** (out of 5)
May 21, 2009
Christian Bale as JOHN CONNOR
Sam Worthington as MARCUS WRIGHT
Moon Bloodgood as BLAIR WILLIAMS
Helena Bonham Carter as DR. SERENA KOGAN
Anton Yelchin as KYLE REESE
Jadagrace as STAR
Bryce Dallas Howard as KATE CONNOR
Common as BARNES
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: McG
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I have had a range of bipolar emotions surrounding the fourth installment of the “Terminator” franchise. Each bit of news that I heard over the past couple years has either given me feelings of elation or feelings of dread…
A new “Terminator” movie, a series that I loved… Cool! Landing McG as the director… not cool. Casting Christian Bale as John Connor… Awesome! Not having Arnold in the movie… not so much. Bringing Bryce Dallas Howard into the fray… Brilliant! Adding a Newt-like little kid into the mix… potentially disastrous.
Then I saw the movie. And while it is an experience, it’s not always a good experience.
Let’s start with what is awesome about “Terminator: Salvation,” because despite what I will say later on, there were some very awesome elements to this movie.
First, that action is spectacular. Movie magic has come a long way since James Cameron made the 1984 original – or even from when he revolutionized CG effects with the 1991 sequel. This is the reason to see this movie. The action, effects and explosive nature of the movie is hard to bear. Sure, in a month or so, “Transformers 2” will revisit the whole idea of giant robots blowing things up, but these moments in “Terminator: Salvation” have set that bar pretty high this summer.
Also, Christian Bale is perfect as John Connor. In fact, this is the first time that anyone – even series creator James Cameron – has gotten this casting choice right on screen. After misfires with Edward Furlong in “Terminator 2” and Nick Stahl in “Terminator 3,” and embarrassing Nancy-boy Thomas Dekker in the short-lived television series, Bale gives us a gritty, troubled John Connor whom the audience can believe actually leads a revolution. (And, considering the weight of the character in this film, I sort of understand how an in-character Christian Bale could have launched into the rant we all know and love.)
And that leads us to the story, or rather the foundation of the story, the concept. Here, the movie continues to be awesome, giving us a solid concept of speculative fiction. The story follows John Connor before he becomes leader of the resistance. As he’s working his way up the ranks in the fight against SkyNet, Connor uncovers the development of the cyborg Terminators, which mimic humans with real flesh on their internal metal. Meanwhile, Connor tracks down his own father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who is only a teenager in 2018, and fights to keep him safe to avoid changing history.
However, as awesome as the story concept is, the execution of this is… well, if you’ll pardon the pun, an execution.
The plot is convoluted and often doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is littered with terrible, terrible, terrible dialogue which is delivered by substandard actors like Sam Worthington (as a new model Terminator that thinks he’s a man) and Moon Bloodgood (whose saving grace of a topless scene was unfortunately dropped to earn a PG-13 rating). Sadly, it seemed that McG used the old adage: When in doubt, blow something up.
And while I like big explosions in my summer movies as much as the next guy, I felt like Harrison Bergeron (yes, that is an esoteric Kurt Vonnegut reference, folks) getting distracted any time I thought the story was falling apart. This, coupled with a decadently overproduced audio effects track ultimately made me annoyed when I would normally be in awe.
With the cinematic (and televised) renaissance that science fiction and speculative fantasy has gone through in the past few years, substandard writing and execution stands out. Rather than delivering a solid man-versus-machine story on par with something like “Battlestar Galactica,” this new movie is about on the same level of intelligence and focus of its failed television counterpart, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”
Sigh… the whole ordeal made me fantasize about building a time machine so I could send a cyborg into the past to terminate McG’s mother before she could give birth to him.