May 21st, 2009

TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009) ** ½

Ever since Terminator 1 came out a quarter of a century ago, we’ve been waiting to see The Future Wars.  We’ve seen glimpses of it here and there over the course of three movies and heard the characters talk a lot about it.  With Terminator:  Salvation, we now have a whole movie devoted to it.  Now that the filmmakers have gotten The Future Wars out of their system, hopefully they can time travel back to an age where people knew how to make a great Terminator movie.  Now don’t get me wrong, Terminator:  Salvation isn’t a “bad” movie per se.  In fact, I enjoyed a fair share of it.  It’s just uninspired and desperately lacking the magic and fun of its predecessors. 

 

We know from the first three Terminator movies that John Connor (this time portrayed by Christian Bale) leads the resistance against the Terminators and the evil computer Skynet in the post-apocalyptic future.  Salvation gives us that and very little else.  While Connor is off fighting Terminators, a new character Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) awakens in Skynet’s facility and makes his way to the resistance camps.  If you’ve seen the trailers, then you already know that Marcus is a Terminator.  The catch is, he doesn’t KNOW he’s a machine.  Is he more human than machine?  That’s the one and only existential question the movie harbors.

 

If you didn’t come for existentialism, then you’ll enjoy the action.  Director Mc (Charlie’s Angels) G serves up a couple entertaining action sequences that mostly work because they’re more or less callbacks to the previous films (you know, the usual tow trucks and motorcycles stuff).  I could’ve done without the Transformer inspired “Harvester” machine which looks downright goofy, but it does blow up stuff real good, which is always a plus.

 

The biggest thing that stuck in my craw about T:S was the fact that Connor’s story and Marcus’ story really never mesh.  Sure, Connor begrudgingly learns to accept a machine’s help, but John has been letting potentially dangerous cyborgs be his friend since part 2, so there’s nothing new there.  I was surprised that I actually enjoyed the Marcus scenes more than I did the stuff with John.  His story arc is actually kinda interesting.  (The next two sentences contain a big ass spoiler)  Basically Marcus is the Tin Man in reverse:  He’s a machine with a human heart who only becomes “human” after giving it away.

 

I think a lot of the problem with Connor’s story is that we already know too much about him by now, so there are no surprises.  It’s also disappointing that such a versatile actor as Bale is totally incapable of bringing any spark to the role.  Bale’s acting in this one consists of two modes:  Barking out orders to his men and solemnly preaching over a CB radio.  That’s pretty much it.  We don’t learn what makes him tick.  For all we know, he could be a machine too.

 

Worthington fares slightly better as Marcus.  Unfortunately he doesn’t really get to shine since his character seems shoehorned in.  Hands down the best performance in the film was Anton Yelchin as the young Kyle Reese.  He effectively embodied Michael Biehn’s persona yet made it his own and whenever he’s on screen, the movie cooks.  Sadly, he spends most of his time locked up with nothing to do.

 

McG gets a lot of mileage out of using the familiar elements we’ve come to expect from a Terminator movie, i.e. “Come with me if you want to live”, Guns n’ Roses, “I’ll be back”, the freezing of a Terminator, the steel mill finale, etc.  Whenever these moments pop up, it’ll bring a guaranteed smile on your face.  However, McG doesn’t really bring anything else to the table, save for one pretty cool Children of Men inspired shot that takes place in one continuous take. 

 

Now let’s talk Arnold for a second here.  (Again, skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want the pic spoiled.)  Yes, the Governator is in the movie… for 10 seconds.  Honestly, it’s the biggest cocktease in movie history.  Basically Ah-nuld comes off the assembly line and tosses Connor across the room.  Then John grabs a grenade launcher and blows Arnie’s face off.  Look we all know that Arnold’s face was just digitally superimposed over a body double (Roland Kickinger, who also played Arnold in See Arnold Run) but was the technology THAT expensive that they could only afford to do it for ten fucking seconds!  Seriously, Arnold’s cameo in The Rundown is longer.

 

Alright, warts and all I could accept Terminator:  Salvation as a dumb summer action flick and award it *** but because of the disparaging lack of Arnold, I have to knock off a ½ *.  Having an (almost) Arnold-less Terminator movie seems downright blasphemous when you think about.  I’m sure you good folks would argue that it’s a Future War movie so it makes sense.  And it does.  That doesn’t necessarily help the movie though.  I mean look at Star Trek 3:  The Search for Spock.  It’s a decent flick, I’ll give you that.  The thing that sucks about it is that it’s sorely missing one of the key ingredients that makes Star Trek work in the first place, which is Spock.  The thing with Star Trek 3 is that you got Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and all the other dudes to pick up the slack.  T:S just has a morose Connor, an earnest but ineffective Marcus, and a plucky but underutilized Reese.  To me Arnold IS the Terminator.  Having him only appear for 10 seconds at the tail end of a 130 minute movie is the very definition of too little, too late.

 

The original Terminator films were balls-to-the-walls action classics (yes I even love T3).  Terminator:  Salvation is disappointing on several levels yet it still has enough worthwhile stuff in it for me to give it ** ½.  But let’s face it folks, who wants to see a ** ½ Terminator movie anyway? 

 

To sum up, here’s just a short list of Part 4’s that are better than Terminator:  Salvation:  (And this is just off the top of my head.)

 

Star Wars (Technically a Part 4)

Rocky 4

Land of the Dead

Rambo

Bride of Chucky

Return to Sleepaway Camp

Citizen Toxie:  The Toxic Avenger 4

Alien:  Resurrection

Thunderball

Star Trek 4:  The Voyage Home

Friday the 13th 4:  The Final Chapter

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4:  The Dream Master

Live Free and Die Hard

The Substitute 4:  Failure is Not an Option

Lethal Weapon 4

Halloween 4:  The Return of Michael Myers

Death Wish 4:  The Crackdown

Police Academy 4:  Citizens on Patrol

The Devil in Ms. Jones 4:  The Final Outrage

Batman and Robin (yeah, you read that right)

Scary Movie 4

 

See folks, it’s not THAT hard to make a good Part 4.

GUERRILLA: THE TAKING OF PATTY HEARST (2004) ** ½

If you are looking for a good documentary about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, then look elsewhere.  Despite the title, Guerrilla:  The Taking of Patty Hearst is more about the formation of the SLA and how they used the Hearst kidnapping to serve their own needs.  If anything this documentary shows just what a bunch of fucking idiotic jackasses the SLA were. 

 

First off, they’d brag about helping black convicts escape prison (the SLA considered them “political prisoners”) and then they turn around and murder Oakland’s first black school superintendent.  Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  Or how about after they kidnap Patty, they make her old man start a “charitable organization” to feed the poor?  They say it’s their way of “playing Robin Hood”.  I call bullshit on that because if they really wanted to do charity work, they would’ve gone out and started the organization themselves and not resorted to kidnapping and terrorist activities.  The best part though is when one of the smug ex-SLA members swears up and down that he didn’t know anything about one of the SLA’s murders and then shortly after the interview was conducted; we see him being found guilty of the crime in a court of law. 

 

Guerrilla held my interest for the most part throughout its 90 minute running time.  The shitty thing is that we never get to hear from Patty herself.  (We do get to hear the tapes she made while with the SLA and see her in archived footage though.)  Since Patty never gets to tell her side of the story, the film consequently raises a lot more questions than it answers.  Oh well, I guess she was too busy starring in a John Waters movie or something.  If anything, this documentary is a unique time capsule of an age where dirty stupid hippies could murder and rob banks and still think they were “the good guys”.  

 

AKA:  Neverland:  The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army.