Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Terminator: Salvation

 
 
Review by Eoin O'Faolain

 

(WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.)

 

I remember back in high school when my friends and I “discovered” cinema after watching Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. We were so besotted by Tarantino’s pop-culture sensibilities that we grasped onto his world by attempting to write sequels to Reservoir Dogs.  (Regrettably, none were option by Hollywood studios.)  And since

the advent of the Internet, the concept of fan-fiction has found and a home and even some form of acceptance. Every major film and book has spurred writing from people who want to keep that world alive, but mostly just generate status-quo-maintaining slop. Yet you can’t criticise it for its lack of innovation, as it doesn’t aspire to be anything beyond someone’s fantasy. You can however, criticise it when it’s given $150 million and continues one of cinema’s most potent franchises, which is exactly what Terminator: Salvation is.

The most defining aspect of fan-fiction is that it usually tries to generate new stories but without having to alter the characters or environment so much as to disrupt the feel of the source material. And this is done by having a new scenario but recreating the defining moments of the original. So on to McG’s vision of Terminator: Salvation, the first Terminator film to be set in the future, during the war between men and machines. The film attempts to scare with a batch of new and unseen machines, from the skeletal robots seen previously, to giant harvester robots and tiny water-based snake-like bots, and even motorbike robots (more on that later). But what strikes you about the film is how deeply un-ambitious it is, especially later into the film. As our hero John Connor (Christian Bale) finds himself deep in Skynet territory, escaping a terminator factory, he finds himself being chased around. The scene almost completely recreates the climax of the original Terminator movie, with Kyle Reese being chased around a robotics factory. The metal foot ascending the grated steps, the metal bar as a weapon, it all feels like we’ve seen it before. And there’s also a molten lava scene as well, just like in the climax of T2: Judgment Day.

Salvation also commits the cardinal sin of a sequel in not being faithful to the internal logic of its original. As a comparison, look at what happened to the Alien franchise. The first two films painted the “xenomorphs” as so deadly that once you saw them, you’re as good as dead. The sequels ruined this by showing us too much and having the aliens pause for a dramatic moment, often leaving the hero to escape. T:S does the same. The machines in the first two films were terrifying, because they were not only relentless but also very, very deadly. You’d be dead before you knew what had happened. In T:S the machines are very un-machine like. In one early scene a terminator crawls after John Connor (T1, anyone?), but once it catches up with him, it decides to swat him away and crawl after him again. The same thing happens several times later in the film, where a pursuing machine bats away John instead of being a logical machine and just grabbing him and crushing his fragile human skull. There are ways for creating tension without corrupting the sense of danger that made the originals so great, so it’s a big let-down to see T:S ignore its own logic just to extend an action scene a bit more. And why… why on earth would Skynet create Terminator motorbikes? They’re unbalanced, so easily defeated with a length of rope or any sort of object. It makes you realise they only exist to please McG’s motorbike fetish rather than stem from the mind of a deadly and downright scary machine that wants to obliterate humanity.

The actions scenes in the film also fall foul to this disassociation from reality. In the original films the action never felt contrived, yet managed to be explosive and exciting. In T:S the film takes too many steps beyond believability. Some of the action sequences (such as the harvester assault at the gas station) are good, but often ruined by such contrivances. A truck’s winch hook manages to catch a flying machine. Marcus, the real lead character, flies off a bridge and manages to land on a flying aircraft. It’s these kinds of contrivances that take us away from the possibilities of this being a real world, and deeper into the realm of video games, which are fun but lack the resonance to make us truly care.

