A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Terminator Salvation

June 24, 2011

Terminator Salvation

Well this is an appropriately titled movie. After yesterday’s disappointing mess I was ready to give up on Terminator movies for good. The second movie was fun but didn’t hold to the spirit of the first as much as I would have liked. The third was a re-hash that desperately wanted to revive the franchise but instead completely destroyed it in my mind. This movie is the salvation of the series, no doubt about that.

This is one of those movies, from a pre-production and writing standpoint, that should not have worked. Anything with this many people brought in to polish and adapt the script before it starts filming is almost guaranteed to be awful. Neither was I much excited by the “from the director of Charlie’s Angels” pedigree. Add to that the negative press from Christian Bale’s infamous on-set tirade and you have all the ingredients of a film that is doomed before it’s even in the can. So how on Earth does it work so well?

I think this movie succeeds on two essential and contradictory levels. It manages to take the series in a new direction while still paying homage to its roots. The new direction is into the post apocalyptic future. This movie follows the adventures of John Connor after the bombs have already fallen. Judgement Day is now the past and the war between the machines and man is well under way. This movie takes place ten years before the first time travel that sends a terminator and a human back in time to attempt to kill John’s mother before he is conceived. Connor is not leader of the resistance, he’s just a lieutenant, but he is a strong voice and respected throughout the organization. During a raid on a Skynet facility the resistance comes across a potential tool that may help them gain an edge on the machines – they have discovered what they believe is a signal that can disrupt Skynet’s controlling signals so effectively that they may be able to actually remotely shut down the H.K.s and other threats that endanger human kind. Naturally John wants to be a part of testing this new weapon.

At the same time John is concerned because he has not yet met the young man who he knows he will one day send back in time to defend his mother. Kyle Reese – when he grows up – will be John Connor’s father in the past. Somehow Skynet knows this (the movie never makes it clear how) and the machines are bent upon finding both John and Kyle because they fear that if they don’t stop John soon he will turn the tide in the war. The machines know that if they can find and kill Kyle while he is young and inexperienced and before he goes back in time that will eliminate John Connor as well – thus altering the course of the entire war. It’s a twisted kind of logic but I suppose it works.

Then there’s the third player in this film. There’s a convicted criminal who was put to death by lethal injection back before the war. A murderer named Marcus Wright who had donated his body for medical research to Cyberdyne. At the start of this movie he inexplicably wakes up in the wasteland. Clearly he is a terminator, but he’s a strange new kind. One with human organs who actually believes that he’s not a machine. The mystery, and what really sets this movie apart from its predecessors, is just what purpose he serves. Why did Skynet build a terminator that thinks it is a man?

I enjoy all the little nods to the earlier films. Even the third movie, awful pile of stupidity that it was, becomes more bearable in hindsight when Connor’s wife Kate appears, linking this movie to that one. The movie manages to acknowledge the earlier films with little in-jokes like the repeated lines “I’ll be back” and “come with me if you want to live” without descending to the level of camp that Rise of the Machines sank to. It even has a young Schwarzenegger doppelganger for Connor to do battle with – which is pretty awesome.

What a great cast too. I’m still not convinced that Christian Bale was the perfect casting for John Connor as he rises to meet his destiny, but he surely is fun to watch in the part. He’s able to wonderfully portray the angst and uneasiness that comes of knowing his entire life that he will somehow lead humankind to victory in this war but not knowing how. At the same time he’s a capable action star, taking the fight to the machines and proving that his lifetime of training was effective. Sam Worthington is the actual heart of the film as Marcus Wright, the tortured man who discovers that he is a machine. In supporting roles there’s Anton Yelchin as young Kyle, Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate and the awesomely named Moon Bloodgood as Blaire Williams, a resistance fighter who befriends Marcus. I even got Tim Burton flashbacks with Helena Bonham Carter’s cameo role and Danny Elfman’s score.

This movie works surprisingly well on so many levels. It’s got some fairly heavy-handed stuff about what makes us human (which feels layered on a little thick but works with the tone of the movie.) It’s got plenty of action and car chases and shoot-outs and explosions. It actually shows a part of the story of John Connor’s life that hasn’t been done to death completely already. I’d say that in just about every respect it is my favorite terminator movie since the first one, and now I’m actually looking forwarded with guarded optimism to the next movie in 2014.

McG – I apologize most of all to you for underestimating your action film-making talent.

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June 24, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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