Terminator: Salvation

May 19th, 2009

In 1984, James Cameron made a time-travel movie, with a scary killer robot with an Austrian accent who had come back from the future to kill a drop-out waitress not for anything she had done, but for what she would do. Its groundbreaking special effects and twisty story blew people’s minds a little and (along with Conan) helped establish the career of one of our times biggest action heroes and most surprising political figures, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In 1991, he revisited that story and those characters in one of the best sci-fi/action films ever made, establishing the character of John Connor, concieved in the first film and destined to be the heroic leader of humanity’s Resistance against the onslaught of the machines. Then in 2003, Cameron pissed all over that previous movie with a lame-duck half-assed story where the raison d’etre appeared to be having a hot “female” Terminatrix. Yeah. Some, people, though, just aren’t willing to let a good mythos die. In early 2008, some of them made one of the best written and most underrated shows of the last 5 years, the recently cancelled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Some other people, more or less at the same time, decided to make yet another movie in the franchise. There was no collaboration between these sets of people, but the Terminator timeline is flexible and can totally handle the multiple divergent concepts, right? Right. Both of these people decided the less said about that third movie, the better. The TV show actually erased it from it’s continuum’s timeline. The movie-makers decided that their unexplored ground would be the future, instead of the present that previous Terminator movies had primarily occupied. A grim future, ruled by robots, with a young John Connor still finding the legs of leadership and facing an enemy whose tricks and evolutions were beyond his foreseeing. And how did (the ridiculously named) film’s director McG, the writers John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, and its cast fronted by today’s gravel-voiced action star, Christian Bale, do with this story. My verdict: pretty well. If that sounds lukewarm, well, understand: this is a very fun movie, with some excellent action and a well-paced action plot. There’s some ridiculous movie physics in play, but that’s forgivable in the spirit of fun and visual splendor, right? Right. There’s even some relatively straightforward exploration of the definition of what makes a human worthwhile, and what makes them a human at all. What this movie lacks, really, can both be easily predicted and quickly ennumerated: a complete lack of Sarah Connor, and a like lack of any of the mind-bending time-twisty bits that were so fun in the first two films. In a creative void, even those lacks wouldn’t be particularly wounding to my perception of this film, but it is impossible to avoid comparing it to the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television show, which (as the title implies) takes the exploration of both of those elements to their logical extremes, and does so exquisitely. It’s hardly the first time a film has been trounced by a similar television series, but I think it’s the first time it’s happened to the same exact story. So in conclusion, go see this movie for some good summer fun, and because it’s possible they’ll really ramp up the interesting bits in the forthcoming planned two sequels. But, seriously, and I can’t stress this enough: if you haven’t, go watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. You won’t regret it.

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