Saturday, May 23, 2009

Terminator Salvation


"Everyone deserves a second chance," is the lesson of "Terminator Salvation."

They didn't, however, say anything about a fourth.

The Terminator," of course, was the first low-budget, high-concept success of James Cameron. It launched Cameron's career, and made a star of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The sequel—"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was an amazing recapitulation and expansion of themes, offered amazing stunt-work, cutting edge computer effects and was, if anything, even more entertaining than the first film. At the time, the most expensive film ever made, it still managed to make a healthy profit for its makers. You couldn't kill these Terminator things.

But while Cameron expanded his horizons and Schwarzenegger became a super-star, no more "Terminator" movies were made. Cameron seemed no longer interested (although he and Schwarzenegger teamed up for the clunky spy flick "True Lies").

I didn't see "
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (which featured Schwarzenegger's final Termination before launching his political career), but the current one is helmed by the worst director extant—McG—who, like a lot of today's directors would be hard-pressed to direct a movie if his camera couldn't move, and whose "Charlie's Angels" movies were not-very-funny bimbo-fications that barely held together (actually they didn't hold together). Surprisingly, he manages to maintain a fairly straight tone for this fourth "Terminator" film, which focuses on the humans' battles against Skynet with an adult John Connor (Christian Bale).

"Terminator Salvation." They should have called it "Terminator Salvage," as most of the good ideas have been used and are recycled into a feature length version of every visualization of those battles (complete with requisite skull-crushing underfoot) seen in the previous films.

But, look at the cast, like Cameron's original design a mix of A-list and B-movie actors: Bale,** Michael Ironside, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anton Yelchin (the new "Star Trek" Chekhov plays a teen-age Kyle Reese, the character originally played by Michael Biehn), even Jane Alexander and Helena Bonham Carter (in a brief but effectively creepy role). Also Sam Worthington—who started filming James Cameron's "Avatar" awhile ago (quite awhile ago).

Wish they had something better to do. The plot is a demolition derby of past "Terminator" hits mixed with "The Road Warrior" and a "Transformers" movie. One expected to see Hasbro in the producing credits, as the only thing new in this are toy-exploitable "Terminator" creations: Terminator motorcycles, mighty-morphin' prison ships with separate pilots (why would robot-ships need pilots?), and underwater T's, I guess you could call them "Termi-gators." Plus, there's an older model that makes a computer-generated "guest" appearance. There's some plot-holes you could transport T-800's through over why some things, like explosions, will bring on Skynet attention, but a major fire-fight (with flares) amongst humans does not. And for all the technical wizardry on display, you can see the cinematic seams showing when cutting away from a post-apocalyptic setting to the green-screened CG expansion.

Things blow up "real good," the usual things are not what they seem, and, as per usual,
the whole thing climaxes in a claustrophobic industrial setting.*** It's the same elements as before, just re-assembled in another order...if that. An entirely superfluous "further adventure" is hinted at, but one hopes they don't bother and just scrap this franchise.

James Cameron has moved on—to "Titanic" and the upcoming "Avatar." And Arnold Schwarzenegger has moved on, as well.

Maybe we should, too.

"Move along. Nothin' to see here." "Terminator Salvation" is a rust-encrusted Rental.

* Well, you could say the original was recycled, as well. A court ordered that a sum be paid and that acknowledgement be made to Harlan Ellison as "Terminator" more than resembled his "Outer Limits" episodes "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand." I didn't see him mentioned in the credits for this movie. Hopefully, he saw some cash (Come to think of it, I didn't see Cameron's name, either).

"Salvation" does introduce a new angle to its franchise—but it, too, is a well-worn cliche of science fiction and super-hero magazines.

** Bale uses a variation of his deep-Batman voice throughout, which I thought was just an affectation when I realized that Michael Ironside—and practically everybody—is talking in a husky rasp.

*** After 30 minutes, I began thinking "Hey! Where's the requisite beating-up of dirt-bags?"
Patience, showed up half an hour later.

No comments: