Monday, May 18, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

Of the movies so far that have been released this year in 2009, Terminator: Salvation was the one I’d been looking forward to the most. In fact, as I write this first paragraph, I haven’t seen it yet. The only thing I’ve experienced thus far is reading the prequel novelization of the film as well as seeing the trailers and clips that have been released on the Internet. So before I go venture to my city’s local movie complex, I wanted to start this review with how I felt since they’ve announced the plans to make a fourth movie.

I remember soon after Terminator 3 was released and received pretty good reviews, it was announced that the rights were acquired by Halcyon to make three more films. I was stoked! At the time, I thought Jonathan Mostow did a fair job at bringing the franchise back to continue the story of The Terminator.

Some time went by before I heard anything else on the Internet or elsewhere. But soon there were rumors of it going on the fast track to get something on screen quickly, followed by talks of who would be in it. By this time, Arnold Schwarzeneggar took the office of Governor of California, making it impossible for him to reprise his role. Which was just as well since I felt he was already too old for part 3 anyway, might as well put another body builder/actor in the role. Besides, Arnold was a Model 101 T-800…surely there were other models. 100? 102?

I digress.

Finally I started hearing rumblings of it really happening, that we were going to get a part 4 that takes it into the future war. We were going to see early Terminators like the T-600 series and the Hunter-Killers and others of the ilk. Articles on the Internet began informing us that Nick Stahl and Claire Daines were out, as was Jonathan Mostow. So, the search for the stars of the film began and the more important search for the director was what I was watching.

I believe James Cameron was approached and I think he may have even considered at first, but he went back to his original statement that he felt the story ended after T2 in 1991.

A few directors’ names were put in the hat and after some time, one came out that I really didn’t care for: Joe McGinty, otherwise known as McG. McG is best known for his campy outings of both Charlie’s Angels films and that really concerned me. The Terminator films are serious and should not have any camp whatsoever (although there were quite a few one-liners thanks to Arnie in the third film). But McG did have We Are Marshall under his belt and I thought that was a redeeming value for him as a director. With that in mind, it was a toss up for me…either it was going to be good or it was going to be bad.

At or near the same time, it was announced that Christian Bale was in talks to play John Connor. I couldn’t believe it. Bale was already sailing high with his debut as the new Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, as well as The Dark Knight which was yet to be released at the time. It was a plus, I thought, because Christian Bale is such an extreme actor and always puts everything into a role; he even lost 65 pounds to play the insomniac in The Machinist.

As time went on, more and more notable actors and actresses began to appear on the bill for the new Terminator movie. Bryce Dallas Howard takes Claire Daines’ place as Kate Brewster, John Connor’s wife. I was always curious as to who would play Kyle Reese and I found out shortly that it was Anton Yelchin, who played the Chekov role adequately in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. Common plays Connor’s right hand man, Barnes, and Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams. And although it’s been said that this film will take place before the T-800 series of Terminators exist, I noticed a surprising character in the IMDb web site that showed otherwise; an actor by the name of Roland Kickinger was cast as the T-800. Of course rumors began to flow through the web about this, which I found was a good fit. If anyone has seen the TV movie, Run Arnold Run, they’d know Kickinger from that film where he played the young Arnold Schwarzeneggar. He looks quite remarkably like Arnold and has a background familiar to his as well. They’re both Austrian and professional body builders at one time or another. But I guess that wasn’t good enough for the studios because they really wanted Schwarzeneggar in this film so bad, they decided to try a relatively new special effect to get this done. So, in a sense, Arnold was to return again as the T-800.

With all this going on in my mind, I walked right up to the ticket booth of Hanford’s Movies 8, paid for one ticket and went into the theater to find the best seat to plant myself for the next two hours or so, enjoying the return of the Terminator franchise.

What did I think?

In one word with all caps…AWESOME!

I’ve seen three blockbusters so far for this summer and by all means, this is the best I’ve seen. However, I am partial to the Terminator franchise, so it may not be fair for me to say that. But it is my opinion.

