There’s a rather audacious line in this month’s packed Hollywood issue of Esquire, the feature being outspoken director Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol’s shared profile with his new Terminator Salvation. Before the first line break, the writer draws a McG-self-imposed comparison to James Cameron, the creator of the Terminator franchise who declined to give McG his coveted blessing prior to Salvation‘s production. Prior to 1984’s The Terminator, Cameron directed the sci-fi classic sequel Aliens, a film that brought him the same speculation and skepticism that McG has received for his Salvation involvement. The parallel: Cameron’s biggest film prior to Aliens was cheesetastic Piranha 2: The Spawning (1981); McG’s is Charlie Angels: Full Throttle.
As the Esquire writer sees it, McG considers Terminator Salvation to be his Aliens. To which I so eloquently say: “Fuck outta here.” While quite entertaining and great to look at, this fourth Terminator is more hollow than one of those big chocolate Easter bunnies. [Continued after the jump]
The biggest folly on the parts of McG and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris is that they expect the audience to already give a shit about the characters, since we’ve previously met the majority of them in the previous Terminator stories. Using familiarity as a crutch, they unfortunately spend little time developing the humans on screen, making them just as robotic and one-note as the Skynet-created machines blowing stuff up.
John Connor (Christian Bale, revisiting his overly-gruff Batman voice from The Dark Knight) is now a rising star in the human Resistance, and he’s been made aware that the time-traveling savior who got his mother pregnant in the first film, Kyle Reese, is still a teenager in his present-day 2018, and is a Skynet target. Reese (played with some nice spunk by Anton Yelchin) has taken up with Skynet-programmed part human/part machine Marcus Wright (Australian star-on-the-rise Sam Worthington), but Reese is kidnapped by the enemy. Forcing Connor to join forces with robot Wright to save his now-teenage daddy, or else humanity will perish.
Got all that? Really, typing that paragraph was meaningless, because Terminator Salvation devotes itself more to awesome visuals and adrenaline-booming action sequence than anything resembling story-driven emotion. The few attempts at “heartfelt” are there, of course, but they’re so scattered and rushed that you’ll sit through them anxiously awaiting the next explosion. Obviously not what McG and company intended, since he’s viewing this as his coming-out-to-greatness party.
Put that invitation on hold, cinematic snobs. One day, McG could earn his passage, but not with this flick as his password. Terminator Salvation is full of slick steady-cam shots and other impressive camerawork; the catch is, though, that each winning moment feels bitten from other, better films. A helicopter crash shown entirely from inside the cockpit is pretty badass, but will come off to fans of Cloverfield as a noble yet secondary companion to a similar moment from that J.J. Abrams’ produced success. Same goes with a sweeping attack on a desolate gas station that’s edited together to move as if its a single uncut take, much like the king of such trickery, the final act of Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful Children of Men.
McG is certainly good at mimicry, just not at establishing his own directorial touches. He’s one to watch, a potential-carrying filmmaker who definitely has grown bounds beyond those Charlie Angels efforts here. To Terminator Salvation’s advantage, there’s always a benefit to jacking tricks from somebody else’s beloved trade, and that’s the inevitable fact that the carbon copy itself will provide equal amounts of fun on a shallow level. I was never bored, eyes often fixed. Whenever a badly-wooden line of dialogue (such as everything said by a non-existent Common) crept into the mix, I’d shrug the sonics away from my ears and just revel in the dark, dusty Mad Max-light scenery. Although, the part when Common exclaims, after seeing what he thinks is a sign of an infiltrated Skynet transmission, “It works, man! It’s beautiful.” Even the biggest fan of his One Day It’ll All Make Sense album would have to laugh.
Even better than the cinematography and special effects is the presence of stunner Moon Bloodgood, playing the role of “Blair,” a Resistance member smitten by Marcus Wright. Bloodgood’s acting is solid and all, but man is she a bonafide vision. Looks aren’t everything, but they do amount to the saving grace during an attempted assault on Blair by some horny deviants. It’s four large men against one female hottie until Marcus becomes her knight with shining metallic intestines, not that the viewer should be expected to care. Chivalry works better when the audience is emotionall invested in either the hero or the damsel. The damsel sure is gorgeous, though.
If you go in with a closed mind and open eyelids, you’ll get your two hours’ worth with this angry, comic-relief-free machine of a movie. You’ll even get to see Arnold Schwarzenegger kick some ass again, thanks to a neat, inventive CG-character tactic that comes near the end, and, for Terminator lovers, that should be worth the entry cost. Avoid thinking too much about the intricacies of the plot, however, unlike myself. A good ten minutes of film-time was spent wondering what the point of saving Kyle Reese is exactly. Work with me: If Reese dies, are we supposed to believe that John Connor would never be born? That Christian Bale’s mean-faced, constantly-scowling performance would end as Connor evaporates? I’d think that Connor would be just fine, so what’s the whole thing about “humanity dying” if Reese does?
Damn that time travel plot device. Thankfully, Terminator Salvation doesn’t bother to explore that notion. If it did, though, there would’ve been another reason to champion J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek as a million times better. Star Trek‘s handling of time travel, while clunky in spots, surprisingly works in the end, saving a dynamite film from downgrading to a grenade.
Terminator Salvation is more like a firecracker. The shocks and lightworks come and go. Permanent sensory damage not included.