Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Terminator Salvation

First off it's important to note that "Terminator Salvation" qualifies as what I'd call a midquel.  It's a sequel to some events of James Cameron's "The Terminator" and "Terminator 2:  Judgment Day" and the non-Cameron produced "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" and yet the movie is also a prequel to some events.  Sound confusing?  It is.

Basically if you haven't paid much attention to the Terminator series, in 1997 a computer system called SkyNet became self-aware and decided its biggest threat was humankind, so it decided to wipe out all humans by nuking the world in what was known as Judgment Day.  (The date of this was pushed back in the third movie to 2003ish.)  Many years later, a human resistance led by John Connor defeats SkyNet.  But before that victory is complete, SkyNet sends a cyborg back in time to kill Connor's mother Sarah before he is born.  Connor sends a soldier named Kyle Reese back in time to fight the cyborg and in the process Reese knocks up Sarah Connor with a baby she of course names Kyle.  SkyNet makes to more attempts to kill John Connor when he's a boy and a young man, both of which fail thanks to a friendly cyborg.  Does any of this make sense?

Now that you're up to speed on the twisted timeline, "Terminator Salvation" takes place between Judgment Day and when SkyNet sends the original Terminator and Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time.  It's the year 2018 to be exact and Earth is pretty much a wasteland ruled by machines.  But there are still human defenders.  John Connor (Christian Bale) is a leading commander in the resistance though not the head honcho--yet.  He has a command with his wife Kate Brewster (Bryce Dallas Howard) who seems pregnant though no mention of this is made.

Connor and a team infiltrate a SkyNet base to find information on a new type of cyborg killing machine called the T-800 (the Ahh-nold Schwarzenegger model in the other films) and in the process find some humans who have been experimented on as well as captives.  When it becomes alerted, SkyNet nukes the base with only Connor surviving--or so he thinks.

Another survivor is named Marcus Wright.  The last thing he remembers was being put to death 15 years ago for killing some people--exactly what isn't really dealt with.  He agreed to donate his body to a scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) working for Cyberdyne Systems, the company that made the ill-fated SkyNet system.  Marcus escapes to the ruins of LA, where he encounters a young resistance fighter named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin or Chekov from the "Star Trek" reboot).

Meanwhile, John Connor and the resistance command think they've found a way to beat SkyNet by using a radio frequency that seems to disrupt SkyNet's robots' computer systems.  A big raid is planned on SkyNet HQ in the ruins of San Francisco.  But when Reese is taken captive by SkyNet, Connor must defy the odds and his orders to try and rescue his future father.  This requires working with his mortal enemy.

The first 45-60 minutes of this movie seemed to drag a little for me.  Most of it was moving the pieces around the board to set up the final endgame.  Most of this in turn was done through chases between revived cars and motorcycle Terminators, flying Terminators, and giant Terminators.  Car chases are a staple of Terminator movies, especially telling someone to "Drive" while you shoot out the window, but these chases lacked the same panache as the earlier films.

Once the pieces are in place and we get to the endgame the movie is better.  There are even a couple of plot twists you might not see coming.  So really the somewhat boring action at the beginning is worth sitting through for a decent payoff.

It's probably unfair to really compare this to the earlier films because they're two different kind of movies.  What James Cameron did in 1984's "The Terminator" was to meld the psycho killer stalker genre like "Halloween" with the sci-fi of "Star Wars."  The scope especially in T2 became wider but essentially the basic premise remained of running from the killer machine.  By contrast "Salvation" is a more straight-ahead war movie with pockets of resistance acting like Allied forces in WWII Europe, a premise that has been used before in movies/shows like the original 1980s "V" series.  There's no question I didn't like "Salvation" as much as T2 or T1 or even T3 for perhaps the reason that it was too different from the source material.

As well, the story is relatively thin.  Most of the dialog is shouted during chases or fights with stuff like "Hang on!" or "This is really pissing me off!"  The relationship between John Connor and Kate Brewster isn't milked for a lot.  Christian Bale does his Clint Eastwood/Batman voice through the whole thing, which maybe isn't for the best.  Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright is really the standout of the movie, though even that isn't saying a lot.

This being a sequel/prequel there were some nice touches like working in the "I'll be back" line and using GNR's "You Could Be Mine" and the final battle that takes place in a factory reminiscent of the steel plant in T2.  (And the digitally generated Ahh-nold, though couldn't he have put some clothes on?)  Though really Danny Elfman mangles Brad Feidel's iconic theme song; I mean when you go to a Terminator movie you want to hear BUM-DA-BUM-BUM-BUM or however you'd write it for the original theme, just like if you go to a Star Wars movie you want to hear the original John Williams score.

Overall it's an OK popcorn movie, about equal with "Wolverine" or "Star Trek" and maybe a notch above "Transformers 2" and "GI JOE."  Really what an odd "summer" it was with all these prequels, midquels, and reboots.

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  52/100 (2 stars)

(BTW, do you think they left in the name of the crew member who was the star of the infamous Christian Bale rant?  I should look for that next time.)

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