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Movie Review: Terminator Salvation
May 28, 2009 · By Mitch Cyrus
It seems like it happens every Summer.  Some highly anticipated big budget extravaganza hits the screens...and the screens would prefer to hit right back.  "Speed Racer" (2008), "Evan Almighty" (2007), "Miami Vice" (2006), "The Fantastic Four" (2005), "Van Helsing" (2004), "Hulk" (2003), and on and on.  Even if the movies end up making an acceptable amount of money, the stench of their being will linger long after the accountants have had their say.

For 2009, that tradition will continue with "Terminator Salvation", a disappointing downer of a movie with a one-note performance by its leading actor, a heartless script, and a director without a clue as to handle the legacy given to him by James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

With all of the successful "reboots" of franchises over the past few years (James Bond, Batman, Star Trek), this one might have been even more anticipated, as a mythology exists with the storyline that almost everyone is familiar with.  John Conner grows up to become the leader of the resistance against the machines who have unleashed nuclear Armageddon upon mankind.  In fulfilling his destiny, Conner both succeeded and failed:  He managed to stay alive despite all of the constant time travelling robots out to kill him (a) before he was born, (b) as a 12 year old, and (c) as a young man (take you pick from either T3 or the Sarah Connor Chronicles), which was his success, but the efforts to stop the near annihilation of the human race failed.  So now it's the year 2018, and the entire country now resembles downtown Detroit (sorry...couldn't resist the cheap shot).

In this world, Connor is not yet the Supreme Commander, rather just a high ranking officer...albeit one that irritates the High Command due to his self promotion as "the savior of the human race".  Evidently John hasn't bothered keeping all of his mother's prophesies to himself, and he doesn't mind telling anyone who will listen just how important he is, which comes in the form of daily communications via ham radio to anyone (and everyone) who can listen.

One of those people is the teenaged Kyle Reese, played by Anton Yelchin (who also plays Chekov in "Star Trek"...a good summer for the young man).  For some reason, he's one of what seems to be only two people left in Los Angeles, along with a young mute girl named Star, whose only purpose seems to be to fulfill the role of Newt from another one of Cameron's masterpieces, "Aliens".  Conner has no idea where Reese is located, and is trying hard to find and protect him.  Skynet, the ‘brains' behind all of the machines, is also desperately looking for him as well, in order to kill him and prevent Conner from ever being born (don't think too hard on any of these concepts...it will only give you a headache.  And since the writers didn't think too hard about it, why should you?)

Into this mix comes the man who is actually the leading character of this movie, much to my surprise.  Marcus Wright was a death row inmate awaiting execution in pre-apocalyptic California who signs his body over to science after being harangued by a cancer ridden scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) working for Cyberdine (the company that creates Skynet).  When Marcus ‘wakes up', he has no idea what is going on, but he eventually finds himself intertwined in the conflict.  The script leaves little surprise when certain facts become known about Marcus...and the producers didn't help by leaking it out in the trailers to the movie.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is completely, 100% joyless.  Now I understand that after a nuclear holocaust, you wouldn't exactly be having keggers every weekend...but director McG seemed to forget that one of the things that made the Ah-nuld movies so popular was the humanity brought into them, and the fun we had as an audience watching the thrilling chases, and enjoying the human interaction as well; be it between Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in the first movie or Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong in the second.  That McG can show a human race devoid of any real human emotion and contact deadens the entire film, and it didn't have to be this way.  Look at how the Wachowski Brothers were able to show how survivors could still have actual lives in "The Matrix".  Instead, McG chooses "Mad Max" as his inspiration for his future society, without the benefit of a young Mel Gibson.

None of the actors are able to provide much of a spark at all, although Sam Worthington manages to come the closest as Marcus.  He's as sullen as the rest of them, but he at least gets to sprinkle in a few other emotions; mostly anguish, confusion, and inner turmoil as he struggles to figure out what he is.  Moon Bloodgood gets a few decent scenes as well as the resistance fighter pilot who befriends Marcus.  In that regard, she is far ahead of the only other woman with any noticeable screen time, as Bryce Dallas Howard is as cold and emotionless as John's wife Kate as her husband.

The worst offender, however, is Christian Bale, who seems to have not been able to drop his gruff persona as The Dark Knight from his last Batman movie.  Bale is all bass-note growls, scowls and sneers, showing none of the charisma that messianic leaders should possess...the traits we've been assured that Conner has from three previous movies and one television series.  Frankly, this John Conner is a detached bore, and not a man that could inspire people to risk their lives for him.

Equal in blame are the screenwriters, John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris.  But given their resumes, perhaps this should surprise no one, as these two hacks also collaborated on such God-awful sci-fi/fantasy films as "The Net", "Catwoman", "Primeval", and the equally disappointing "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines".  Obviously, we aren't talking about Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, or Orson Scott Card sci-fi writing abilities here.  Hell, they can't even hold a candle to the screenwriting skills of James Cameron, who penned the first two Terminator movies (along with "The Abyss", "Aliens", "Strange Days", and "True Lies").

With all of that, however, the lion's share of the blame for this clunker must rest at the feet of the one-named McG, a man who started out as a director of music videos, and really needs to go back to them, as he is a butcher as a director of films (see also: "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle").  McG is the one who set the tone for the film, and his tone was to be as impersonal as possible, and whenever he got stuck needing an idea, he came up with a very loud scene with lots of robots blowing up.

In fact, it seems as if McG was wanting to make a Transformers film and not one about Terminators, as he seemed more in love with showing motorcycle robots, giant people collecting robots, and hovering ‘hunter/killer' robots than showing people's interactions.

But even the director of the Transformer films, Michael Bay, seems to understand things that McG can't quite fathom.  Yes, it's fine to fall in love with special effects and spend more than half the movie with the "gee-wiz!" visual brilliance of them.  But it's nothing but flash and noise if you don't have a human interest story to go along with it, and hire actors who can bring their characters to life amidst all of the razzle-dazzle.

Bay, a director that I've loved to make fun of in the past, hit the perfect balance in the first Transformers film.  McG totally misses, and in doing so, he might have doomed a once great franchise.

My Rating: Derek Anderson (1 football).  Horrible.  Teased into watching due to potential, we are angry at the reality of mediocrity.


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