Saturday, May 23, 2009

Terminator Salvation (***)

Terminator Salvation.  117 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by McG.  Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris.  Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Those looking for a decent story, interesting characters, and a quiet night out at the movies should avoid the latest Terminator like the plague.  It'd be easy to dismiss McG's take on James Cameron's classic as just another loud, dumb summer action movie.  Too easy, in fact, because that's exactly what it is.  

Picking up after the judgment day that unfolded at the end of Terminator 3, Salvation spends its time following two characters.  There's the grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale) leading the few human survivors in a war against the machines that are out to terminate them, while trying to keep future pop Kyle Reese (Star Trek's Anton Yelchin) alive.  And then there's new guy Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a former death row inmate who joins the Resistance, and may have more in common with the machines than he thinks.  I'd say spoiler alert, but the trailer for Terminator Salvation gives away the one major plot point that's actually interesting in the movie.  As if taking a cue from Battlestar Galatica and its human-looking cylons, Marcus is, well, I think you can figure it out from here.  As Hollywood's next "It" actor, Worthington does a fine job as Marcus, a character who gets a great deal more screen time than Bale's Connor.  Bale is focused and intense right from the get-go, and never really varies from those two characteristics.  His take on John Connor is perfunctory - not flashy, not overdone, but definitely dull.  

The story is, to put it kindly, weak, and when there's no action on screen, the movie just flatlines.  All that being said, the action here is pretty sweet.  The centerpiece of the movie, and the best part, is a ten-minute long chase scene involving a giant Transformer-like Harvester robot and the little motorcycle robots that spring off it.  I was reminded of The Road Warrior during that scene, and, for my money, that's never a bad thing.  Despite being hamstrung by a lackluster script, McG infuses all the action sequences with a smart, clutter-free visual style and plenty of explosions.  The special effects and cinematography are great - the movie looks awesome, and the sound effects and sound editing are Oscar-worthy even though no other part of this movie even comes close.  The whiz-bang-wow factor on Terminator Salvation is high.  A lot of money was spent and it shows.  It's no classic, and if you're not already a fan of the Terminator films, this one isn't going to convert you.  Heck - it may even turn off Terminator fans. Salvation is definitely the weakest of the four, but the action is top notch, and if you like your movies big, loud, and dumb, dig in.



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