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May 21, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: Terminator Salvation

The first Terminator film introduced us to a woman named Sarah Connor. We were told that her son, John, would grow up to be a freedom fighter against a futuristic army of robots hellbent on destroying all mankind. We were also introduced to a mysterious man, sent from the future to protect her from one of the aforementioned evil robots, and we would later learn that he would turn out to be the father of this as-yet-unborn son. So she was saddled not only with the knowledge of a bleak future for humans, but with the responsibility of keeping her son alive so that he might live long enough to send someone back in time to save her and ensure his own existence. Heavy stuff - it's no wonder she was thought to be crazy.

It is, however, somewhat of a wonder that that story spawned three additional films and one TV show. With a larger budget and enhanced special effects (and seven years in which to come up with the story), it wasn't a big surprise that T2 ended up, in most, respects, a better film than its predecessor. Similarly, with a mid-50s Schwarzenneger, no other stars and the source authors uninvolved, it came as no great shock that Terminator 3 failed to keep audiences involved with the story. Which makes the success of Terminator Salvation downright amazing, especially to someone like me that was essentially uninterested in the franchise after the second film - after all, how much juice could there be in this story? There were really only three human characters that had any importance to begin with, and with one out of the picture (mother Sarah), what's left to tell?

You may or may not have noticed that on the above poster (and in the opening credits), star Christian Bale shares top billing with another actor. It's Sam Worthington, and before you say "Who?" as I might have, you ought to see the film. Turns out Sam's the star of this film after all, and the main reason the film works as well as it does. This takes nothing away from Bale, who gives a fine performance - this just isn't his story. This one is about Worthington's Marcus Wright, a character that does some time-travelling of his own (in a manner of speaking), and who ends up teaching Connor and the rest of the resistance fighters more about humanity than they had learned in all of their previous years fighting against the machines.

As with seemingly every reboot/sequel/remake we've seen over the past few years, Salvation does an excellent job of melding fresh material with winks and nods to the glory of yesterday's films. Bits and pieces of all three prior Terminators make their way into this one, and this is the second film of the summer set in the future that features a heavy rotation of 90s alt-rock hits (Star Trek featured the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" for no good reason other than it's a kickass song that kind of fit the mood of the scene). Director McG lays off the heavy-handed dread of T2 and Rise of the Machines and also does well by not making this the fourth Terminator film to be little more than a two-hour chase sequence. Which isn't to say that there aren't chase scenes or other action set pieces galore - after all, that is the bread and butter of the series. But by cutting down on the "been there, done that" factor while at the same time hearkening back to the themes of what made T2 work so well, he's made an engaging, thoughtful action flick that stands proudly alongside the first two films.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"

Random leftover thoughts:

* How great is it to have Michael Ironside back in a top-notch action flick. I feel like it's 1989 all over again. Sure, he doesn't have that much screen time, but a little bit of him has always gone a long way, anyhow. I surely enjoyed his presence.

* Should Common just change his name to "Fiercely Loyal Black Sidekick?" I hate to reduce him to that, as I think he's capable of being much more, but I don't think I'm the one doing the reducing. With this, Wanted, and Smoking Aces already showcasing this role on his limited resume, it's clear that he needs to pick his scripts a little more carefully, no matter how big budget they may be.

* Mild spoiler: loved the handling and execution of the fake Arnold. Not only did they bring in a guy that has played Arnold in a made-for-TV movie to be the body (Roland Kickinger), but they did a better job of faking his face than the X-Men folks did making Professor X younger, all the while having Patrick Stewart on set.

* Milder spoiler: Did we really need the mute black child? Sure, have the kid, but why mute? On the other hand, at least they didn't make her miraculously talk at any point, as that would've been really lame.

* That helicopter crash sequence early on felt really unnecessary, but at the same time, it was filmed pretty fandamntasically. One instance of style winning out over substance.

* Here's how much I avoid press these days for big budget films that I plan on seeing (though even I couldn't escape the knowledge that Arnold was gonna be in this): I had no idea Helena Bonham Carter had a role. Good job by the producers at getting some acting heavyweights (her, Bale, Bryce Dallas Howard, for starters) on board. Though Moon Bloodgood didn't exactly blow me away at times.

16 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Terminator Salvation"

The Peoples Program said...

I think that Bale can carry the series in Arnold's absence. I am looking very forward to seeing it.

Craig said...

