Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator: Salvation More Furious Than Tender

Expectations can be a dangerous thing. I can understand the slight fear of a perspective viewer for a film like Terminator: Salvation, the fourth film in the series that started 25 years ago.

After all, the studios picked a man known only by three letters, McG, to helm the director’s chair. His anemic catalog of previous efforts includes a selection of music videos and the two Charlie’s Angels reboots. And to make one cringe even more, given back the screenplay pens were both John Brancato and Michael Ferris, the two of whom have worked side by side quite often, writing the frivolous and cheesy third film in the Terminator series and the quite embarrassing Catwoman reboot. This is enough to scare the pants off even the biggest of Terminator fans.

But relax, I say, for can these three men really screw up a film about a robot versus human war set in a post-apocalyptic and dark world? Even more so, one that stars Christian Bale?

Terminator: Salvation, which takes place in 2018, chronicles the struggles led by John Connor (Bale) and the rest of the nuclear holocaust survivors to keep the machines of Skynet from finishing what they have started.

Salvation is loud, furious and gritty. These are the best things the film has going for it. I’m not ready to call McG a visionary director, but his destroyed world shows promise. The visual style he applies to the film is enough to hold your attention and transplant you into it, despite some of the mangled sets looking as fake as they actually are. The world is constructed with lots of dark grays, blacks and a palate of colors that screams apocalypse.

As far as action goes, there’s lots of it, and most of it is spectacular. There are a few moments that especially keep your eyes glued to the screen, such as a deceptively long Children of Men inspired take of a helicopter crash that puts the viewer in the seat of a passenger. One other particularly pleasing sequence of enormous scale begins when a large robot that seems more Transformers than Terminator attacks a group of resistance fighters, which begins a long, throttling chase sequence.

The entire film is practically made up of either large scale action sequences or hand-to-hand combat, but it never got tiring. The only thing that can possibly dampen your enjoyment of the entertaining and thrilling action that has McG giving Michael Bay a run for the crown in an explosion contest is if you’re looking for too much substance surrounding it all.

Salvation isn’t exactly the most well written action film out there. The dialogue is simple, very standard conversation. Of course, this isn’t Quentin Tarantino writes The Terminator, it’s Brancato and Ferris doing the writing, so you shouldn’t expect more than simple at best. There isn’t too much stock to put into the characters because of this, but that’s something I found unnecessary in relation to my enjoyment factor.

As you watch Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, who plays the more robot than human character Marcus Wright, have an intense and heated conversation about what Wright really is, you realize that most of these actors are better than the film’s script is. Worthington steals scenes and shows signs of being a promising actor. Unfortunately, none of these characters are too developed, but I still found myself caring about the outcome.

While I would have liked to see this film’s script given to someone else, and not the two guys who tried to mess up the series with Terminator 3, the one pass I can give the two is that the Terminator story has already been told. Fans of the series already know about John Connor and Kyle Reese, meaning they’re already emotionally invested in the characters.

My excusing of the two writers continues to the plot. While basic and standard fare, this film is simply a robot war at heart. What more can you ask for? Okay, there’s only a shallow and surface theme and meaning for this film about technology and how terrifying and self-aware it could become as we progress it more and more, but at least the film did stay true to the saga and make great use of the Terminator mythos, which should please fans.

Salvation is not James Cameron’s Terminator and that is essential to remember when sitting down to take in McG’s more action-based film. Go in expecting to find something as good as Terminator 2 and severe disappointment will set in fast. In fact, comparing Cameron’s film and McG’s film isn’t even fair. It would be more appropriate to liken this to a modern action film like Transformers. And if that’s the case, give me McG’s Terminator over Bay’s Transformers any day of the week.

It certainly hits me that my enjoyment level of the film allows for some of the imperfections of the film to be hidden under a mat of explosions, vaporized vehicles, spiffy robots and Christian Bale. I don’t care if this is Hollywood attempting to cash in on a successful franchise and succeeding. I don’t care if the film lacks a certain emotion that Cameron’s classic films had. I don’t even care if the plot is absurd and riddled with holes. Terminator: Salvation is a summer blockbuster chronicling a furious battle between robots and humans set in a post-apocalyptic world, and I got what I paid for.

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