Thursday, December 10, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

The theme of ‘Terminator: Salvation’ is, unsurprisingly, ‘salvation.’ Not just in terms of the film’s plot – which sees a convicted murderer thrown into the battle to save humanity – but in terms of the ‘Terminator’ franchise itself.

This final chapter in the ‘Terminator’ series is a heroic attempt by director McG to undo the mistakes of the past – and seek ‘salvation’ for a series that arguably should have been retired after 1991’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In the spirit of all great sequels, ‘Terminator: Salvation’ ditches the tried, tested (and now trite) formula of the previous movies and creates a brave, new narrative.

Set in a post-Apocalyptic future - 15 years after a self-aware computer attempted to eradicate mankind in a nuclear fire – ‘Salvation’ sees John Connor attempting to rally the survivors into a single, unified ‘resistance’ movement.

British actor Christian Bale – the action star du jour – plays Connor with brooding intensity – but this film really isn’t about him. Instead, it follows convicted murderer Marcus Wright, who remembers being on death row on the eve of Judgment Day, but has somehow woken up fifteen years later with no memory of how he survived or where he is.

Of course, nothing’s quite as it seems – and although the ‘twist’ of Terminator: Salvation is pretty easy to guess, the film has a strong plot paired with a surprisingly deft script. Marcus’ journey is also a thrill-packed one, with explosive stunts and special effects that suggest the film’s $200 million budget (the most expensive movie production of all time) was well-spent.

But ultimately, it’s unsatisfying.

Just like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, Terminator: Salvation is the film that reveals how ‘naked’ the concept of the Terminator franchise really is. When it was just discussed as an abstract plot-point, the story of robots ‘taking over’ and trying to eliminate mankind was kind of cool. When you actually see it portrayed on screen, you realize the idea’s just kind of dumb.

Lumbering robots, metal endoskeletons and hovering ‘hunter/killers’ look great on screen, but just don’t carry the same threatening gravitas they did when we only caught glimpses of them in flashbacks or dreams. The clichés of all the earlier movies – like how robots can run at 30 miles an hour, yet lumber painstakingly towards their prey when the ‘good guys’ are injured or incapacitated – seem even more unforgivable given the seriousness in which all the actors take their roles.

Even the ending is just plain wacky – with Marcus Wright’s ‘salvation’ being achieved through a sacrifice that anybody who’s watched an episode of ‘House’ would know is medically ‘unlikely.’

It’s not a bad film, by any means. In fact, given the legacy, director McG’s done as good a job as perhaps anybody could be expected to. There are even some truly great moments in it, like seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise his role as the ‘T-800’ for a few brief seconds.

But ultimately, Terminator: Salvation is nothing more than popcorn fodder and its major failing is in not realizing that. All of the chapters in the Terminator saga have had a tendency to take themselves a little too seriously (especially the short-lived TV series) but this is by far the worst example.

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