Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can A Terminator Really Offer Salvation?

2:11 AM

I'm going to break this film up into two parts. The first will be a straight-forward, spoiler-free review. The second, not so much.

When it comes to Terminator films, fans can be just as rabid as, say, Star Wars. A lot of people will automatically disown anything Terminator if James Cameron isn't attached as writer/director. So, when Terminator Salvation was announced--with none other than McG at the helm--the jury was understandably divided. The hype has been up and down, the early reviews, eh, not so great.

A big chunk of the nay-saying comes as a response to the film taking place in a future, post-apocalyptic setting--a setting post-Judgment Day; I am of a different mind. So, while a lot of the fans found this to be a suitable reason for anarchy, I was staging my own, personal resistance. I think a future setting is the reason a Terminator film can work, despite being Cameron-less.

Here's how it stacks up. The casting worked pretty damn well. Christian Bale played a fine John Connor, although I couldn't help but hear Batman speaking for a good chunk of the movie. I doubt he'll be winning any Oscars, but he's definitely better than Nick Stahl (John Connor in Terminator 3).

Marcus Wright is played by up-and-coming Austalian actor Sam Worthington. While John Connor is integral to the Terminator story-line, Sam's character steals the show this time around. Although he's the main(ish) character, and even though his character has the most arc, the writing for him is a little off. Still, he's got a screen presense about him, and I can't wait to see him in the upcoming Avatar (under Jim Cameron's direction) and the Clash of the Titans remake (directed by Louis Leterrier). He'll be one to watch.

A lot of the other characters are played by some fairly well-known actors. Kate Connor is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, a respectable actor, and yet she barely has any screen time and doesn't do a whole lot with the time she does have (not her fault). Moon Bloodgood plays Blair Williams, whose part is important insofar as she sets certain events in motion and offers eye-candy. Michael Ironside shows up as pain in the ass General, and, while I love seeing Ironside in flicks, his part could have easily been covered by pretty much anyone else (not that I'm complaining; his appearance was kinda like extra frosting on the cake for me). Helena Bonham Carter also shows up in a role that has a heavy impact on the overall film, but, again, could have been performed by a lesser-known. Anton Yelchin (recently seen in Star Trek , you may recall) also steps into the boots of Kyle Reese, Johnny C's father-to-be. While I was skeptical of this casting decision at first, the more I watched the film, the more I saw Michael Biehn's (the original Kyle in the original Terminator) Kyle coming out. Something about him just clicked. Awesome.

The fact that some of these actors are of a higher caliber causes a moment of pause. Is it good that they have such fine actors doing so little? To have the talent even though that quality of talent isn't necessarily needed? Or is it just overkill? I'm not sure. Maybe I'm looking too deeply into it. Moving on.

The story is pretty straight-forward. Man, machines, war, post-apocalypitc future, yadda yadda yadda. Seriously, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it does the job, IMO. True, there are some plot holes (which I'll get into in the spoiler section), and it gets to be a little over-the-top at times, but it's a summer blockbuster and it does take place in the future; over-the-top is pretty much par for the course.

The special effects are fan-fucking-tastic...for the most part. Yeah, there are moments when the CG is noticeably CG, but, overall, I was damn impressed. The explosions are massive, the machines are shiny, the action is fast. It looks good.

Harry Knowles saw it the other day, and to say "he wasn't pleased" is putting it lightly. I respect the guy a lot, and I usually trust his opinion, but this is one time where I've got a disagree. It's not the greatest film ever, but seeing as there's only one "greatest film ever", I feel like that isn't really a bad thing (for this or any other film).

Maybe it's because I never watched Star Trek, but I enjoyed Terminator more. Both are great summer blockbusters (and I will say Star Trek is the higher quality of the two), but this was more fun.

I'm not going to say that everyone will enjoy this film. If you're a fan of the originals, be aware that this isn't Cameron's work. Sure, it's based off of his ideas, but beyond that, he didn't have a hand in baking this pie. It's different from everything that came before it, but that doesn't mean it's bad. If you want to see action and effects and, yes, Terminators, give it a go.


