Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Terminator Salvation" - spoiler movie review

I've been a fan of the "Terminator" franchise for quite some time now (though I disavow the existence of T3 because I thought it was that bad [but I think I'm going to actually have to watch it again so that I can even remember what happened in it other than that there was a female terminator, I think, and a woman veterinarian], and I'm really sorry that "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" won't be back for a third season), so I was intrigued when they announced that a fourth Terminator film was in the works, and then I was excited when it was revealed that John Connor would be played by Christian Bale.

A friend, the husband and I went to a midnight screening of "Terminator Salvation" on opening night in the Cinerama Dome at the Arclight in Hollywood. It's really the kind of film you want to see on the big screen.

Generally, I liked the film, but it was nothing like I expected, so I want to see it again, partly because I think I will then be better able to have an opinion on it. From the trailers, the film was about John Connor's ascension to be the hero and leader that we know him to become. *This* is the saga of the adult John Connor, who led the resistance of humans against the machines, who helped humanity fight back from the brink of annihilation, who sent a man back to protect his mother, knowing that man would actually become his father, who basically grew up without a normal childhood but was instead hunted and had his life threatened numerous times and who was never able to enjoy the joys and pitfalls of childhood but who knew that the fate of all humans lay in his hands. Yeah, no pressure there.

I knew that Kyle Reese, John Connor's father, would be in the film since it was announced that Anton Yelchin would be playing him. (I joked that seeing the midnight screening of "Terminator Salvation" at the Cinerama Dome was seeing the second half of the late-night Anton Yelchin film festival since two weeks prior, the three of us had also gone to see a midnight screening on opening night at the same theatre of "Star Trek", in which Anton Yelchin plays Pavel Chekov.)

But in the lore of the terminator universe, you don't actually learn that much about John in this film. Yeah, you see a bit of his leadership quality, and you see how people are drawn to him, and you see how even the command comes to realize that John is more powerful and holds more sway than them.

But part of the story is also Kyle, the kid who ends up fighting his way into the resistance. I had thought Anton Yelchin was a bit young to play Kyle, but I had completely forgotten that he was supposed to be a kid when John met him, a reminder that came thanks to Sarah's tapes to John. You see the determination in Kyle that turns him into the soldier that John trusts with his mother's life.

But in the grand scheme of the movie, the major focus is on a third character - Marcus Wright. Who, you say? What role did he play in the terminator universe? Well, none, until now. The film is really about his journey, his discovery, his redemption, his heroics, and his sacrifice. But he's barely in the trailer, and if he is, there's no mention of him. So I'm sitting and watching the film and confused that so much time is being spent on this guy that I don't know and have never heard of in that universe, and where the heck is John Connor?

I liked Marcus' story, but I wished that the trailer had given even a hint of him, had told us that it wasn't just about John, but about the people around him. The end of the film sets up John as the actual leader since the rest of the command died when their submarine was blowed up by Skynet, so the next installment will probably be more like the movie I was expecting to see. And I'm ok with that. But I wish they hadn't set up my expectations wrong.

Marcus is a very engaging character, and you feel for him when he still can't believe that he's a machine, and you see his body slump when he tries to infiltrate Skynet's headquarters, and the robot guard registers him as an ally and allows him to pass. It seems like Marcus would have almost preferred to have been shot at and/or killed because that would have proven that he was human. And then you really feel for him when he finds out that he's been a pawn all that time, that he's been used to lure both Kyle and John to the facility to be killed. And you root for his redemption in being able to save both of them and in ultimately giving his life, his heart, so that John can live. And you know that in this story, without him, without his actions, neither Kyle nor John would have lived.

Marcus is a great character - but he's a stranger in the terminator universe who presumably only made a one-movie appearance since he's dead by the end. That's what I don't understand. There's some focus on history, but the main character is not actually John Connor, but rather, someone we've never known before.

But as far as history is concerned, I did love the use of Sarah's tapes, and especially that it was Linda Hamilton and at least the first passage is what we saw Sarah taping in the first film. There's a later segment that I don't specifically remember from the first film, but I'm assuming it's from that as well since it's still her voice. I don't believe any of the other films have mentioned the tapes at all, so that reliance on history was terrific, and even the use of the well-known picture of Sarah that Kyle eventually carries around with him.

I liked that John had a wife, but I'll admit that when I saw that he had a wife, and a very pregnant one at that, I thought for sure she'd be a goner by mid-way through the film. I'm glad to see she'll be around for the next one. I wonder if they'll ever talk about how they met and got together, because I think that would be interesting. Given how his years of growing up went and how he was never really able to trust anyone, who's the woman who broke through that enough for him to love her and marry her?

Those spine-like machines were NASTY. They had a model in the lobby of the Arclight theatres, and with the way it was designed, it really looked like some kind of Klingon weaponry to me.

That was pretty cool when John and Kyle fell into the terminator-making factory. Cool and creepy.

I liked the little mute girl.

I didn't really like when Blair turned so quickly and easily and betrayed the Resistance to set Marcus free. It just seemed to come out of nowhere.

I had heard rumblings that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be in the film, but I'd never really heard if that was true or not, so it was cool to see him as that particular model of terminator. I don't know how they did those sequences, but he definitely doesn't look like that now!

One major thing that I didn't understand came towards the end of the film. John comes across the Arnold model, who tosses him around and presumably tries to kill him. Meanwhile, a metal model is attacking Kyle, and then John runs into the metal model, who I think is about to kill him, but then the Arnold model comes around the corner and destroys the metal model. Now, they're both terminators, even though they're different models, and they're not like Marcus who is differently programmed. So why would one model destroy another model when both should have programmed into their systems to target and destroy/kill John Connor?

I thought Christian Bale did a decent job as John, for what he had to do, but he is still using that speech affectation he adopted for "Batman Begins" where he seems to think that talking in an unnaturally low, raspy voice makes him sound more mature or authoritative or something, because he does that here too, and not just when John needs to be whispering. It's very distracting and slightly annoying because it makes no sense and it makes it hard to hear him. I'm really looking forward to seeing "Public Enemies", so I hope that Michael Mann, his director on that film, has weaned him of that bad habit.

Sam Worthington was excellent as Marcus. I've heard that his performance in this film is what led to him being cast in James Cameron's "Avatar", and if that's true, I can certainly see why.

Anton Yelchin was good as the very young Kyle Reese, and I actually liked him better in this film than in "Star Trek", partly because he didn't have a very distracting Russian accent. But, I have to say, Kyle Reese will always be Michael Biehn to me.

Anton Yelchin as a very young Kyle Reese.

Michael Biehn as THE Kyle Reese.

Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter to Ron Howard) was very good as John's wife. I know she's been in a bunch of other stuff, but I don't think I've seen any of those. She played a character that I thought was completely worthy of being John Connor's wife.

I was surprised when I saw Helena Bonham Carter's credit pop up. She was good in the film, though it's a small role. Jane Alexander was fine too, in an even smaller role.

I always like seeing Michael Ironside, even though he often plays the same character.

I hadn't known that Danny Elfman did the music for the film, but he did a good job.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Yes, girl, you need to see T3 again. That is the movie where the audience is first introduced to Kate, whom is the veterinarian that you referred to in your post, played by Claire Daines. She recognizes John as somebody from school and apparently they already had some chemistry due to some kissing game or something at a party.

Or just read Wiki if you don't want to see that film again. It was fresh in my mind since I had seen T3 the night before I saw Salvation.