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Terminator Salvation (2009) Print E-mail
Friday, 22 May 2009

ImageThere is a great scene in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. In the scene, Dr. Evil, having finally captured his arch-nemesis Austin Powers, prepares Austin's death. Dr. Evil's son, Scott, asks why Evil doesn't just kill Austin outright.
"I have an even better idea," Evil responds, "I'm going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death." And with that, he places Austin on a platform, descending slowly into a tank full of sharks. He then orders that the doors to the tank be closed. Incredulous, Scott says, "Wait, aren't you even going to watch them? They could get away!"
"No no no," Evil replies once again, "I'm going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I'm just gonna assume it all went to plan."
That, in a nutshell, is the way the new Terminator film, Terminator: Salvation, plays out. The year is 2018. As we know from the previous Terminator flicks, a sentient computer known as Skynet launched a nuclear attack against humanity, known by the survivors as Judgment Day. John Connor (Christian Bale), fated to become humanity's leader, knew that Judgment Day would come and spent his life preparing for it. As the film opens, Connor is informed by the Resistance High Command that they had discovered a command signal that could disable Skynet forever and end the war. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) appears from the rubble of a battle, and ends up joining forces with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man who would go back in time and eventually become John Connor's father. The problem is that Skynet is looking to capture Reese, and at the same time High Command is planning on attack on Skynet's base.


It's hard to watch Terminator: Salvation and recall the excitement of seeing Terminator 2: Judgment Day on the big screen. In fact, it's hard to watch Terminator: Salvation and recall what excitement is like at all. The whole thing is a dour, blustery affair, so puffed up on its self importance that it forgets to actually have characters we care about or a story that makes sense. A huge part of the problem is the Marcus Wright character, the film's token "good" terminator. Played by Sam Worthington (who gives the most sympathetic performance in a movie filled with cardboard cut-outs), Wright is the focal point of the film. This makes about as much sense as having a Star Wars movie with Mon Mothma as the lead. An interesting diversion, but not worthy of a feature film. John Connor is relegated to the sidelines, brought in intermittently to remind us that he's going to lead the Resistance.
Christian Bale is woefully miscast as Bale, projecting none of the sensitivity of Nick Stahl or the eagerness of Edward Furlong. In fact, Bale doesn't project much of anything at all. His portrayal is leaden and tiresome to watch. Bryce Dallas Howard portrays his wife, Kate, but if you hadn't seen Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines you'd never know it, as I'm not sure she's even mentioned by name. As is typical of the screenplay, she's given nothing to do. Anton Yelchin is a scene stealer as a young Kyle Reese, but he's saddled with a useless mute child whose sole talent seems to be grabbing things other people will need later.
McG of Charlie's Angels fame (or infamy depending on who you talk to) gives it his best shot behind the director's chair, but his best can't touch James Cameron's worst (or, for that matter, Jonathan Mostow's). He gives his actors no room to breathe, rushing past dramatic sequences with no sense of connection between the characters and treating action sequences like some sort of sadomasochistic exercise. Instead of crafting action that engages the viewer, McG simply pounds the audience in the face until they can't take it anymore. The sound design is equally oppressive. While undeniably well crafted, it grates on the ears. If you ever wanted to know what a world without hope sounds like, this is it.


  As if this weren't enough, the script is absolutely awful. Even setting aside the fact that no character is developed save for Marcus, the dialogue is often terrible: "Now I know what death tastes like" Marcus comments after kissing a terminal cancer victim. Also, logical issues abound throughout, making it hard to take any of it seriously. It's not just a question of poor character motivations (of which there are plenty), but actual leaps of logic that don't make any sense. A major one, for example, would be if Skynet knows Kyle Reese is John Connor's father, and that killing Kyle before he can time travel would erase John from existence, why does Skynet instead abduct Kyle and keep him alive? That's just the tip of the iceberg. If you think about it too much, you'll end up asking very basic questions that undermine the whole purpose of the movie.
Terminator: Salvation is a major disappointment from a series that was once the cream of the action crop. If Warner Bros. really wants to keep this franchise going, they need to find a director with a real vision, writers who can create characters we care about, and actors that make us believe in them. Without these elements, you can throw all the face-melting action at the audience that you want, but the end experience will be shallow and empty. Salvation may be the film's title, but there's none to be found here.

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