The film opens with Sam Worthington’s character, Marcus Wright, sitting on death row in 2003 as he awaits his sentence for the murder of his brother and a cop. Helena Bonham Carter’s character, Serena, comes in and asks him to sign away his body to science. After he signs the paperwork, we see a clear shot of the paperwork’s header which has the Cyberdyne insignia on top.

The film then cuts to the future, 2018, and we see the resistance fighting and bombing satellite dishes, obviously used by Skynet. We’re introduced to the first glimpse of John Connor as his helicopter lands on a wrecked T-600. He jumps out and puts a few bullets into its skull.

The resistance goes down into some underground bunkers where they want to rig up bombs to detonate, but we see a glimpse of some bodies (including Marcus Wright’s) and they’re wondering what the hell is Skynet doing there.

Later, Marcus wakes up, joins up with Kyle Reese and Star (if you’d read the book prequel, you’d understand why they’re on their own). They hear John Connor’s nightly message over a CB radio, letting everyone who can hear him know that they’re part of the Resistance and how to beat or outmaneuver the machines. Kyle says that they need to find this guy, so that’s their quest.

Meanwhile, John Connor is not quite the leader he’s always meant to be just yet. The Resistance has a command center that’s located in a submarine in the middle of the ocean and Connor has to abide by them like everybody else. However, it’s shown that he has a following already, not just by his squad but by people who listen to him over the airwaves.

Connor’s aware of Kyle Reese being out there somewhere and it’s apparent he’s leaving it up to fate that he’ll find Reese or Reese will find him.

I felt the plot was rather decent, not like all the grumbling I’ve heard from other reviewers saying that there was none. I feel that the story here is mainly a part one of many and we’ll have to look at all of them as a whole before we cast any judgement. But here, we have Marcus and Kyle’s need to find Connor. Later, Connor works with Marcus to rescue Kyle. All the while, there is a big Resistance strike that is about to take place that really jeopardizes Connor’s rescue of Kyle. As convoluted as that sounds, I think it’s a very contrived, yet interestingly fascinating, story.

The look of the film was great, the cast was excellent, the dialogue was good…overall, the film was very well executed and didn’t drag at all. Sure, there’s minor parts where I could nitpick, but in almost any film I could do that.

The machines featured in this outing are magnificent and spectacular. They pay respect to the original designs from the first films, yet there is more to see that we haven’t seen before, thanks in good part and memory of the late and great Stan Winston.

The Harvester is a Transformer-esque machine with the size and firepower to envy, yet doesn’t have the ridiculous moving lips and eyebrows. It seems to be a part of the HKs that patrol the airs.

The Moto-Terminators are these Ducati-type cycles that are equipped with maneuvering abilities that the humanistic machines don’t have. Like the Harvesters being a part of the HKs, the Moto-Terminators are a part of the Harvesters.

The Hydrobots patrol the waters with its serpentine capabilities and its similarity to Doctor Octopus’s tentacles, yet they swim and whisk through the water with the ease of an eel.

Of course, throughout the film we see many T-600 series of machines and they’re these behemoth monstrosities that thump around and use mini-guns to kill at will. Kyle Reese was correct in the 1984 film when he said they were easy to spot with their rubber skin.

The climax of the film was the best part of all and it included the cameo of the original Terminator himself, Mr. Arnold Schwarzeneggar…well, sort of. When I saw this part, a smile grew on my face that probably made me look like a little school boy…I think I may have giggled a little as well. I didn’t giggle because the cameo wasn’t well accomplished, I giggled because I loved it!

I plan to see this film again before it leaves the screens because I really think this film delivers. Unfortunately, James Cameron’s T1 and T2 are a little better, but not by much. I really believe the reason he says he thinks the story finished with T2 is either because he couldn’t come up with anything or maybe he wants somebody to try and fail, perking up his ego when critics write or say that this film is no James Cameron film.

No, it’s no James Cameron film; it’s a McG film. Gosh, I’d never thought I’d say that.

My final “bit” on Terminator: Salvation? McG spares no expense on the action. It definitely doesn’t lack the excitement and fanfare we, as the audience, want to see. I highly recommend this film, especially if you’re a Terminator fan. If you aren’t, you may even love this movie even more than a die hard like myself.