "maybe" pseudo-recommendation. Still, as a helicopter flies away from a massive explosion in the last reel, accompanied by voiceover narration, I almost heard a vow to continue the fight against the sinister Umbrella Corporation after the cleansing of Racoon City. Literally, there's a sequence in this film right out of Resident Evil: Extinction, and I wouldn't hesitate to declare the very similar third Milla Jovovich outing in the video game-inspired film series as preferable in almost every way to Terminator Salvation, though Rotten Tomatoes currently places the critical divide between each's foulness at just 12%. Read into that what you will.


wiec? said...

to quote Danny Glover in a Lethal Weapon movie: "i'm getting too old for this shit." Terminator 1 is still my favorite. i haven't seen it in ages but it does seem quaint these days. T2 was always more flash than substance so i can take it or leave it. the 3rd was shitsville as far as i can remember.

this one looked dumb from jump street. McG ? why? he makes horrible popcorn movies. popcorn movies can be made well but his stink. should have given it to someone else. oh and heard there are 2 more planned if this one is a hit.

i overheard 2 kids talking about it on the train the other day. the heart transplant at the end really made these these 16 yr olds scratch their head's and hit the "oh please??!!?" button. i asked them about it and from what they told me about the end of the movie was eye roll inducing. i'm waiting for video.

and three other things: there's a holocaust of nuclear proportions. robots are building robots to kill folks. the robots are smarter than humans. 1) how come when the robots have John Connors trapped they didn't just shoot them? why send the Arnold Terminator to fight him without a gun. and 2) how come everyone's teeth are so white? and 3) why doesn't Skynet just make a shit load of the Robert Patrick Terminators. They seem boarder line unstoppable and could take care of that pesky human problem with ease. get on the ball Skynet.

Diabolu Frank said...

I wanted to avoid excessive spoilers in my reviewer, because I could spend HOURS examining all the ways in which this movie goes wrong. To avoid that, I'll try to stick to direct responses to your comments:

1) A better question would be, if Skynet knows the significance of Kyle Reece, and have his name literally at the top of their "to kill" list, AND they have him positively identified as a captive, why not snuff him? I'll tell you why-- because then they wouldn't have sent Arnold to kill Sarah Connor, creating Skynet research. However, the movie doesn't tell you that, so we ask again why Kyle Reece is on the top of the list, and why not kill John Connor at several opportunities? Also, John "found" Arnie, so that may not have been premeditated on Skynet's part.

2) Advances in stem cell research? Does the eating of shit counter plaque build up?

3) The T-1000s haven't been built yet, though I recognize with time travel that makes no real sense.

4) McG really wasn't that bad here. I don't know how much control he had over the script and other awry production elements, but as cast and filmed the flick halfway works. The other half is just fucking ridiculous.

5) This movie will not be a hit that starts a second trilogy. It lost the top spot to a Ben Stiller movie and will see an enormous drop this weekend. This is the end, my friend.

6) The heart thing was terrible, and the alternate ending would have just been worst.

wiec? said...

i hate to keep this going but on the way home from work today i thought of something else.

why don't the robots just use chemical weapons. nerve gas the entire planet. this way they can skip the whole human meat covered robots. thing. it's gas it doen't hurt robots.

then after killing the last human,i'd love to know what those robots would do next. just sit around and do nothing i guess. dumb robots.

Diabolu Frank said...

That is a very good point kinda-sorta addressed here, but not really.


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