Saturday, June 13, 2009

No Salvation for Terminator

Many closed-minded individuals had already made up their mind about Terminator: Salvation long before the cameras rolled. It was the strange and certainly controversial choice as director, one Joseph McGinty Nichol, better known to the world as McG, Commanding General of the stupid Hollywood nickname brigade. His Charlie’s Angels movies are fun and entertaining [and are both on my DVD shelf] and Chuck, which he produces for NBC Television is loved by all who watch it. Both, while rich in action, are infused with a level of humour which he has extracted from his writers and performers to make those projects work for what they are. Terminator, on the other hand is rightly devoid of almost any humour whatsoever and McG is too unqualified and inexperienced to direct what is essentially a serious production; he's is a one-trick pony and Terminator and movies like it are not his trick.

Does that mean this movie is complete shit? No, quite far from it, but neither is it a worthy sequel to James Cameron’s seminal work. This is a superb action movie; it has guns, explosions, outstanding production design, and a host of never seen before Terminators, Skynet machines and defence-systems which flesh out the whole Terminator lore more than adequately. It will thrill most action-seeking cinemagoers [assuming you live in this part of the world where it’s been far more successful than stateside for some bizarre reason] and delivers a satisfactory experience. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for die-hard Terminator fans, but I’ll get back to that.
The acting is very mixed. On one hand we have Christian Bale as John Connor, who despite being an amazing actor – somehow appears beyond wooden here, I’d even go so far as saying he’s beyond even real wood – he’s like MDF or something – he’s that bad! I almost burst out laughing at one point when he’s after surviving a helicopter attack and an assault from a T-600 and the radio crackles into life to which Connor responds “Here!”, but it’s not “Here!” as you or I would say it, even out of breath with serious bruising or whatever; no, Bale delivers the word like an acutely constipated Batman who’s been winded by a Scotsman’s saber to the chest. The amount of projection he infuses into almost each line is staggering and far more distracting than his permanently-choking Dark Knight – it’s ridiculous. Add to that, the insanity of casting Michael Ironside, who talks like that normally!!! [Hang on didn’t Ironside play a resistance leader who was also prepared to sacrifice prisoners for the good of the mission in a certain Alien invasion TV show in the mid-80’s?]

Thankfully, John Connor is only half the movie. The better half is Sam Worthington, whom Cameron has also bagged for Avatar, as Marcus- who as you’ll know from the spoiler-ridden movie trailers is a highly advanced Terminator – who thinks, nay – believes- he’s human. This man single handedly saves this film from shitsville despite the character making absolutely no sense at all in the grand scheme of the Terminator timeline. It’s an incredible irony. Another casting decision I must wholeheartedly agree with is giving the role of Kate Connor to the one true Goddess Bryce Dallas Howard who [has achieved #1 status in Whoppers Hotlist 2009. If only I could make a cream out of her and rub it all over my naked body] despite being somewhat underused she lights up the screen when on it.

The best accolades you’ll find bestowed on Terminator: Salvation in reference to how good a Terminator movie it is will be that is that it is about as good if not better than Johnathan Mostow’s Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. What’s different in McG’s vision is that people are not just running around in blind panic [practically everyone in the movie is a hardened vet]. I don’t suppose you can have that going on for a two-hour movie and not have it labeled as survival-horror, a notoriously saturated genre today. However the essence of Terminator is “the chase” and “the suspense,” it is still possible in this setting, but McG just doesn’t deliver. It seems like he thought that if Cameron did one better than Alien with the vastly superior Aliens by changing the “threat” of the Alien by having more of them rather than just one powerful one- that he could do the same with Terminator. The problem was that Cameron made it work, but McG and his crew did not. Even Danny Elfman who composed an adequate score- did not use Brad Fiedel's Terminator theme, something T3 composer Marco Beltrami knew was an essential part of the essence of his movie but there's nothing familiar here either now.

I was very impressed with the art direction, namely the ruined L.A. and there are some amazing technical achievements in this movie, not least of which is an outstanding CGI rendition of Ahnold as the original T-800 prototype. Sadly after spending a colossal amount of money on this sequence, McG completely bollixed up by assassinating the character of a Terminator – he had the T-800 toy with his prey by throwing him off ledges, up against surfaces and all sorts of crazy shit instead of grabbing them and rending them limb from limb or crushing the throat. A Terminator terminates – full stop, there’s no game, there’s no playing, a Terminator doesn’t soften up its victim – this was bad writing – it would have been much better to show the T-800 emerging from its cocoon or whatever and start eliminating the fleeing prisoners and approaching- but never catching John Connor until the last moment when Marcus would step in or something; a lost opportunity – that would’ve created tension and we’d see a load of people die horribly. That was something else this movie lacked too; the 12PG rating meant little in the way of the horrific deaths we should have seen with blood, dismemberment, bullet impacts etc. It was all just a bit too sanitized. There’s a reason why the original is so loved 25 years on – it’s R-Rated.
While it’s unfair to equate the Terminator franchise with the Batman franchise of the 90’s, it would seem that once again an unpopular director has been responsible with a loss of confidence in the brand. I think it may be better for Fox now to forget about a T5 and wait and attempt to do exactly what Warner did for Batman, what Paramount did for Star Trek and what Sony did for James Bond and that is to wait a while and just do a reboot for the new generation. We can wait 10 years if it’ll be done right.

Final Verdict: This is a great action movie but not such a good Terminator movie. While I’m positive that McG is not a bad director, he was just totally the wrong director for the serious, bleak subject matter.

Colonel Creedon Rating ***1/2

1 comment:

Douglas Kastle said...

I would agree with most of that. There were some awesome action scenes, though I had a few problems. I don't know why but having all the a10 sitting outside on tarmac really bothered me, surely skynet would be able to blow them all away.

Also, it was kinda cool to see the Arnie Terminator, but I would have thought in a terminator factory (i.e. where they were made) where like there would be thousands of them, skynet sent only one after John Connor. I would have followed the Jim Cameron lead, vis a vis aliens, and thrown pants loads at them. This is the future where the resistance should have the weapons to have a better go at a terminator than they did in 1984.

It is also a movie that just seemed to run out of steam, "he's going to die because his hearts fucked", "fair enough, take mine", wit?!? And cut!