Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Film Review | Terminator Salvation

Odds and Ends

by Thomas Delapa

OK, we get it. Christian Bale can play super-intense. But like the song goes, Is that all there is?

The Welsh-born actor went batty in American Psycho, screwy in The Machinist and then swooped into the box-office stratosphere as the brooding new Batman. Bale’s 2009 Herculean labor was to resurrect the rusty Terminator series, which last said “Hasta la vista, baby” seven years ago, right before Arnold Schwarzenegger morphed into the California Governator.

In Terminator Salvation—now on DVD—The Arnold is missing in action, and series creator James Cameron is long gone. The B-list substitutions are Bale, Charlie’s Angels director McG (a.k.a. Joseph McGinty Nichol) and semi-robotic Aussie newcomer Sam Worthington. If anything saves Salvation from total self-destruction, it’s the superb visual effects, which almost had me saying, “I’ll be back.”

When Bale enlisted in this sci-fi sequel about a futuristic war between man and machines, he may not have known he’d be demoted to virtual co-star, given that Williamson surprisingly gets a huge chunk of screen time. Not that the casting had anything to with Bale infamously blowing a fuse on the set, which was captured on audio and went viral faster than the swine flu.

As John Connor, leader of the resistance in the post-apocalyptic 2018, Bale puts his mouth in overdrive, shouting his lines in apoplectic fury. The computer-network Skynet and its army of monster machines have got humanity on the run, while Connor and his comrades are set to test a secret weapon designed to make the machines crash and burn.

Though the script (by John Brancato and Michael Ferris) goes back to the future again, the prologue is in the present, where a condemned man unsuspectingly donates his body to mad science. Inexplicably, Marcus Wright (Williamson) pops up in Connor’s present, teaming up with a sexy fighter pilot (Moon Bloodgood), and launching himself on a mission to find a youth named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Like the movie, Wright suffers from an identity crisis, uncertain of his past and purpose, betting he’ll find answers within Skynet’s fortress command center in derelict San Francisco.

To program new life into the series, the writers dubiously ignore the present, setting the story almost exclusively in a drab dystopia that’s relieved only by Martin Laing’s exceptional production design. Instead of giving us a new generation of Terminator robots played by humans, the 2009 version is uploaded with generic CGI goons with demonic red eyes. The battle this time isn’t as personal (or as scary-funny), however peppered with high-impact thrills.

The final (de)termination comes early. In the mid-movie attack by a Godzilla-sized “hunter-killer” machine accessorized with motorcycles, the effect is pure shock-and-awe, revved up with a crescendo of heavy-metal sound effects. But after that, Terminator Salvation winds down like a dying Energizer bunny, ending on a whimper instead of a big bang.


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