Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Terminator Salvation - Review

Cast your minds back to October 1984 (yes it was before my time too...), The first Terminator film was gracing cinema screens for the first time, and James Cameron let loose possibly one of the most iconic villains ever in film history to behold before our very eyes, but that was not all. He gave movie-goers a glimpse into a very grim, very disturbing, apocalyptic future that awaited the world where the human race was caught in a devastating war against machines, controlled by the collective known as Skynet. Unfortunately at the time, all we actually did get during that film was nothing more than a glimpse. Twenty five years and two sequels later the majority of Terminator fans have finally got their wish. There was however a couple of catches, firstly there is no major involvement from everyone's favourite ex-body-builder/governor and secondly we got arguably one of the most controversial directorial choices in recent memory. Off the back of mainstream works such as The O.C. and the devastatingly dire Charlie's Angels, the mantle of bringing Terminator back to our big screens was given to McG (aka Joseph McGinty Nichol to his Mum...).

With a saga completely wrapped in time travel, paradoxes and the power of fate, the film's plot is actually quite straight forward, similar to last month's Star Trek. With the events of Judgement Day already been and gone, the survivors are left to vend for themselves against The Terminators and Skynet, so far nothing we didn't already expect. The events of the film pick up early on when the humans figure out a method of bringing the machines down for good and tension for the film's protagonist John Connor (played by everyone's favourite franchise leading man at the minute, Christian Bale) really heat up when he discovers Skynet are out to kill his future father, which all Terminator fans should know is the infamous Kyle Reese (played by Anton Yelchin). Upon watching this film, I assumed I was watching a sequel to the previous trilogy and in turn continue the epic story, however as the film goes on you come to see that this acts more like a complete reboot than a straight continuation of the franchise, which of course is the latest in-thing with all major film franchises, from Batman, James Bond, Star Trek etc. Though the action is completely relentless from beginning to end, you only feel the movie is starting to really begin as it ends, acting just as Star Trek did last month as a conduit to bring all the major characters in the story together and thus set the future events in motion...or are those past events...? That said however I personally thought Terminator Salvation was a lot of good harmless fun, which is what a highly charged summer blockbuster should be, making me slightly giggle with joy any time the film made reference to the previous instalments, from Kyle Reese's famous line "Come with me if you want to live," to Arnie's "I'll Be Back", albeit uttered by John Connor instead of the T-800, an unexpected cameo from an old face, the "DU DU DU DA DU!" music in the soundtrack, hell even "You Will Be Mine" by Guns and Roses managed to find its way into the movie which I actually thought was a stroke of genius.

Overall I thought the cast did a solid job, Bale lead the way as always with his trademark broody, shouty self (gravelly Batman voice included), Anton Yelchin (big fan, expect big things in years to come...) was probably the stand out performer however, invoking very much the memory of Michael Biehn's performance in the original Terminator whilst stamping his own acting prestige on the role, arguably under-used in Star Trek, he shone in this. That said however, Yelchin probably having slight advantage over Bale in that he was playing the early makings of an established character as oppose to Bale having to be the end result of a character who has already had two previous portrayals (Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl respectively...oh and Thomas Dekker if we're counting that TV show...). The jury however is still out on action star d├ębutante Sam Worthington, who performed his role well as the mysterious Marcus Wright however his Australian accent came through far too often within his dialogue and I'm still to be convinced if he is capable of being the next big leading "action" man that I keep hearing him touted as.

As mentioned already one of my main loves for this movie is the nostalgia it brings for fan's of the previous three films, but I gotta admit as a stand alone movie I thought it was still massively enjoyable. However I can see why certain section of fans might not enjoy this as a "Terminator" film as such, though the set pieces and action sequences are absolutely fantastic (Charlie's Angels be damned, McG did a tremendous job with this movie) and the story does have quite an epic feel at times, I do feel somewhat cheated by this vision of the future the production team brought to the screen, I was expecting bodies everywhere, the tire tracks of the Harvester crushing over human skulls (harking back to the original movie), humans living in complete desolation and lack of hope, and to be honest I've seen worse, even Cameron's contemporary vision of the world in Terminator 1 and 2 felt more grim than some of this. Another aspect I felt was kind of lost within the production of this film was Elfman's soundtrack, who admittedly isn't one of my favourite composers, with his score feeling more like his work on Spider-man (heroic and just) than the haunting works by Brad Fiedel (which really gave you a sense of apocalyptic doom) in the original movie. And lastly one of the main elements of a brilliant Terminator film is a Terminator itself, yes we had the exoskeletons blowing up and killing resistance members all over the show, but what we lacked in Salvation was one Terminator on a sole mission to kill the protagonist, like a devastating psychological race of cat and mouse building up to one epic encounter. That's what made Terminator brilliant. Another reason the producers shot themselves in the foot with this movie was its marketing, if you watch the trailers you do get a lot of stuff revealed that if they had simply just teased at would have had a much bigger impact or shock value, such as Marcus' "true nature". That said however kudos for McG for trying something completely new and different with the franchise, even if his execution was slightly off at times, perhaps playing it too safe, especially with the rushed, cheesey ending (editor's note: the original ending was leaked on the net last year and was changed due to the outcry from fans, personally I thought the first ending was a brilliant, bold move and would have been far more satisfying than what was eventually shot on screen, I won't spoil it here, but it should be easy to find on the net somewhere).

Final Thoughts
For many a years film audiences have always had some sort of love affair with post-apocalyptic films where the human race is caught in an epic death match with killer robots or artificial evil intelligence, Terminator Salvation continues this tradition very much in the spirit of films such as The Matrix Trilogy, Michael Bay's Transformers films and the beautiful modern re-working of TV's Battlestar Galactica. Though not entirely what I was expecting or perhaps yearning from a Terminator movie and many fans of the original film will probably agree with that, I must say I thought it was a tremendous amount of fun, packed with a bucket load of action, well constructed story (granted with some ham-fisted dialogue courtesy of Mr. Bale) and a solid cast to carry it, essentially what you expect from a Summer blockbuster. This is the Terminator film to take the franchise properly into the 21st Century and whether die hard fans like it or not, I think its safe to say: It'll be back.


See this if you liked...
Terminator 1, 2 (and possibly 3...), Matrix Trilogy, Transformers.

Terminator Salvation is in the cinemas everywhere now.

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