Friday, May 29, 2009

Terminated! A Review of TERMINATOR: SALVATION and MORE!

Well, I said I'd be back.

It just took a while ...

Well, it's been a week of craziness here in Hollywood. This past Memorial Day weekend saw my brother Matt visit in LA, and the Brothers Baram set out on a number of adventures. We partook in a couple of epic basketball encounters that saw me lose horribly and in convincing fashion. We partook in a couple of epic videogame battles that saw me lose horribly and in convincing fashion. We saw Terminator and Star Trek. We dined at many of greater Burbank's finest dining establishments, including Matt's first taste of the fabled In N' Out Burger. On Memorial Day Monday, we even drove to the Staples Center to take in a live showing of WWE Monday Night RAW, during which we saw Vince McMahon call out the owner of the Denver Nuggets, an appearance from "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair (Whooo!), and a colossal 10-man tag-team match as our main event. Quite the spectacle. But also, Matt interviewed for the NBC Page Program, which I of course was a participant in a couple of years ago. Yep, it's all coming full circle. Will my brother don the legendary garb of the NBC Page? Stay tuned ...

In any case, it was nice to get out of the usual LA loop a bit and more or less go off the grid for a couple of days. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you have a willing accomplice and don't have to wait around all day for flaky LA people to decide whether or not you are worth their time. 'Nuff said!

Anyways, a review of TERMINATOR is long overdue, so, let's get to it:


- Terminator movies are an odd beast. On one hand, the series is known for its balls-to-the-wall action and pull-no-punches violence. On the other hand, the series, particularly T2, is known for its grand themes of fate and destiny, man vs. machine, etc. Some iterations of the franchise have emphasized the action part of the equation (T3), while others have focused in on character development and the high-concept sci-fi that James Cameron brought to the table (The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Throughout the history of Terminator though, one thing has remained constant: the hints and glimpses of a future war between humans and evil robots that seemed to be seven shades of awesome. Terminator: Salvation comes with the promise that, finally, we will see the epic future was of awesomeness that we have, until now, only imagined. But that has both an upside and a downside. Bringing to life a story that people have for so long only imagined carries with it a lot of expectations. Would we see armies of exoskeleton terminators raising hell? An uber-badass John Connor finally fulfilling his destiny and leading the resistance forces? Narrative closure to all the "Judgement Day" nonsense that has been talked about since T1?

Well, as it turns out, TS is not exactly the ultimate sci-fi uber-epic that we had hoped for. McG is not going to supplant James Cameron in the hearts and minds of fanboys anytime soon. And T2 is not going to be usurped as the king of Terminator flicks. But at the same time, this isn't the rape-my-childhood disaster that some are making it out to be. The fact is: TS is an entertaining action-flick that, while nothing spectacular, is still well worth checking out.

What does Terminator: Salvation do well? Well, it features two heavy-hitting badasses, for one thing, in Christian "insane rant" Bale and Sam Worthington. Bale doesn't have a whole lot of meat to chew on in this movie, but the fact is that he's still Christian Bale. What I mean is, the guy is capable of being badass in any given scene, even if he isn't fed a great line of dialogue or whatever. And when Bale is given something cool to do, his acting abilities, charisma, and overall, well, gravitas, make those moments of coolness that much better. But, by the same token, the movie makes a mistake in not really building up Bale's JC as the icon that he should be. In T2, T3, and the TV show, we've seen endless hype about how John was this messianic figure who was crucial to humanity's anti-Skynet resistance. Here, JC is sort of just another badass. Sure, he has his little radio broadcasts that make him a beacon of hope for the pockets of resistance. But this probably should have been John Connor's movie, and it should have helped to build him up as *the* man.

Instead, we get Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, a character whose strange origin the movie opens with. Worthington is suitably tough-as-nails in the role, and his character is potentially an interesting addition to the Terminator mythos. But the emphasis is on potentially. We skip over a lot of Marcus' backstory, and to that end the character never feels fully drawn. We have no idea why he's in the future or to what end, and it's frustrating that these key plot points were so blantantly left out, presumably left to be addressed in a future sequel.

In fact, a lot of the movie feels only partially-realized. I found it weird that so many characters come in and out of the story without much real fanfare or impact. Helena Bonham Carter is there in the beginning as a terminally-ill acquaintance of Marcus, and then resurfaces as the human face of Skynet. Bryce Dallas Howard is in the mix as John's special lady friend (wife? girlfriend? not even sure ...), but has no real depth to her character, and no real chemistry / connection with Bale. Moon Bloodgood is good in the role of generic female badass, looking and acting very similar to the Jesse character from Sarah Connor Chronicles. But again, the character itself is somewhat cookie-cutter. Same goes for a lot of the other side characters, who all seem to come from the Mad Max / post-apocalyptic playbook. The one guy who sort of stands out is Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. He and Marcus make a fun dynamic duo, and Reese gives a nice touch of lightheartedness to the movie.

I think this is one of those films where you kind of take the good with the bad. Some of the dialogue had me absolutely cringing in parts (the opening with Worthington and Bonham-Carter was particularly painful), and the plot is extremely all-over-the-place in the interest of leaving as much time as possible for the action. And some of the action scenes *are* pretty darn cool. Some really fun variations on the ol' Terminators keep things lively, and McG's direction is, if nothing else, pretty kinetic and visceral.

On the flipside, the movie eventually settles into a kind of bland, by-the-numbers mode that makes its middle section inexcusably boring. For a little while, the movie really started to lose my attention. What changed? Well, I have to admit, the much talked-about Ahnold cameo was kickass. As soon as we got a glimpse of the old-school Terminator model, thanks to some amazing digital wizardry, I along with the entire audience perked up and was back into the movie, bigtime. Suffice it to say, from that point on, the movie really began to fire on all cylinders, and delivered an exciting climax. Yes, there is a pretty lame and tacked-on feeling epilogue, but the movie does certainly have its moments. Will I be running to see this one again anytime soon? Probably not. But will I be there for a hopefully-bigger and hopefully-more-epic sequel? Yep, I'll be back.

My Grade: B

- Alright, I'm locked and loaded for a jam-packed weekend. UP ... I can't wait. And Drag Me to Hell ... bring it on, baby. Also, stay tuned for some thoughts on Jay Leno's final episode of The Tonight Show, and the beginning of the CONAN O'BRIEN era! Have a great weekend, everyone.

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