Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Film review: 'Salvation' rips 'Terminator' franchise into incoherent shreds

Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation.

By John Thomason

As so many episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? have taught us, one’s first instinct is often his best answer. When asked about his decision to helm a fourth Terminator film, director McG’s first instinct is telling. Here he is, talking to Orlando Parfitt of the webzine IGN last fall:

“Initially, I didn't want to do it. I was not that excited by the idea of a fourth Terminator movie. I thought, 'Why flog a dead horse?' Especially when James Cameron did such a great job on the first few films.”

If only his end result, the cinematic root canal Terminator Salvation, were as simple as a mere flogging. No, the dead horse that is the once-respected Terminator franchise has been raped, pillaged, pummeled, obliterated, annihilated, demolished, extinguished, and – hell, why not -- terminated.

If it sounds like I’m being too harsh on McG’s piece of innocuous popcorn escapism, keep in mind that I’m judging it as popcorn escapism: I’m not holding it to the same standard as a film by Jim Jarmusch, or even Michael Mann. Even so, this garbage makes Michael Bay look like an art-house provocateur.

With an assaulting, ear-crushing excessiveness that makes one yearn for the modest charms of Transformers or the quaint delights of Starship Troopers, Terminator Salvation is a collection of incoherent action scenes as uninspired as they are deafening. The actors are marionettes spouting spoon-fed clichés, aware of their status as secondary beings to McG’s soullessly realized visuals.

Christian Bale, as series hero John Connor, is a blank slate of gruff-voiced indistinction, unable to project any star power when the only reason for the film’s existence is to inflate the adolescent ego of a hack director whose ambitions never exceed the production of a live-action video game (or at least a viable tie-in: Note the Terminator Salvation video game released concurrently).

In a move of head-shaking whoredom, Danny Elfman scored this monstrosity, but even his middling orchestrations are barely audible amid the offensive clangor of detonated buildings, careening vehicles and monolithic, bullet-showered machines.

They’re strung together by the most minimal of a story, lest McG’s infantile visual wet-dreams be at all hampered by such pesky requirements as exposition, character and plot development. The slight man-versus-machine yarn, set in 2018, finds the artificial-intelligence network SkyNet employing its terminators to lord over a scorched, post-apocalyptic Earth.

The sparse human resistance is led by Bale’s Connor, aided by a contemptible coterie of multicultural stereotypes: a badass Asian hottie (Moon Bloodgood), a taciturn black militant (rap musician Common), a mute child (Jadagrace Berry) and a humorless, order-barking Resistance general (Michael Ironside). They are assisted by Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a Death Row convict-turned-killing-machine with a human soul, whose longing for redemption provides the film’s only semblance of depth.

It took some five writers (though only two are credited) to pen the final product, and this haphazard lack of a unifying vision is obvious. The only “vision,” then, is from the laughably pretentious McG, whose insecure vanities and auteur fantasies extend beyond his stage name.

Just behold the opening sequence, of a repentant Marcus given his lethal-injection cocktail. The sequence ends from his dying point of view -- his last image is the cancer-stricken face of Dr. Serena Korgan (Helena Bonham Carter), which blurs into nothingness and then the frame-dominated credit “Directed by McG.” Yes, he wants you to remember the one name most responsible for this steaming pile.

Sing it proud, Joseph McGinty Nichol. It’s all you, man.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

TERMINATOR SALVATION. Studio: Warner Brothers; Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin, Common, Bryce Dallas Howard and Helena Bonham Carter; Director: McG; Release date: Thursday; Venue: Most theaters


Ricky said...

I must confess I had great hopes from this film but folks the truth is that it really sucks big time. Even as god damn entertainment film.

Nomad said...

i love how they got creative with some of the robots, no so sure about the human performances though