The idea behind The Public Movie Defender is to take up the cause of a particular movie that I believe is better than the majority of reviews it has received. These are movies which I feel are worth either a second look or at least a more open examination considering the predominantly negative opinions of them. The films chosen are ones that I like so therefore I’m taking their case and defending them before the court of negative opinion. Let the trial begin…
DEFENDANT #2 – “TERMINATOR SALVATION”
For some reason I’ve had this weird and unexplainable urge to write a review about a movie that I really like but most others don’t. Is it my pointless sense of duty to defend a film largely maligned by critics and my fellow movie fans? Is it some twisted pleasure I’ll take in the heat received from my fellow movie blogging pals? Whatever the reason I’m going to make my case for “Terminator Salvation”.
This 2009 sci-fi action flick was the fourth installment in the widely popular “Terminator” series. It was also a film of many firsts for the franchise. It’s the first “Terminator” picture that didn’t star Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s the first film in the franchise that received a PG-13 rating. It’s also the first film that takes place in the post-Judgement Day future. I suppose these things played into the disdain some people felt towards this film but it has also received a variety of other criticisms. It has been called soulless, humorless, joyless, and brainless. In fact the overwhelming consensus is that “Terminator Salvation” glaringly fails to capture any of the magic of the previous three movies. Obviously I disagree.
Now let me be clear, “Terminator Salvation” is not a 5 star movie. In fact it’s the third or fourth best film in the franchise. But I still found it to be a fun, action-fueled experience and a worthy installment to the series. The time travel element is gone making the entire ‘future versus present’ dynamic that was a big part of the other movies nonexistent. I have to admit that I missed that. That was one of the coolest things about this series. But that doesn’t mean that “Terminator Salvation” can’t stand on its own merit. It’s a grittier and more militaristic story and the humor, while definitely there, is much more restrained mainly due to the more serious tone of this film.
So the story goes like this, It’s 2018. Skynet has been activated and Judgement Day has wiped out a massive number of earth’s population. Christian Bale plays the third version of John Connor. This time he’s a key member of the human race’s resistance against the machines. Small pockets of the resistance are scattered everywhere including in the ruins of Los Angeles where Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) struggles to survive. Kyle and a young girl named Star (Jadagrace Perry) call themselves the L.A. branch of the resistance but they’re mainly just kids in hiding. They latch onto a mysterious stranger named Marcus (Sam Worthington) who knows nothing about the war with the machines.
After hearing a radio message from John Connor, the three set out to find the resistance headquarters – Kyle in hopes of joining the fight and Marcus in hopes of finding answers. But things don’t workout that well and Kyle and Star and captured during an attack by the machines. Marcus makes his way to the resistance base with the help of downed pilot Blair (Moon Bloodgood) but his story takes a crazy turn after John Connor and company find out exactly who he is. This whole twist may not be all that surprising but I really liked what it added to the story and to Marcus’ character. There are some interesting moral questions that are tossed around and some tricky decisions that the characters have to make.
But those things are small pieces in a bigger puzzle put together by director McG (I roll my eyes every time I say his name). This is first and foremost a sci-fi action picture and McG frames some pretty spectacular action sequences. The special effects can be pretty stunning such as during an attack by a giant machine on a small group of survivors hiding at a gas station. It and the wild chase that follows was fantastic. McG also tries to throw in several little things to connect the movie to the previous ones. I admit that they can feel a little forced such as when the cool Guns n’ Roses tune “You Could Be Mine” from T2 pops up. But I also have to admit I responded to the nostalgic bits regardless of how cheap they may have felt. And when a certain familiar CGI face pops up later in the film, I still let out a child-like squeal.
I also like the performances. There’s nothing award worthy from any of the performers but they all feel grounded in the world we see. Bale is as solid as always although he is asked to do a little more shouting than I would have liked. I also liked Yelchin as a young Kyle Reese. He certainly doesn’t look anything like Michael Biehn from the first “Terminator” flick but did Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl resemble at all? But I really liked Sam Worthington here. This is the first film I saw him in and here he’s one tough cookie. I know he hasn’t shown a bit of range since and his acting chops are in question, but I thought he was a perfect fit for this part.
“Terminator Salvation” is a very different movie in the Terminator catalog. It’s not about the future invading our present. It’s about the war the other three movies were trying to prevent. That jolt alone was too much for some people to take. I also understand the absence of Schwarzenegger is a big deal. I mean these were his movies. But for me, those things don’t make this a bad film. The humor is toned down because the times are bad but the action and special effects are mighty good. It has its share of conveniences and head-scratching moments but doesn’t every movie in this franchise? I liked “Terminator Salvation” and while it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I think it has a place in the series.