Weekend at the Movies: Sci-Fi Double Feature (part 2)
The year is 2018. The world is a post apocalyptic mess - an ongoing result of the global war between humanity and machines. The Resistance versus Skynet, to be precise. The reason? Fourteen years prior, Skynet deemed humans to be a threat to its own existence and extirpated much of humanity in an event known as Judgment Day. But therein lies the problem, you see. The question of why machines are so hellbent to wipe out humankind is never answered. At least not in this film. It was, however, answered during a few visits to the Wikipedia pages of Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Even newer questions about the franchise’s line between man and machine are raised in Terminator Salvation. Instead of answers, though, we are treated to action. Lots of it. That is fine, of course, if you are a person that dives into a film to see the protagonist shoot first and ask questions later. But those looking for the heart and driving elements that separates ANY film from being good or bad - the story and the characters in it - lose out.
(pics courtesy of IGN)
The narrative follows two characters: John Connor and Marcus Wright. Connor, played by Christian Bale, is a grizzled and hardened soldier destined to be humanity’s leader. He is the most important, and almost religious, figure in this Terminator universe. A saviour that provides hope. Despite the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, “JC” is hardly layered, or interesting. The young Star (Jadagrace) was more enjoyable - and she was mute. While everyone will be quick to jump on the actor, the script, calling for Connor to be cold, and often emotionless, deserves some of the blame. But even Bale suffers through uncharacteristic bouts of overacting. And oy vey, that voice. Christian Bale is arguably one of the most talented actors today, so it’s hard to understand why he couldn’t give John Connor his own unique characterisitcs instead of resorting to the now creepy joke of a voice. Still, Bale isn’t bad nor great. And despite his character’s status in the film, he isn’t the most pivotal.
Marcus Wright, played by Sam Worthington, is a character that mysteriously wakes up in 2018 after being executed in 2003. He is headstrong, fearless and confused. Looking for answers in a an unfamiliar world, he displays heroic tendencies. Soon we discover that he is in fact a cyborg with human organs, mechanical endoskeleton, circuitry, and a partially artificial cerebral cortex. The real discovery is how much more complex and human he his compared to John Connor, making him the most fascinating character in the film. But because of rapid transitions into action, he never meets his ultimate potential as a cyborg that suffers through the internal conflict of believing they’re human. Even so, Terminator Salvation becomes more about Wright than Connor, and the film was stronger following his story.
For example, the film is at its most immersive when Marcus, Star, and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) share the screen. Yelchin himself, has become a bit of a revelation lately, and his portrayal of the street smart, intense, and protective Reese stood out as the second best performance of the film. Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside, Common (who seemed to rap through his lines), and a special cameo from a political figure, all played a part, but didn’t have the screen time to matter. In the end, all character growth is stunted because the film called for more destruction than development.
That isn’t to say the action was poor. On the contrary. The action scenes, along with the CGI, were every bit extravagant, and frankly, the best this year. Anything you could ever ask for in a multi-million blockbuster is present: multiple vehicle chase scenes, grand explosions, cyborg to cyborg combat, etc. The many different machine models Skynet had to offer were a sight to behold. Truly pushing the boundary of sci-fi technology. McG’s vision of the future perfectly resembles a world annihilated by war: desolate, desperate, barren, and bleak. Painted with strokes of sepia and gray tones.
Terminator Salvation’s action/CGI, while its strong points, is also its own worst enemy. It’s far too abundant. After sitting through car scenes, truck scenes, motorcycle scenes, helicopter scenes, jet scenes, fight scenes, and more fight scenes, we’ve spent too much time exhaling instead of thinking. What is this film really about? A big war with both sides trying to infiltrate each other. That’s it? If it’s about something meaningful, I must have missed it amongst the flying robot limbs.
In a way, Terminator Salvation is the anti-thesis of Star Trek. Here we have two films rebooting their franchise. Being able to satisfy the oldcore legions is obviously a priority. But being able to garner fans in this new generation is equally important (especially with plans for a trilogy). Star Trek was able to make their story accessible to newbies and has become an unmitigated success because of it. Terminator Salvation made no such effort, and in the process, was able to make their story even more convoluted. Expecting our generation to know important pieces of information from 1985 (T1) and 1991 (T2) to be able to follow this film’s story is idiotically selfish.
(cross posted at Otakuberries)