Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A to B Back and Forth Review: Terminator: Salvation, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our fifth review - Terminator: Salvation.


Hey there Kozy!
Last time we dealt with Sci-Fi and time travel, things devolved into personal attacks and the two of us trying to out-dork one another. However, I don't think we're going to have the same problems with McG's latest opus and the fourth "official" edition of the Terminator series, Terminator: Salvation. As you know, I've done rather extensive reviews of the first two movies, and consider myself a die-hard fan of the series. In this case, I think it's safe to say that I am the bigger nerd. To be honest, I'm not really sure where to begin. The fact that this movie comes on the heels of the other three benefits its storyline greatly. We accept a lot of plot points because we accepted them in 1984. At the same time, the original bar is set so high that if I try to review this movie using that bar, it will surely be deemed a failure. So I'm of both minds, but I'll try to dig through my points and end up at a fair conclusion.

First of all, it is important to note that the events taking place over the course of this movie do not match the future Kyle Reese laid out to Sarah Connor in the first movie. This is totally OK and fits with the series' claim that the future is always changing. The date and nature of Judgment Day was changed because of the actions taken in the 2nd movie. So it is entirely possible that there are new kinds of Terminators and the storyline is different. I'm willing to accept that.

I'll start by saying that while his efforts here definitely do not exactly absolve McG for his crimes against humanity via two Charlie's Angels movies, there are some good sequences in this film. He didn't resort to slow motion and kept the pace up at the right times. Some of the series gimmicks were there and well-played (I particularly liked the GnR cameo).

I've talked about this on Schwarzenegger Sunday, but in every other film in the series, one actor turned in an amazing performance, adding realism to the story. Michael Beihn as Kyle Reese set the table before Sarah Connor stole the show in T2. Nick Stahl really sold us on the idea of John Connor as a conflicted young adult in the third one, bringing a level of seriousness to a movie that continuously bordered on becoming pure camp. But such a performance was not present in this movie. Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the new Star Trek) did a great job of imitating a teenage Michael Beihn - for a minute I thought they actually had a time machine. And Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright was fine when his Aussie accent wasn't breaking through. But none of the actors did much to push this story. Not that this was their fault. With a plot as simple and linear as this one, they didn't have the opportunity, though I saw no reason for Christian Bale to start using his gravelly Dark Knight voice.
One could argue we went overboard with the Uhuru pics last time. So here are TWO nice hunks of cheesecake for the female readers!

In a side note, Worthington's rampant masculinity made my girlfriend forget all about Christian Bale. No easy task. Even though McG found someone even less attractive than Claire Danes to play Kate Connor, at least Moon Bloodgood was around. On one side, as a straight-ahead, normal action movie, I thought this one was fine. From that perspective, it delivered what it needed to. I haven't gotten into how it fits with the legacy left for it - the high bar I referenced at the top. I'll get to that soon enough, but first, I wanna hear your thoughts!

What say you?


Hey Reed!

I just got back from a rockin' vacation in South Africa. So if I sound a bit cheery in my response, you'll know that it's because I am well rested and full of African zest!

Without question I will anoint you the bigger nerd. And certainly in regards to your Terminator love and knowledge you earn High Nerd Honors. While I have watched the previous three films, only T2 really sticks in my mind. That is probably just because I am a massive Edward Furlong devotee. Captain of the fan club maybe even. Seriously though, I have little Terminator knowledge. So let's just accept that for what it is. The thing I remember most about T2 was how technologically advanced the T1000 Terminator was, played by Robert Patrick. The effects gave me the same "this is re-donk" feeling like when I first saw the Michael Jackson "Black or White" video. Today we see similar effects in Mach 3 Gillette TV ad's.
Now that's a smooth shave!

In T4 we turn the clock back to 1984 Terminator design. Sure this time around the big robots come in many shapes and sizes. But in essence, they are all hunks of metal. A bit ho-hum compared to the T1000 if you ask me.

As an action movie, T4 delivers the goods. Giving McG Directing responsibility was a risky move. His past work was bad, very bad. However in T4 he created some thrilling sequences that kept me on the edge of my seat. He also kept the pacing swift and interesting. Overall he did a solid job, which resulted in movie that certainly agreed with me.
The photo pinned to Brad's high school locker

In terms of the babe factor, T4 unfortunately does not have the Uhura factor. I forgot Claire Danes was in T3, but yeah, the pregnant girl from this installment would never, and I mean never have a chance with John Connor in real life. Moon Bloodgood was the only ray of light this time around. I have to say though that her introduction into the film was so hokey I could barely keep myself together. Here is a very dark film about the future that half-way through had yet to give any significant screentime to a female and then, poof! Remove a helmet and reveal a mega-babe letting down her long, brown, curly hair. Of course this sequence is nothing compared to some of the other even hokier and more improbable events that would happen later.
Reminiscent of Metroid

And before I forget, we MUST talk about the longest/worst big-budget walkie-talkie shouting match I have ever seen in my life. Did you take notice of that as well? You certainly have piqued my interest in how you see T4 fitting into the Terminator legacy. Lemme hear it.

