March 4, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Terminator Salvation

Title: Terminator: Salvation
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Michael Ironside
Directed by: McG
Released: 2009
Genre: Science-Fiction; Action

The Terminator franchise went right in the toilet in 2009. The Sarah Connor Chronicles got canceled--mercifully, I say--after a dismal second season. And McG's attempt to breath new life into the film end of the franchise kind of sputtered out at the box office. Then, the company that owned the film rights went bankrupt, and it's only recently that another company has been able to purchase the rights in hopes of carrying on the limping legacy. Christian Bale's profanity-laced tirade on a crew member on set didn't help the movie's public image any, either.

I must say, my expectations were really low heading into watching this movie. Critics and fans panned it with a resounding yawn, and I figured I was setting myself up to see a contender against Transformers 2 as worst movie of 2009. Now that I've watched it, I gotta say: It's not bad. It's not that great, but it's not that bad.

If you don't know the Terminator mythos, I'll catch you up. An artificial intelligence called SkyNet, created by a corporation called Cyberdyne, becomes self-aware in the near future. When humans try to shut it down, it retaliates by consolidating the world's military power and launches nukes on all major cities in an event dubbed Judgment Day. The world is decimated and the survivor must contend with a war against SkyNet and its army of machines. A soldier, John Connor, rises through the ranks to fend off the machines so effectively that SkyNet developed time travel and sends a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill John Connor's mother before she can give birth to the savior of mankind.

Long story, short: The machines lose and John Connor is born to grow up to fight in the post-apocalyptic vision his mother prophesied to him since birth.

Terminator: Salvation picks up the story a few years after Judgment Day. John Connor (Christian Bale) is spreading his gospel of fighting the machines to anyone who'll listen, while the machines are collecting humans in research to develop a new and better Terminator. But oddly enough, this movie isn't really about John Connor. It's really about a convicted murderer named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Marcus is about to be executed when he sells his body for scientific research. After he's executed, he wakes up to find the world destroyed. He wanders his way to Los Angeles where he meets a teenage boy named Kyle Reese--the unwitting father of John Connor who will ultimately be sent back in time to save Sarah Connor ... and knock her up.

It's a bit of a spoiler, though not really, to reveal that Marcus is a Terminator. And I think that is what got the thumbs down from so many who saw this movie in theaters. However convoluted SkyNet's plans may have been involving multiple attempts at time travel in the three previous films, the plan of having a half-human/half-Terminator hybrid with free will and a conscience as the linchpin in killing John Connor was a bit over-the-top even for me. And when you see the ultimate "reveal" by the machines, you'll understand just how tangled and twisted their scheme was.

The action was top notch, and even though it relied too heavily at times on the sizzle of new gadgets and cool cameos, most of the battles felt visceral and a pleasure to watch. The CGI was incredible, almost seamless, and I was more impressed by the special effects in this movie than Transformers 2 and the Avatar trailers combined. The acting? Oh boy. Acting has never been the strong suit for this series of films, especially when you admit the first three were headlined by Arnie. Christian Bale, for all his method acting and temper tantrums, did not deliver a standout performance. The only actor I felt played their role to perfection was Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the new Star Trek movie) as Kyle Reese.

I still hear rumors that there is a script being written for another Terminator film, but I've also heard it's going to be a prequel to this one that explores the days prior to Judgment Day. Maybe I'm a dim bulb, but wasn't that Terminator 3?

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