Monday, June 29, 2009

Terminator Salvation


TERMINATOR SALVATION picks up the series with John Connor (Christian Bale) at the forefront in the war against the machines. Set in 2018, fourteen years after the Judgement Day brought on by Skynet, the scrappy survivors battle the robots trying to purge all humans from the planet. Of particular interest to them is Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the teen destined to be Connor's father.

While the computers hunt for Reese, the resistance believes they have found a signal that will destroy the machines. Connor's broadcasts and mythic status give him claims to a leadership role, and he demands to be the one to carry out the mission.

Meanwhile, death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) wakes up in this future. The last thing he remembers is being prepped for execution fifteen years earlier. Wright's motives and purpose are of great concern to Connor, but eventually he has no choice but to trust him as they team up to rescue Reese and hopefully deliver the crushing blow to the Skynet headquarters.

TERMINATOR SALVATION boasts impressive setpieces that provide eye-popping visual scale, but the story so badly lacks scope that the film feels small and, ultimately, inconsequential.

The killer machines are fast and frightening. The film is jammed with action, something that McG and the kinetic camera capture with dazzling technique. TERMINATOR SALVATION delivers the goods as an action and effects extravaganza, but after awhile the man versus machine mayhem tends to blur into an endless loop. The human characters are severely underwritten, a quality that comes to bear during the beats when the film pauses for exposition.

Practically since birth John Connor has carried the weight of knowing his role in this war, so Bale's stern performance suits the character, even if it's as one-note as the rest of TERMINATOR SALVATION. The screenplay hampers him with little to do but bark at everyone in the vicinity.

Bryce Dallas Howard must have been cast as his wife Kate solely because her red hair keeps the continuity with Claire Danes, who held the role in 2003's TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. For a franchise that has offered strong female leads, Kate Connor's near-invisibility in TERMINATOR SALVATION is a disappointment at best. It also means a good actress is underutilized, but so it goes in a film enthralled with computer-generated effects to the point where the humanity is cut out, ironically enough.

Ignoring the fact that the advertising reveals Marcus Wright's secret, the film's bungled introduction of the character leaves little doubt about his intended role in this war. Without any questions as to why Marcus turns up when he does, where's the drama and tension? Then there's the time travel element that makes one wonder if all of the events in the film's universe are predetermined, although that path is better left untraveled lest the fourth TERMINATOR be rendered irrelevant.

TERMINATOR SALVATION is fitfully entertaining in its unceasing futuristic warfare, but if the characters are fighting for humanity's survival, they've already lost on one front. The computers have taken over the filmmaking.

Grade: C

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