And now, I present the spoilers. This will cover some of the plot holes I noticed and story choices that were made.


So, I'm sure you're all aware from the trailers, but Marcus Wright is a machine. He's a machine who, in the beginning, doesn't know he's a machine. Why? Because he's an infiltrator. So, is he good or bad? Well, I'm not answering. This isn't about his motives, it's about what he is. He's a hybrid, both man and machine, but not like Arnie in the original films. It's not just soft tissue over a metal endoskeleton; he has organs. So while all this is cool for the film, I had to ask myself a couple of questions (mostly because I can't ask the writers). In the trailer we can see Marcus being carried, injured. If he's metal, why doesn't anyone realize he ways hundreds of pounds more than he should? The question is raised again when Marcus ends up in a river and starts floating down it. WTF? Again, not world-ending stuff, but worth noting.

Also--MAJOR SPOILER--John Connor was, at one point in the screenplay-writing process, going to die. The film was to end with the resistance removing John's skin and stretching it over Marcus' body, effectively "keeping John alive" in the eyes of the resistance. That was abandoned (thank whomever) due to negative testings. Instead, they have John stabbed through back by a T-800, dying. To save his life, Marcus offers up his human heart. Although this is more believable than the skin fiasco, it's still a stretch of the imagination. It isn't just for shits and giggles, there IS a point to it, but I almost feel like the entire movie was written around the idea that comes with that point. (I know I'm being vague and, thus, confusing, but I don't want to give absolutely everything away. Hopefully, you'll see what I'm talking about if you watch the film. If not, ask me about it)

As a tie-in to the paragraph I just finished writing/you just finished reading, I want to comment on what I like about the Marcus/heart idea. Making Marcus a machine who still kept his humanity, who actually believes he is human, is interesting to ponder over. It shows the machines really don't understand what it is to live. Yes, they have A.I., but they're not really alive. Skynet has a plan in Terminator Salvation, and that plan actually works, but only to an extent. Marcus' unwavering belief in his humanity allows him to be naive and do things with the best intentions at heart. Still, things get fucked up. And yet, that same flaw that causes the problems for the resistance becomes the undoing of Skynet. Marcus, because the machines left him his "humanity", is able to choose which side he is on. Skynet may have built him, but helping the humans reminded him that, no matter where he came from, where he went was in his hands.

Finally, I want to make mention of something that even you--yes, YOU--may not want to read. This is a big spoiler. A BIG SPOILER, goddammit! It's already been talked about around the intrawebs a bit, but some of you may not have seen those conversations. Perhaps some of you did, and didn't believe it. Or didn't want to believe it. Well, I'm going to tell you the truth. So if you want to witness it with a virgin mind, go back to your porn or social networking or whatever it is you do on your computer. For everyone else, here it goes.


There has been talk of a certain actor making a cameo as a certain character. It is 100% true...kinda.

Last chance to bail. No?

Arnold Schwarzenegger (I spelled that right without even looking! Go me!) reprises his role as the T-800, but not in the way people would expect. Because of his political duties, Arnie had a very limited amount of time to contribute. Like none. So, instead of having him act out a part, they did a full 3D model of his face, and the filmmakers applied it to Roland Kickinger's body. This allowed Arnold to take his rightful place once more, and in a much younger body as well. Surprisingly, it looked really, really good.

I was aware that it could be coming, and when it finally happened, I geeked out a little bit.

So that's pretty much it. My review. Non-spoiled with a side of spoilers. I do recommend seeing it. Again, I just want to remind you: it's different than what we're used to, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. And hey, we can always go back and watch the originals.

/3:40 AM

Update: I think it's only fair that I should post a link to Harry's review since I brought it up during the course of my own article. Also, I just read it in it's entirety, and although he does have some valid points, I still think it's better than he gives it credit for. Especially since Terminator Salvation isn't meant to be the end of the franchise.

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