Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apocalyptic bystander

T:4 benches John Connor during the big endgame

Posted on Thu, May 21, 2009 at 4:00 AM

**
Terminator Salvation
Studio: MGM Distribution Company
Rated: PG-13
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Bryce Dallas Howard
Director: McG
WorkNameSort: Terminator Salvation
Our Rating: 2.00

Taking on a new Terminator movie is like accepting an ambassadorship: Many different factions want something out of you. Often, they have conflicting desires. There's no way all of them can be satisfied.

Fans could ask of new franchise helmer McG (Charlie's Angels) that he return to the 1984 original's deep sci-fi roots. He could be asked to rechannel the cutting-edge technology that met with the perfect zeitgeisty moment in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with its Guns N' Roses, liquid enemies and carved-from-gravel feminist protagonist. It could even be reasonably asked that McG capture the down-in-the-trenches fatalism of brotherhood that the unfairly canceled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles embodied through the seen-it-all, weary eyes of (gasp!) Brian Austin Green's Derek Reese.

But setting all these impossible standards aside, the least one can ask of McG is to take us into the moments just after judgment day, after the Skynet machines have become self-aware and commenced destroying the human population, a mission which only a band of resistance fighters ' led by the prophesied-and-trained-from-birth John Connor ' can hope to stop. And that is Terminator Salvation: the least they could give us.

Salvation is one of the loudest movies to come out in years. It's all explosions, hand cannons, helicopter crashes and land mines, and McG has chosen to place us directly in the line of fire for the entirety of the film, prompting a friend of mine to quip, 'I longed for an establishing shot.â?�

Following Connor, his pregnant girlfriend (a dazed Bryce Dallas Howard, who looks like she wandered onto the wrong set) and his crew of rebels, McG doesn't take the time to explain the most basic canonical tenet: Is this the Connor who bears the experience of the previous two films and the TV show or not? If so, if this is the great leader we've heard about for 25 years of movie-watching, why on earth is he answering to Michael Ironside's Gen. Ashdown, who tells him at one point, 'You're out of the resistance!â?� And why are there generals still giving orders after the end of the world? I'd imagine the concept of government and the hierarchy of the military would go out the window once the population had dwindled to a four-digit figure.

The action scenes are admittedly spectacular, and I suppose this is an accurate representation of the chaos and panic one would experience in this situation, considering the killer robots are the size of buildings. But where Salvation really derails is its treatment of Connor, who is sent to the sideline and spends most of the film shouting orders or giving motivational speeches into a walkie, so that what we see of the franchise messiah ' and Bale himself, who is not hard to look at ' is the back of his hand. The real storyline is given over to one of Skynet's prisoners, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, whose real test of leading-man status will be later this year in James Cameron's Avatar), who has been brought back from the dead and turned into a robot with a human heart. It's not a bad B-plot, except McG brings it to the fore at the expense of Bale's Connor, making Connor a spectator at his own historical moment.

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