Review: TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)


RATING: 3/5

When Halcyon Company greenlit a new, proposed TERMINATOR trilogy a year ago, I was pretty much skeptical how the franchise is going to work out especially since Arnold Schwarzenegger has no longer involved leading the cast as the iconic T-800 character whatsoever. With Schwarzenegger already quit showbiz and concentrating on politic running as Governor of California, the TERMINATOR franchise (at least at the fanboys' perspective) looks might as well -- dead


 
Whatever the circumstances is, the company gives it a get-go anyway and the result is TERMINATOR SALVATION. Instead of repeating the same formula previously told in THE TERMINATOR (1984), TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) and TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003) -- where all three films focusing on a plot set in present day with only a few glimpses of the dark future, this fourth entry sees writer John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris and David Campbell Wilson are smart enough to move forward with a rather fresh approach on concentrating the aftermath of the Judgment Day (which is previously shown at the end of TERMINATOR 3). 
It begins with a brief prologue circa 2003, where condemned prisoner Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is about to be executed at the Longview State Correctional Facility. But before his execution, his cancer-stricken doctor, Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), who works for Cyberdyne Systems, attempts to convince him to donate his body for a scientific purpose. Even though he isn't really looking for a second chance, Marcus signs the consent form anyway since he has nothing else to lose. Cut forward to the year 2018, we learn that the world is already in the brink of mass destruction as man and machine are at war. The now grown-up adult, resistance fighter John Connor (Christian Bale) is leading a raid to battle against the Skynet. On the other side, there is Marcus, reappear somewhere in the wasteland. He suffer from a memory loss and tries hard to figure out where he has been for over a decade until he runs into a teenage warrior Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and mute kid Star (Jadagrace). They both subsequently teams up together to fight for their survival against the killing machines everywhere. When word spreads from the radio that the people of the resistance are gathering together to take on Skynet headquarters, the three of them set out to find the transmitter -- which is none others than John Connor, unknowingly Kyle's future son. 
When McG was announced as the director of this fourth entry, critics and fans are quick to condemn that the studio has making a huge mistake. It's not hard to blame them anyway, since McG's track record isn't favorable at all, especially how he has single-handedly ruined his career and reputation he previously helmed the ultimately trashy and forgettable CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE (2003). In fact, it wasn't a walk in the park on bringing TERMINATOR SALVATION into fruitation at all. First and foremost, it was difficult to cast Christian Bale in the lead role, who reportedly not fancied working with McG at the first place especially after feeling dissatisfied over the lackluster script he has read. In a return for favor, McG agrees to Bale he brought in Christopher Nolan's brother, Jonathan, who previously worked with Bale before in last year's mega-successful THE DARK KNIGHT to re-tool the existing screenplay. Then more are brought in to doctor the screenplay further, which is includes Paul Haggis and TV's CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker. 
But for all the hard effort McG is attempting here, it's pretty ironic what is shown in the final product is different from what most might expect in the first place. What you see in the screen instead is a rather minimal plot that sadly recycled the same old theme previously dominated in the first three TERMINATOR trilogy. Whether this is a cause of studio interference is really anybody's guess because the plot, which could have been better, is really disappointing. 
The cast, in the meantime, are also surprisingly lackluster, especially Christian Bale himself who seems like a fussy actor wanted to make a great role for himself. But on screen, it's a totally different story -- his John Connor role is nothing more than an one-dimensional character. More than often, he doesn't require acting much other than repeating his same old trademark tortured growl and believe it or not, his supposedly pivotal role is disappointedly felt like second fiddle. Much of the rest of the cast are wasted, with talented actors like Bryce Dallas Howard and Helena Bonham Carter are all appeared in thankless roles. Despite a couple of uneven performances all around, there are still several notable exceptions: relatively unknown, Aussie-born Sam Worthington steals the show from everyone else as Marcus Wright. With an idealistic build and a bad-ass attitude to boot, Worthington's no-nonsense performance is energetic enough to make him the next action icon for future to come. Fresh from a memorable performance as the often hilarious Chekov in STAR TREK earlier this summer, Anton Yelchin excels again in an important role as the young Kyle Reese. As the pilot Blair Williams, Moon Bloodgood is suitably tough and fetching enough to fit herself nicely against his male counterparts. 
As for McG, I was really surprised he has changed a lot after all these years of bad reputation he has to endure. Clearly as a director, he really knows how to use his camera. Together with cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, he has created some of the most exhilarating action set pieces ever made that seamlessly blend with cutting-edge special effects. Among the highlights is the well-staged battlefield helicopter crash sequence, where McG shoots almost in the first-person perspective, given the kinetic aura of a true adrenalin-rush. The other one is a high-octane chase sequence in the highway against a bunch of cool-looking and deadly Mototerminators, which lead to a breathless run-in on a narrow bridge, is one hell of an ultimate cinematic experience an especially must-see in the theaters. 
All the technical works are top-notch, with Danny Elfman's pulse-pounding score and McG has certainly make great use of the mammoth $200-million budget to create a dark, grim vision of a destructive landscape that is perfectly captured in gun-metal palette. Being a die-hard fan himself, he doesn't forget to pay tribute to the past three TERMINATOR films, especially the obligatory borrowing of some of the most famous catchphrases ("Come with me if you want to live", “I'll be back" and many more). 
On the plus note, stay tuned for the climatic battle sequence in the Skynet headquarters where John Connor faces against none others than the surprise cameo of a CGI version of Arnold Schwarzenegger (though look a bit fake, especially shown in close-up) which is certainly a blast for die-hard fans.
As a summer movie extravaganza, TERMINATOR SALVATION has certainly fits the bill and this is definitely a bright step ahead for the once-condemned McG as a great action director to look for. Sad thing is, there are still more room for improvement in term of plotting and characterization, and one is hoping if the fifth installment ever get made (depending on this film's box-office performance), it can be better.

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