I saw it last night and thought it was very average. It had the action, effects, fun, but no story, no substance, was very mediocre. Bale was too raspy, needs to leave off the Dark Knight voice. Worthington was the real charm here, he will become a name soon. Don't have high hopes for this trilogy after seeing this movie. Here is my video review of the movie if you have any interest. http://themoviebanter.com/2009/05/22/snap-video-review-of-terminator-salvation/

RIPE Creative said...

I just kept wondering ... is THIS the scene where Bale screams at the poor director of photography?

Corey said...

I wonder if this movie seriously lives up to the expectation. Cause I quite did not find it.

Fletch said...

Craig and Corey - I don't know what to tell you. Perhaps it's because I went in with lower expectations, but I found it to be a solid actioner, one that might not be as rejuvenating as Star Trek, but is still a solid addition to the franchise.

RIPE - yeah, I'm still wondering that, too. Everything I read and see just says that it was during a "tense" scene...but that could describe any number of scenes.

THN said...

Imagine what would have happened if the producers went with O.J. Simpson as originally intended.

I missed T3, but plan on catching this. Did they leave in the scene where Bale yells at an extra? That would be awesome.

Adam Frazier said...

Definitely better than Terminator 3, but that's not saying a whole hell of a lot.

It just didn't feel like Terminator to me - but I agree, the Arnold segment was great.

My review is up

David Bishop said...

I'm never objective when Terminator is concerned. I loved all three movies and the TV series.

I loved Terminator Salvation, but what else can you expect from somebody who went to a midnight show even after the bad reviews came flooding in.

I'm just happy to see you didn't tear it a new one. I can totally accept a pretty good rating.

Fletch said...

David - no tearing of new ones here.

I can get people not loving Salvation, but I don't get how it has a worse score at RT than Wolverine. The two aren't even comparable in my book; Wolverine was pure crap and Salvation was solid if unspectacular.

Fitz said...

I've found it entertaining to browse the web and see all the negative reviews for Terminator Salvation. Honestly, I enjoyed it. I may have almost enjoyed it more than Star Trek, which I had a lot of fun with but thought was flawed in a few ways. And it's great to hear Danny Elfman rising to the challenge and delivering a cool, modern soundtrack.

So thanks for the positive review. I was beginning to think I was in the minority. :)

Fletch said...

Thanks, Fitz. "I was beginning to think I was in the minority." Apparently, we are indeed in the minority. What shocks me, aside from seeing the number of people panning it, is the vitriol that they're doing it with. I don't see where the hate is coming from; the only element that I thought was lame was the squeezing of "I'll be back" into it, but that had more to do with the execution than the idea of doing it in the first place.

Reel Whore said...

Let me throw in my hat as a hater. Well, not a hater but a stern disliker of T4. From that initial setup to the mute child to the Kate's crazy belts, I was just uninterested in anything anyone was saying or doing.

Then Arnold showed up. It felt like he was introduced more to win over T1 fans than to fine tune the story, but either way my enjoyment jumped by leaps and bounds.

There felt like a lot of story missing. Maybe watching the unrated DVD will clear things up.

need coffee said...

after Terminator Salvation, i count a total of three choices in the Christian Bale voice arsenal: his normal voice (with a lisp), Broadway singer (Newsies) and hoarse tough guy (Batman and Terminator)

Dmitrii said...

i was so depressed due to the fact that i was so hyped about this movie and it just sucked...wait for the dvd to watch it .. also is it me or did christian bale whisper through the whole movie

Luxlucky said...

I went to see Salvation because I was in the mood for being nostalgic, but this movie did not hold a candle to the first or second. Christian Bale was a turn off in my opinion (specially with the whole speech impediment)and his character, along with the supporting characters, are very one dimensional, all they do is stand around listening to bail whine about how if his father gets killed then he himself would never exist. uh hello!

Sam Worthington stole the show though, too bad they killed the character at the end, to prolong John's life. Which is a waste of a good spin off movie.

I also liked how the digitally enhanced Arnold showed up towards the conflict ending.

over all though, it was not worth going to a theater, maybe it is worth waiting for a cable release at best.

dmitrii said...

First thing's First-The Movie is for Hardcore Terminator Fans, Action Movie Fans & Starters of this series & Genre. I don't see why the movie is getting such bad reviews from people because in my opinion its an excellent movie with only some errors in it. The movie remains faithful to Terminator series. Christian Bale & Sam Worthington did an excellent job in portraying their respective characters. Some will think that the movie lacks soul because Arnold is no there but does he. You will have a surprise seeing this movie. It contained some good action scenes. I wont compare it with T2 but it is as good as the 1st one. So people don't go with the negative reviews and watch this movie with great gusto, u will not get bored..