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TERMINATOR SALVATION is not a reboot! (2009) ***1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on May 22nd, 2009
Posted on May 22nd, 2009

Every promotional clip I saw led me to believe this would do another reboot of a beloved franchise.  The trailers suggested that although this film takes place entirely in the future (unlike the others), it would be an alternate future due to an excess of time travel meddling.  I’m happy to now report, “Terminator Salvation” is NOT a reboot.  It occurs in the same universe as the other Terminator films and it doesn’t ruin or change anything from the previous trilogy.  Whew, that’s a relief.  In addition to that, it’s a pretty decent movie.

In 2003, convicted murderer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) signs his body over to Cyberdyne Research before his execution by lethal injection.  Flash forward to 2018 where John Connor (Christian Bale) leads an assault on a Skynet bunker in an attempt to cripple the evil machine army that has taken over the Earth.  After his strike team gets wiped out and the bunker explodes, Connor returns to base and a confused Marcus rises from the ashes of the bunker with the last 15 years stricken from his memory.  Marcus makes his way to a nuclear-devastated Los Angeles and is saved from a marauding terminator by a young survivor named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).  As Marcus gets caught up in the destiny of Reese, Connor and all of Earth’s human survivors, he learns his true purpose and his role in the human resistance against the machines.

All of the fears I had previous to watching “Terminator Salvation” flooded in during the awkwardly-constructed opening scene where a cancer-riddled Helena Bonham Carter convinces Marcus to sign the release on his organs.  Carter’s character was pointless and Marcus’ weird behavior towards her struck a false note.  All of that fear dissipated in the following scene during the spectacularly choreographed bunker assault.  If the director (McG) can do nothing else, it’s craft an exciting action scene.  The one long, continuous shot of John Connor taking off in a helicopter, taking a hit and crashing, struck me as one of the most inventive cinematic shots I’ve seen in awhile.

Worthington didn’t wow me with any sort of powerhouse acting ability and his Australian accent slipped more times than I could count.  Bale played Batman  I mean Bale.  The stunning Moon Bloodgood plays a meaty role as a human resistance fighter who is first saved by Marcus, then returns the favor when things go south.  Bonham Carter is completely bizarre and useless, distracting greatly from the movie.  Ditto for the too cutesy, mute African American girl Star (Jadagrace) who always seems to magically possess the right object in her hand to save the day.  Anton Yelchin, fresh off his stint as Chekov from the latest “Star Trek,” trumps all other performances.  His Kyle Reese more than honors the performance of Michael Biehn from the original “Terminator” and darned if he doesn’t look a lot like him too.  If another sequel gets the green light, I expect Yelchin to bring it just as fiercely with much more screen time.

All is not so great in the post-apocalyptic world of “Terminator.”  It still never reaches the same levels of shock and awe as the visions of the future from the previous films.  The early stages of this war shows the resistance well equipped (still no plasma cannons yet) and they seem to have the upper hand on Skynet, which lowers the stakes for all other characters besides the leads.  The desperation doesn’t feel as profound as I would prefer in my near-extinction scenarios.  The human survivors sit out in the open too much, light fires at night, strut around during the daytime unmolested, kill terminators with bullets and grenade launchers fairly easily. Seems like a far cry from the underground network of humans, living like rats, wailing over their dead and only emerging from their holes to fight to the death.  But I suppose that’s all to come later.

I appreciated all the new terminator models, from the giant Transformer-terminator to the cycle-bots.  For all you fans out there, a certain politician shows up in a very unique and satisfying way.

Like “Star Trek,” “Terminator Salvation” makes a worthy summer action flick if not the best example of its pedigree.  My advice, dump the director who dubs himself McG and spring for a director who excels at both action and drama.  He did a passable job, but I want a “Terminator” future that does complete justice to the original two.  And plasma cannons.  LOTS of plasma cannons.

-Coop

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