a critiQal film review Terminator Salvation (2009)

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  • Blu-Ray

Plot: The future John Connor (Bale) was raised to believe in is altered in the year 2018, in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

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  • ...while McG shows promise, and Worthington shows us a bit of much-needed human factor, Bale's John Connor lies in wait - hopefully to take center stage in later sequels.

Ah, it’s so much fun when it’s summer, isn’t it? All these films we’ve been hearing about since last summer are finally headed toward the local multiplex. This week, we had a pretty big choice to make for our Summer At The Movies ’09 4th film – both of them sequels. Out of the two, we decided on checking out Terminator Salvation – mainly because it had more of a chance to surprise us. While Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) looks to be fun, it’s just more of the same from the first film. Terminator Salvation, on the other hand, is changing things up in a big way, including it’s cast and director.

Would the new combo of Christian Bale (still riding high from The Dark Knight (2008)) in front of the cameras and McG (guilty pleasure Charlie’s Angels (2000)) be able to make as compelling a vision as the Arnold Schwarzenegger / James Cameron team-up from the now-classic first two films, or would this be the final nail in the The Terminator (1984) coffin?

If Christian Bale had stepped into the role of Terminator in the new film (as McG originally desired), chances are things wouldn’t have gone well for him. Part of the appeal of Bale’s acting is he is able to bring a sort of everyman quality to his acting – and then integrating that into his character’s larger-than-life persona. Whether he’s a calm and methodical serial killer(American Psycho), fighting dragons (Reign of Fire (2002) or everyone’s favorite caped crusader, he usually manages to make a largely over-the-top character connect with an audience.

Thankfully, Bale decided that taking on the role of John Connor – now grown up and living out his much-foreshadowed rebellion ordeals – instead. Again, Bale is the hero with the everyman quality – but this time around, he doesn’t really seem to connect as easily with his audience. Maybe because of his smaller -yet vitally important – role in the film – or maybe it’s just because the film really doesn’t give him a chance to try.

Sam Worthington, largely an unknown in the US (but already lined up for James Cameron’s much-anticipated Avatar (2009)), on the other hand, gets a much bigger role in Terminator Salvation, and is allowed to showcase his acting chops. While a bit stiff and almost too much in character, he manages to bring a bit of soul to the rather bleak landscape of the film, setting him further apart from most of the war-ravaged folks around him.

Anton Yelchin – who we just saw take on the role of Chekov in Star Trek (2009) turns now to taking on the role of a much younger Kyle Reese (who fans of the series will remember as being played by Michael Biehn in the first film). He’s actually a bit miscast. Instead of the hard-edged teen who will turn into the bitter man of the first film, Yelchin’s Reese seems too innocent. Unlike nearly everyone around him, the hope and promise of a better day still shines brightly in his eyes, despite the harsh reality of his surroundings. It strikes a bit of a discordant note in the film, despite obviously tossed in to keep the mood lighter.

McG has come a ways since his days of Charlie’s Angels (2000) and “The O.C.” (TV) – but he seems to have lost a bit of what made him fun all those years ago. While his action sequences are mind-boggling in their scope, they tend to lack a bit of the human factor that makes good action scenes worth watching. Without that human connection, no matter how big and explosive the action sequence, it really isn’t much more than pretty pictures to the audience.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was able to showcase this most aptly, as the film was able to turn a robotic killer into one of the most empathetic characters on the screen – and tossed a nearly unstoppable foe at him to keep the tension high.

With McG’s new take on the series, there are plenty of special effects and some good screen time used on working up Sam Worthington’s character – but in all the chaos, most of the rest tends to get swept up in the maelstrom – including Christian Bale himself. While it definitely has it’s moments, Terminator Salvation – thanks to it’s rather lost human factor – isn’t as good as it could have been.

But, it does give one hope that the planned on sequels to this new trilogy will be able to improve on what is, basically, a rather solid groundwork for the continuing The Terminator (1984) saga.

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