If â€œTerminator Salvationâ€ were a cyborg straight off the design floor, Iâ€™d send it back â€“ because it clearly isnâ€™t functioning right.
And Iâ€™m not the only one thatâ€™s holding a pitch-fork â€“ you only have to read some of the reviews on my colleagueâ€™s websites to see it ain’t the most popular pic in town at the moment. Itâ€™s also , I hear, the unspoken title around Warnerâ€™s Burbank campus this week. The psychopathic child who murdered the dog. Youâ€™ll be hard-pressed finding anyone who hasnâ€™t walked out of the film and considered buying a cheap packet of razors at the nearest 7-Eleven. It’s all rather-depressing… which could be why I’m swigging Vodka as I write today’s column.
Itâ€™s been three months since a friend of mine caught the film at the very-first preview of the film (At the time the Arnold cameo wasnâ€™t finished and Linda Hamilton narrated the film but didnâ€™t lend her voice to the â€˜tapesâ€™, as she does now) and let me quietly know (but begging me, as most lucky enough to attend such screenings do, not to run “anything on it about Moviehole”) that I should probably lower my expectations. â€œItâ€™s OKâ€, I remember him/her saying. â€œItâ€™s a good action movie. Nothing moreâ€.
Considering she/heâ€™s usually much kinder to films than I am, that wasnâ€™t a good sign.
What shouldâ€™ve been one of the meatiest and most exciting science fiction spectacles of the year is instead no more exciting than, well, an episode of TVs ”Sarah Connor Chronicles”. Actually that’s an insult to TSCC – that show had some heart, this oneâ€™s chest is devoid of anything readable by an ECG.
Take that classic scene from Jim Cameronâ€™s timeless masterpiece â€œTerminator 2 : Judgment Dayâ€ (1991) of the T-1000 chasing down the T-800 and John Connor on their bike in the sewers, loop it to play over-and-over for two hours, and thatâ€™s essentially what youâ€™ve got here. Sure, itâ€™s entertaining to watch for a while â€“ but gets old pretty fuckin’ quick. Everyone likes a side with their meat.
The fourth in a series of terrific B-movies kicked of by genre master Cameron, â€œSalvationâ€ plays like a series of ho-hum deleted scenes from the previous movies spliced together. Either that or something you’d find on the Sci-Fi Channel. And though the film does seem to get its point across, youâ€™ll be hard pressed trying to remember the finer details of the storyline the next day â€“ because, quite frankly, there arenâ€™t any. This is the result of two hacks reading â€˜Make a War Movie for Dummiesâ€™ front-to-back before loading up Final Draft.
Instead of serving up a terrific action movie thatâ€™s as much about the characters as it is about the calamity, screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato (â€œTerminator 3 : Rise of the Machinesâ€, â€œCatwomanâ€ – Yes, why the hell were they hired in the first place given their previous credits!?) have delivered a fairly standard action-pic script thatâ€™s not so much â€˜Terminatorâ€™ as it is just your token, run-of-the-mill, futuristic thriller â€“ albeit one bloody messy one. You donâ€™t care about the characters, there are no real surprises (there wouldâ€™ve been one, had the ending not been changed at the 11th hour), and youâ€™ll just keep holding out hope that theyâ€™ve kept Schwarzeneggerâ€™s role a secret, having him reveal himself half-way thru.
And just as bad is Danny â€˜The Simpsonsâ€™ Elfmanâ€™s music score â€“ itâ€™s weak, unmemorable and doesnâ€™t pack anywhere near as punch as Brad Fiedelâ€™s legendary cues (which is heard twice â€“ not enough if you ask me â€“ throughout this movie) from the previous films. Why they didnâ€™t just stick to the original is beyond me. From the moment the movie starts, and that underwheming score kicks in, you just lose all hope. Or most hope.
Having said that, director McG (the filmâ€™s wildcard â€“ and the one everyone assumed would fuck this thing up) does the best he can with the material (material supposedly polished by â€œDark Knightâ€ writer Jonathan Nolan; donâ€™t see any proof of that here) by squeezing as much juice from the narrative, and trailer-ready action sequences, as he can. Its obvious the â€œCharlieâ€™s Angelsâ€ helmer wanted to make the best film possible here â€“ and though his team let him down, he can sleep knowing he did his best.
But effort does not make the movie â€“ as is the case here. Thereâ€™s no way around it, this is a cheesy (the dialogue is atrocious!), messy (itâ€™s no more than a series of unconnected scenes meshed together), dull dud.
One of the weakest aspects of the film is its star. Bale, though appropriately intense and interesting to watch, isnâ€™t as good here as he was in the Batman films. Again, its probably because of the way Connorâ€™s written â€“ thereâ€™s just no arc to him. The resistance leader shouldâ€™ve (as he did in the original draft) remained a supporting character, because his character seems to be taking its cue from a rusty bike â€“ it just doesnâ€™t move. In fact, all he seems to do is yell and scream down a walkie-talkie. We also still donâ€™t know why heâ€™s become this big-time legendary hero â€“ thereâ€™s nothing here to suggest heâ€™s not just a self appointed team-leader who possesses the same skills and knowledge as everyone else fighting for the cause.
