Terminator triumph or travesty?: Latest John Conner action flick has fans debating movie's merits

Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2009

'Terminator Salvation'

Warner Bros. Pictures

2 hours, 10 minutes

While I try not to read any full-length reviews of movies that I'm going to see and later review myself, I do like to monitor various movie Web sites and see what's new and what's coming. You might imagine that the film geeks have been fired up this summer. The nerds are buzzing, first negatively for "Wolverine," then with almost ecstatic glee for "Star Trek." This week's "Terminator Salvation" has caused a bit of a rift, with about half hooraying a new generation and the other jealously clutching their Swarzenegger action figures and grumbling about travesty and sacrilege.

I could kind of understand the fervor over "Wolverine," since I was a fan of the comic way back when, and "Star Trek" has become a cultural touchstone, but to be honest, it's hard for me to work up to much emotion over "Terminator." There've been three previous films and they were all successful on different levels. The first is a triumph of relatively low-budget filmmaking and interesting as the introduction of the future governor of California.

The second is a triumph of big-budget filmmaking and interesting as the introduction of computer graphics as a major component of a movie. I really like "T2: Judgement Day," as it's an all-out gigantic spectacle of an action movie, but the kid is pretty annoying, and there are too many cutesy moments between him and Swarzenegger. Both of these films were directed by James "I'm King of the World" Cameron, and made his career.

The third movie, "T3: Rise of the Machines" is basically forgettable beyond having the guts to end with a nuclear holocaust that wipes out most of humanity. Aside from that, it's essentially a less interesting remake of "T2." I liked it OK, but I haven't been moved to seek it out since it was in theaters.

Essentially, the series as a whole revolves around a future war between mankind and a race of machines run by a giant network called Skynet. At some point in the future, Skynet, some kind of Defense Department experiment, gains sentience, decides that humans are its enemy, and nukes the heck out of them. Then it starts an assembly line of Terminators, mobile killing machines, to hunt down what's left of humanity and finish them off.

Somehow, time travel enters into it, and both sides, man and machine, start sending agents into the past to try and knock off, or save, depending on your allegiance, one John Conner, a man who will, presumably, save mankind in the future. It's all a little confusing, and doesn't really hold up to serious scrutiny, but made for a couple of fun action flicks. That's me, but for some this is very serious stuff. Cameron's word is gospel and the level of emotion being invested in the further adventures of John Conner is more than a little silly.

Part four, "Terminator Salvation," begins in 2018, after the man/machine war has gotten ramped up, but prior to any time traveling escapades. Conner, played here by Christian Bale, is a general in the rebellion, not yet the leader, despite his cult following for having been targeted by the machines three times previous. It's a rough war and difficult to coordinate with the Skynet satellite overhead monitoring every move the humans make.

Conner, who supposedly knows all about the future from his mother who fought the Terminators in movies one and two, is confused because things seem to be going in a different direction (sacrilege!). Enter one Marcus Wright, a convicted murderer from the 90s who wakes up to find that he's not quite the man he used to be. Conner, Wright, and scrappy teenager Kyle Reese, who will later go back in time to be John Conner's father (don't worry, it doesn't really make much sense) must find a way to infiltrate the machine headquarters and isolate a signal from Skynet that will break its control of the vast machine army. Will it work, or is it an elaborate trap? And while you're pondering that, ask yourself whether the metal rendering on the endoskeletal metacarpals of the T800 model Terminator are to the proper proportion as they were presented in "T2," or is this whole project just revisionist crap?

Personally, I found "Salvation" to be a fun, if somewhat mindless, summer action flick, though I'm not sure why it required an actor of the pedigree of Christian Bale. Just like "Batman," there's not a lot of acting to be done, beyond a lot of grimacing and yelling. He's actually a brilliant performer, but there's nothing here to showcase that.

The rest of the crew are just fine for a film like this. As ex-convict Marcus Wright, Aussie Sam Worthington is entirely unconvincing as a Texan but very convincing as a brawler. Director McG is a pretty serviceable director -- the "Charlie's Angels" movies were fun if silly, and "We Are Marshall," was great.

With "Terminator" he carries gamely on and sets things up nicely for what is reported to be a trilogy. For serious "Terminator" fans, I suppose there're lots of moments to argue about -- John Conner's scar, robot vulnerabilities, etc. -- but sometimes it's best not to look too deeply.

"Salvation" is an adequate continuation in an adequate series of films. The fact that said series just happened to have launched the careers of two of the most powerful men in Hollywood doesn't change the fact that it's really all about a bunch of robots with guns -- and teeth, for some reason. What does a robot need with teeth?

If you can't answer that question, then just sit back, enjoy the car chases and explosions, and forget the rest.

Grade: B

"Terminator Salvation" is rated PG-13 for battle violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us