And speaking of caring, the plot does more than enough to make the moments between the big explosion feel drawn out and boring. John Connor is reduced to one long scowl, and Christian Bale gives the worst, most unvaried performance of his career. The main story is one of a hybrid Terminator that acts as an infiltrator, and the film attempts to hide this despite giving it away for the very first scene. Sam Worthington, who plays the outsider Marcus, is slightly better than Bale but fails to make us truly care about the atrocity committed to his body and soul. But the plot is flimsy, at times baffling (Skynet creates a conscious being because that’s the best way to infiltrate the humans, but knows that person will lead them to it- but if it was that wise why would it need to create such an infiltrator in the first place?), and it certainly feels that neither the writer nor the director really cared that much. The characters are nondescript and non-existent. Bryce Dallas Howard appears as John Connor’s wife, but her role has no function. For eye-candy there’s Moon Bloodgood as the tough-cookie who betrays her fellow man for a just reason, yet we’re never given time to justify her decision or understand her. And of course there’s the cute kid to appeal to those who fit the 12A rating.

To be fair to McG, director of such classics as Charlie’s Angels 1 and 2, the fault of the film certainly feels to be at script level. There’s no ambition to deepen the story of man versus machine, just a feeble connection between action scenes. And while McG does hold back on his MTV-aesthetic, and opt for bleak metallic colour tones and a dark mood, even as a summer blockbuster the action isn’t particularly memorable, and as said before, it owes a lot to the original films and doesn’t even strive to take the franchise in new directions. And so, Terminator: Salvation is indeed fan-fiction, merely a rehash of what the Terminator films once were, but in replicating those moments, it renders itself as a film useless, and without doubt it’ll be the biggest disappointment of the summer.

 

2 / 5 stars

 

 
   

Review by Mark Lengieza

You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of the Terminator series than myself.  Terminator 2: Judgment Day was my all time favorite film for the vast majority of my life, only recently supplanteed by The Dark Knight.  It is an absolutely astounding piece of cinema.  From the story, to the effects, to the characters, to the dialogue, it made me fall in love with the series forever.

Then came Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, a completely forgettable chance to capitalize on the franchise name.  I don’t even like to acknowledge it as a part of the series.  It had absolutely nothing in it that was memorable or could even be remotely considered on the level of the first two films.  It was entirely unnecessary.

So when I heard that they were making a fourth film in the franchise, I wasn’t too excited about it.  The television show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, was pretty much garbage as well.  I was all ready to just say the story died at the second film and there was nothing more to it.

However, when I saw the trailer I was instantly hooked.  I was hoping that this would be a “Salvation” indeed.  Christian Bale as John Connor was even more of a reason to get excited because he rarely makes a film that isn’t amazing.  I was definitely ready to see this film, despite having doubts about its director, McG.  Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a full-scale resurrection of the awesomeness of the first two, but I definitely feel it was a good movie.

A lot of people will say that the film was bad.  That the story was weak, that Bale’s performance was comedic and it was nothing more than a stupid silly action flick.  I disagree with them, sort of.  I absolutely enjoyed the film for what it was.  It was not on the level of the first two, but I don’t think it was really trying to be.  The third movie failed because it used the same formula of the first two and couldn’t pull it off.  This film shows us a totally different story, different timeline, and different approach.  What we are witnessing is the war.  It should be an action-packed ride.

But the story wasn’t even bad.  It was broken up a lot by action sequences through the first half of the film, but over the second half it flowed nicely.  The ending of the film had me riveted.  Christian Bale was pretty over-the-top, and I really think the man just needs a better actor or a good director to keep him in check, which he didn’t have here.  I feel like he was just given free reign and he abused it.

Sam Worthington on the other hand, as Marcus Wright, was exceptional in his role.  The film is really about him, and not John Connor.  I assume we will get more into Connor’s (and Kyle Reese’s) characters in future installments if they get made.  But it was the Marcus Wright character is what made this such an enjoyable film for me. 

I can certainly say, as a huge fan of the series, it was a good film.  Nothing too special, not on the level of its predecessors, but it accomplishes what it set out to do.  For any fan of pure action, it completely delivers.  It even has a few references to its predecessors (like the “You Could Be Mine” playing as Connor rides a motorcycle that I thought was outstanding). 

4 / 5 stars

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