When Bale was first asked to come onboard â€œSalvationâ€ it was for the character of Marcus. And though the role of Connor was minuscule at the time â€“ he was a secretive resistance leader heard mostly through walkie-talkies, appearing only briefly near the filmâ€™s end â€“ that was the role that intrigued Bale. Alas, Connor was promoted to a lead characterâ€¦ whether it was to the benefit of the film or not.
Sam Worthingtonâ€™s character, that of the â€˜Dataâ€™-esque Marcus, has a bigger arc, and as a consequence, is much more pleasurable to follow. In fact, the only weak aspect of Worthingtonâ€™s turn here is the awful dialogue he has to spit out. And maybe his characterâ€™s corny, altruistic conclusion. Otherwise, this is a good turn for the next-big-thing from downunder.
Same with Anton Yelchinâ€™s Kyle Reese, whoâ€™s at least got â€˜somethingâ€™ to do here (albeit not half-as-much as he had to do in the original script). If Reese had more to do in the second act he could probably have saved the move entirely. Maybe.
Not only is it interesting to see the evolution (even if thereâ€™s not much an arc) of the Reese character, but Yelchin gives a remarkable performance â€“ OK, yes, he mimics Biehn, but he also adds his own spin to an extent too. Itâ€™s a really impressive turn. And I believe a very interesting character â€“ pity the writers didnâ€™t feel the same way. What a waste.
The rest of the support cast â€“ Moon Bloodgood (sorta this decade’s Tia Carrere), Bryce Dallas-Howard, Common, Michael Ironside (!) â€“ are also giving it their best, but again, the writing lets them down. Nobody has much to do, the least of which genre-favourite Ironside, whoâ€™s as wasted as a back-alley hobo here. And donâ€™t even get me started on the psychic kid (?) â€˜Starâ€™, played by Jadagrace. What the fuck is she even doing there!? Does she have a purpose in this film, or is she a last-minute tack-on at the request of the toy department!?
And surely that wasnâ€™t Helena Bonham-Carter in the thankless role of the doctor? Really? What the hell was she thinking!? (Iâ€™m assuming Danny Elfman â€“ a close friend of her husbands â€“ roped her into it). Wasn’t Olivia Williams available!?
And had the current cut not have been butchered you wouldâ€™ve also seen next-big-thing Terry Crews – who appeared in the filmâ€™s original opening sequence (you can see his lifeless body behind Connor at the start of the film) as Commonâ€™s brother. Crews, the former pro footballer cum star of “Street Kings” and “White Chicks”, was out plugging the film only a few months back before going noticeably quiet. Obviously, he was let know he didn’t make the final cut.
And though you will raise a smile when Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his much-talked-about blink-and-youâ€™ll-miss-him-cameo as the T-800 (Roland Kickinger is the body, Schwarzeneggerâ€™s head has been CGIâ€™ed on top of it), it still isnâ€™t enough to spur you to jump on your feet and scream â€œMore!â€ towards the screen when the movie ends. (And for the record, good job ILM – but there’s something still a little Atari about the whole scene).
So, the question everyoneâ€™s asking is â€˜Is it better than Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machinesâ€? Well, yes, I guess it is â€“ if only because it doesnâ€™t feel like the TV pilot that Jonathan Mostowâ€™s film did. At the same time though, that movie had Schwarzenegger â€“ and whatever way this movie fell, he was always going to be missed. He was, and will forever be, the Terminator. And if this film doesnâ€™t do as well at the box office as predicted, Arnoldâ€™s absence will no doubt be one of the reasons named the film didnâ€™t succeed.
This, the first in three â€˜proposedâ€™ new films centering on Connor-the-War-Hero, isnâ€™t as useless as a bloody tampon â€“ but itâ€™s definitely not the epic blockbuster we were hoping for either. Side-by-side with other disappointing sequels of recent years, It scrubs up better than Brett Ratnerâ€™s wrist-slashing â€œX-Men : The Last Stand,â€, as well as the uber-depressing â€œIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skullâ€, and both of those dire â€œAliens Vs. Predatorâ€ movies , but probably isnâ€™t any better than â€œAlien Resurrectionâ€ (which, for what itâ€™s worth, I donâ€™t think was as bad as most made it out to be), â€œThe Punisher War Zoneâ€ or the recent â€œAngels & Demonsâ€. In fact,, those films might be better.
Can Connor order Kyle Reese to travel back in time and kill writers before theyâ€™re hired for the job?
Or maybe thereâ€™s no need. Speaking to a friend at Warner today (who hasnâ€™t had anything to do with the film, but obviously hears things), she told me the franchise may go the way of a poorly cat. The weak performance of the film at the box office, coupled with the unsavory reviews, has spurred a bit of uneasiness about rushing the sequel into production. â€œA couple of weeks ago every studio in town was ready to make a bid on T5. Thatâ€™s no longer the case. I hear they mightnâ€™t even do itâ€, she tells me via email.
The ultimate decision as to whether or not the next film goes ahead lies with Halycon, rights-holders of the â€œTerminatorâ€ series, and producers of the current film. They may decide, after this experience, that thereâ€™s not enough in it for them â€“ monetarily-speaking, and just move onto something else. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll return to the brand sometime, but maybe not as soon as originally planned, and not necessarily for a sequel to this film. They may wait until Arnoldâ€™s out of office. I donâ€™t really know. What I do know is that thereâ€™s going to be a few people having a long and hard think about the future of the franchise this week.
Now where was I? Oh yes… Vodka.
”So that’s what death tastes like” – Marcus Wright.