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Sunday, July 5, 2009

REVIEW - "Terminator Salvation" (2009)

When James Cameron finished “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” I don’t think he envisioned two sequels and a television series to follow. However, he can blame no one but himself for leaving it wide open with the films’ final shot of an open road. While “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” disappointed fans by ignoring all the wonderful themes from the previous movie, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” actually expanded on those themes in ways James Cameron could not have done in a two hour film. Now, director McG, under the stern eyes of Terminator fans everywhere, walks up to bat. What is his solution? What is his take? The final cut isn’t a classic, but it certainly feels fresh.

The year is 2018. Judgment day has come and gone. Now a lone wanderer awakes in the midst of a futuristic war. Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) only remembers being a death row inmate. His meeting with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) pits him before the stern and paranoid John Connor (Christian Bale). Their meeting ignites a journey to the truth of Marcus’s existence and John’s rise to leadership.

There is no doubt that “Terminator Salvation” is a more action heavy flick than any of the previous films, and easily more explosive (literally) than the budget restricted “Sarah Connor Chronicles.” What it lacks is an innate attention to characters. Luckily, the majority of the film focuses on the one character that does develop: Sam Worthington’s performance as Marcus Wright is quite possibly the single most astounding thing about “Salvation.” Despite a wealth of spoilers in trailer ads, Marcus is still captivating. Furthermore, the ambiguity of his past makes him more immediately interesting—Adding tension between him and the many characters he meets.

While the young Kyle Reese and John Connor don’t see the same amount of progress, they are, nonetheless, intriguing to see in new roles. The warrior John Connor is seen for the first time by audiences, but he’s still more man than legend. That young brat in “Terminator 2” has grown quite distrusting and angry. Bale makes the character worth watching as audiences realize this is not the John Connor we’re used to. Yelchin, struggling as another iconic character in “Star Trek,” is very comfortable in Reese’s boots. Channeling the best parts of Michael Bein, Yelchin doesn’t go as far to imitate the original Kyle Reese, but perfectly embodies his evolution from boy to soldier.

The next “big” addition is Moon Bloodgood as Blaire Williams. It’s clear McG wanted a strong female presence in his film, but “Salvations’” resident bad-girl has more in common with Alice from “Resident Evil” than Sarah Connor. After her by-the-numbers roll as a useful plot device, she sinks in to the background left for audiences to forget she was even in the film.

Beyond watching Worthington and familiar characters, “Salvation” doesn’t offer a whole lot beyond its action sequences. This isn’t to say the explosions and chase scenes weren’t fantastic—Every action piece is far more memorable and jaw-dropping than another, rather over-bloated robot flick this summer. It is entirely fair to say that McG has created the action feast of the summer. 2009 won’t see another movie with this much well framed grit and grind. It carries the film well enough, but at the expense of what made the first two Terminator films so great.

While characters take a backseat to the bang-n-booms, so does common sense. Toward the films’ climax, Skynet claims to have created the perfect infiltrator from the dead. It makes me wonder why it doesn’t do this more often as there’s plenty of dead bodies lying around. Wouldn’t about a hundred of those models be more efficient than putting the T-800 in production? Plot holes like this scathe the movie like an infant on a stove. Another mild example is after Skynet identifies Kyle he is simply held apart from the rest of the prisoners. Theoretically, if Kyle dies John can’t exist. So lets skip the strange idea that Skynet somehow knows why Kyle is important and scratch our heads as to why he wasn’t executed immediately.

Despite these obvious shortcomings I have to applaud McG for trying to recover James Cameron’s themes left for dead in “Terminator 3.” Though it might seem silly to quote, “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,” in a world long since destroyed, it echoes the essence of hope left from the first sequel. Still, while “Salvation” struggles to relight the Terminator franchise, it’s primarily for those looking for an exceptional action romp. Otherwise, if you need more to chew on, stick to “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

**½ out of ****

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