Tot ziens!


Hola Kozy! Man, I gotta get me some African zest. Sounds a little dirty actually. And I totally forgot about your Furlong fandom. But now that you mention it, I recall a trip to the E-town cinema planned by you to catch Little Odessa during its week-long theatrical run. Those were good days. In sum, I think we can agree that you get the Furlong nerd cred, if such a thing were to exist.

OK, so I'm about to unload on this movie. When I walked out of the theater, I felt like it was fine, as I said in the last e-mail. But then I gave it some more thought. This is not something McG generally asks of his viewers and certainly not something that should be done after watching one of his movies, but I couldn't help feeling something nagging at me. And here it is. Terminators are fucking scary. They have always been scary. In the first film, Schwarzenegger was just unstoppable, and the post-explosion endoskeleton was even more terrifying. In the second, all 150 pounds of Robert Patrick frightened everyone. And sure, the third was not as dynamically scary, but she was still wildly murderous and maintained a steely focus throughout the film. What drove this series was fear. The characters were constantly terrified and we feared for them, too. To somehow lose that fear is to fail completely with what Terminator should be. That Christian Bale is able to fight one off with his bare hands shows that they lost the thread and should never have been allowed to make this movie. A Terminator is an unstoppable killing machine, not a sparring partner. And that's the biggest crime against the series here. We can't possibly watch this movie and find these things scary. Now, they look like rejects from the Itchy and Scratchyland episode of the Simpsons.
As stated, fucking scary

KIND OF A SPOILER ALERT. My other major problem with the movie is that its singular focus was on saving Kyle Reese, and therefore saving the sperm that will eventually become John Connor. I mean, the title is "Salvation" for a reason. One of the fascinating things about Connor was always his doubt. In T2, it was his doubt that in his mother's stories. T3 showed his doubt in himself as a leader. At this point, he's strong and confident, but if the resistance is really about to blow up Skynet and take a major step forward in battle, shouldn't he doubt whether derailing that plan is worth it just for him? Instead, he gets on the radio and says "Don't attack. Stand down for our future." Well, he's really just talking about himself. It's an arrogant move that any leader would have to question. Here, it is taken as a fact. None of the other characters even question him. At least give his wife one worthwhile line. Just a few minutes of doubt would have improved the entire movie, giving us a real character in Connor, instead of a proud, grunting general. END OF KIND OF SPOILER
The T-1300 and T-1400. Not fucking scary.

Also, much like in our last review, the villains are really, really stupid. I won't get into the last 20 minutes of the movie in detail, but let's just say it's more far-fetched than anything in The Running Man. Yes, even Dynamo. Just a crescendo of nonsense right up to the last scene. Once again, Terminators were never stupid in the past, why are they idiots now? Idiots are not scary unless Fox News gets them all riled up first.
Hey light head! Hey Christmas tree! You're more realistic than the end of T4!

James Cameron tried his best to make T2 the final chapter. He called it "Judgment Day" well before J-Day actually happened. He originally filmed a scene from a peaceful future where John Connor is a senator and Sarah is an old woman who sits in a park. The scene was a bit hokey, so you can see why they didn't include it, opting instead for the night road trip shot and discussions of how the future is always changing. I don't know if he saw this film or the last one, but I have to think he'd be furious at this result and possibly lamenting not including his cheesy coda. I don't believe that this film tarnishes the other ones, but I do think that the future of the series is probably ruined. I can't fathom a "restart" ala Star Trek at this point, and I also can't fathom a quality movie following this. We will instead just get a lot of action scenes and even stupider machines.

Am I being too harsh? It seems to me that McG did a "proof of concept" here for some high-tech action, but was a poor caretaker of the legacy. It is clearly his best movie, but still one that he fumbled badly.

Can you talk me back to positivity?


Here's where we pause for today. We'll be back tomorrow with the conclusion of this back and forth review wherein Andrew will probably get even more pissed off. I know, I can't wait either!

Previous A to Bs:
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Star Trek

No comments: