Terminator Salvation

By Clint Morris

If “Terminator Salvation” were a cyborg straight off the design floor, I’d send it back – because it clearly isn’t functioning right.

And I’m not the only one that’s holding a pitch-fork – you only have to read some of the reviews on my colleague’s websites to see it ain’t the most popular pic in town at the moment. It’s also , I hear, the unspoken title around Warner’s Burbank campus this week. The psychopathic child who murdered the dog. You’ll be hard-pressed finding anyone who hasn’t walked out of the film and considered buying a cheap packet of razors at the nearest 7-Eleven. It’s all rather-depressing… which could be why I’m swigging Vodka as I write.

It’s been three months since a friend of mine caught the film at the very-first preview of the film (At the time the Arnold cameo wasn’t finished and Linda Hamilton narrated the film but didn’t lend her voice to the ‘tapes’, as she does now) and let me quietly know (but begging me, as most lucky enough to attend such screenings do, not to run “anything on it about Moviehole”) that I should probably lower my expectations. “It’s OK”, I remember him/her saying. “It’s a good action movie. Nothing more”.

Considering she/he’s usually much kinder to films than I am, that wasn’t a good sign.

What should’ve been one of the meatiest and most exciting science fiction spectacles of the year is instead no more exciting than, well, an episode of TVs ”Sarah Connor Chronicles”. Actually that’s an insult to TSCC – that show had some heart, this one’s chest is devoid of anything readable by an ECG.

Take that classic scene from Jim Cameron’s timeless masterpiece “Terminator 2 : Judgment Day” (1991) of the T-1000 chasing down the T-800 and John Connor on their bike in the sewers, loop it to play over-and-over for two hours, and that’s essentially what you’ve got here. Sure, it’s entertaining to watch for a while – but gets old pretty fuckin’ quick. Everyone likes a side with their meat.

The fourth in a series of terrific B-movies kicked of by genre master Cameron, “Salvation” plays like a series of ho-hum deleted scenes from the previous movies spliced together. Either that or something you’d find on the Sci-Fi Channel. And though the film does seem to get its point across, you’ll be hard pressed trying to remember the finer details of the storyline the next day – because, quite frankly, there aren’t any. This is the result of two hacks reading ‘Make a War Movie for Dummies’ front-to-back before loading up Final Draft.

tposterInstead of serving up a terrific action movie that’s as much about the characters as it is about the calamity, screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato (“Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines”, “Catwoman” – Yes, why the hell were they hired in the first place given their previous credits!?) have delivered a fairly standard action-pic script that’s not so much ‘Terminator’ as it is just your token, run-of-the-mill, futuristic thriller – albeit one bloody messy one. You don’t care about the characters, there are no real surprises (there would’ve been one, had the ending not been changed at the 11th hour), and you’ll just keep holding out hope that they’ve kept Schwarzenegger’s role a secret, having him reveal himself half-way thru.

And just as bad is Danny ‘The Simpsons’ Elfman’s music score – it’s weak, unmemorable and doesn’t pack anywhere near as punch as Brad Fiedel’s legendary cues (which is heard twice – not enough if you ask me – throughout this movie) from the previous films. Why they didn’t just stick to the original is beyond me. From the moment the movie starts, and that underwheming score kicks in, you just lose all hope. Or most hope.

Having said that, director McG (the film’s wildcard – and the one everyone assumed would fuck this thing up) does the best he can with the material (material supposedly polished by “Dark Knight” writer Jonathan Nolan; don’t see any proof of that here) by squeezing as much juice from the narrative, and trailer-ready action sequences, as he can. Its obvious the “Charlie’s Angels” helmer wanted to make the best film possible here – and though his team let him down, he can sleep knowing he did his best.

But effort does not make the movie – as is the case here. There’s no way around it, this is a cheesy (the dialogue is atrocious!), messy (it’s no more than a series of unconnected scenes meshed together), dull dud.

One of the weakest aspects of the film is its star. Bale, though appropriately intense and interesting to watch, isn’t as good here as he was in the Batman films. Again, its probably because of the way Connor’s written – there’s just no arc to him. The resistance leader should’ve (as he did in the original draft) remained a supporting character, because his character seems to be taking its cue from a rusty bike – it just doesn’t move. In fact, all he seems to do is yell and scream down a walkie-talkie. We also still don’t know why he’s become this big-time legendary hero – there’s nothing here to suggest he’s not just a self appointed team-leader who possesses the same skills and knowledge as everyone else fighting for the cause.

When Bale was first asked to come onboard “Salvation” it was for the character of Marcus. And though the role of Connor was minuscule at the time – he was a secretive resistance leader heard mostly through walkie-talkies, appearing only briefly near the film’s end – that was the role that intrigued Bale. Alas, Connor was promoted to a lead character… whether it was to the benefit of the film or not.

Sam Worthington’s character, that of the ‘Data’-esque Marcus, has a bigger arc, and as a consequence, is much more pleasurable to follow. In fact, the only weak aspect of Worthington’s turn here is the awful dialogue he has to spit out. And maybe his character’s corny, altruistic conclusion. Otherwise, this is a good turn for the next-big-thing from downunder.

Same with Anton Yelchin’s Kyle Reese, who’s at least got ‘something’ to do here (albeit not half-as-much as he had to do in the original script). If Reese had more to do in the second act he could probably have saved the move entirely. Maybe.

Not only is it interesting to see the evolution (even if there’s not much an arc) of the Reese character, but Yelchin gives a remarkable performance – OK, yes, he mimics Biehn, but he also adds his own spin to an extent too. It’s a really impressive turn. And I believe a very interesting character – pity the writers didn’t feel the same way. What a waste.

The rest of the support cast – Moon Bloodgood (sorta this decade’s Tia Carrere), Bryce Dallas-Howard, Common, Michael Ironside (!) – are also giving it their best, but again, the writing lets them down. Nobody has much to do, the least of which genre-favourite Ironside, who’s as wasted as a back-alley hobo here. And don’t even get me started on the psychic kid (?) ‘Star’, played by Jadagrace. What the fuck is she even doing there!? Does she have a purpose in this film, or is she a last-minute tack-on at the request of the toy department!?

And surely that wasn’t Helena Bonham-Carter in the thankless role of the doctor? Really? What the hell was she thinking!? (I’m assuming Danny Elfman – a close friend of her husbands – roped her into it). Wasn’t Olivia Williams available!?

And had the current cut not have been butchered you would’ve also seen next-big-thing Terry Crews – who appeared in the film’s original opening sequence (you can see his lifeless body behind Connor at the start of the film) as Common’s brother. Crews, the former pro footballer cum star of “Street Kings” and “White Chicks”, was out plugging the film only a few months back before going noticeably quiet. Obviously, he was let know he didn’t make the final cut.

And though you will raise a smile when Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his much-talked-about blink-and-you’ll-miss-him-cameo as the T-800 (Roland Kickinger is the body, Schwarzenegger’s head has been CGI’ed on top of it), it still isn’t enough to spur you to jump on your feet and scream “More!” towards the screen when the movie ends. (And for the record, good job ILM – but there’s something still a little Atari about the whole scene).

So, the question everyone’s asking is ‘Is it better than Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines”? Well, yes, I guess it is – if only because it doesn’t feel like the TV pilot that Jonathan Mostow’s film did. At the same time though, that movie had Schwarzenegger – and whatever way this movie fell, he was always going to be missed. He was, and will forever be, the Terminator. And if this film doesn’t do as well at the box office as predicted, Arnold’s absence will no doubt be one of the reasons named the film didn’t succeed.

This, the first in three ‘proposed’ new films centering on Connor-the-War-Hero, isn’t as useless as a bloody tampon – but it’s definitely not the epic blockbuster we were hoping for either. Side-by-side with other disappointing sequels of recent years, It scrubs up better than Brett Ratner’s wrist-slashing “X-Men : The Last Stand,”, as well as the uber-depressing “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, and both of those dire “Aliens Vs. Predator” movies , but probably isn’t any better than “Alien Resurrection” (which, for what it’s worth, I don’t think was as bad as most made it out to be), “The Punisher War Zone” or the recent “Angels & Demons”. In fact,, those films might be better.

Can Connor order Kyle Reese to travel back in time and kill writers before they’re hired for the job?

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