Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Terminator Salvation" Review

McG's "Terminator Salvation" is full of paradoxes, and not just the brain bending, time traveling, series continuity kind, but also the stilted decision-making, lapses in logic, flawed design kind. The director, most well known for the two "Charlie's Angels" films, trades estrogen for an excess in testosterone, treating the "Terminator" franchise as an exercise in antithesis.

In fact, there's only about four women in the entire movie, none of whom are particularly flattering characters. The most likeable by default is Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor, resistance soldier and maybe-savior John Connor's pregnant wife, as she's given almost nothing to do. Then there's Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), the face of Skynet, so she's bad. Third and worst, though through no fault of her own, is Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, whose arbitrary and apparently passionate attraction to a half-man/half-terminator turns her against her allies. Last is Jadagrace (?) as the young Star, a shy (or mute) little girl whose sole purpose seems to be projecting a lone beacon of cute onto the wasteland of washed-out deserts and deserted, leveled cities.

Okay, there may be a couple more women here and there, but they're few and far between in this future dominated by grunting, screaming men. The story begins in 2003, with death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) being offered a second chance at life through cybernetics. Though he knows he should embrace death for the crimes he's committed, he agrees to sell the good doctor his body for a price--one kiss. He's then carted off and his sentence carried out via lethal injection in a scene ripped straight from "Dead Man Walking."

Enter the future. 2018. Wright appears naked and conveniently near a man with just what he needs. Clothed, he begins his trek toward the nearest city, where he encounters Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), and the ever-adorable Star. Since Wright has the technical knowhow to fix the duo's busted radio, they intercept one of Connor's transmissions and set out to find him.

Meanwhile, the resistance is testing its latest weapon, a signal that powers down any terminators within its wavelength. The higher-ups are ready to launch a coordinated strike on Skynet when Connor learns from Wright that Reese (Connor's father, long story) has been taken prisoner and is being held at one of the targeted facilities.

It's no wonder Bale freaked out at that Director of Photography in the infamous leaked clip a few months back, as nearly every one of his scenes necessitates one of maybe six permutations of anger. The character of Connor lacks depth on the page, but Bale's performance is bludgeoningly one-note, and in that way, perfectly matched with Worthington; the two speak almost identically. One particular shot of them nose to nose in interrogation makes this amusingly apparent as they volley gruff monosyllabic responses and spittle-projecting barks back and forth.

The film also suffers from an antagonist identity crisis. Are we rooting for Wright, as he tries to escape from Connor? Are we rooting for Connor, who testifies to the worth of every human life, only to watch the generals with whom he disagrees decimated in battle? Or is it just the infinite waves of machines?

McG clearly has a vision for the future of the Terminator franchise (Army recruitment video by way of the apocalypse), but "Salvation" is blisteringly melodramatic and above all, commits the cardinal sin of summer action films--it bores. Things explode, and if the audience can keep track of who's fighting who or why, they certainly won't care on any intimate level. It's the equivalent of a two-plus-hour fireworks show, except the fireworks are only two colors, black and bleached-white.

It's obvious every moment is designed to positively drip masculine coolness, but it often comes off like the kid in school who just wants to fit in and tries a little bit too hard. The film is terrified of letting itself be mindless fun, even for a moment, and so packs on the doomsday pretension. The work may be a step toward credibility for the auspiciously named director, but as a standalone piece, "Terminator Salvation" is an indulgent, groaningly operatic mess that chokes on its own testosterone.


No comments:

Post a Comment