Stars: **1/2 out of Four
Summary: Though it feels like a forced fan production at times, ‘Salvation’ manages to provide solid action sequences and some decent character development. All in all, a good prequel/sequel, but a bad stand-alone film.
Review: It seems like the ‘Terminator’ franchise has taken a huge dive off a cliff. Going from the visionary James Cameron to whoever-it-was that did ‘T3’ to McG (and no Arnold in the starring role) seems like it should doom the series.
Well, maybe not, because ‘TS’ isn’t half-bad, it’s just a little bit under 3/4 good. It thrives on familiarity — as with all films made without taking creative risks — but doesn’t let the trappings of the past keep it down too long. The beginning, meaning, oh, say, Act 1, feels lazy, forced, pedestrian. Once a critical character — Marcus Wright, this time, holding the titular role — is revealed to have a very fascinating, and, at this point in the franchise, unexplored nature, it starts to pick up. Christian Bale as John Conner starts emoting, things get more complicated, the action feels fresher, and it finally feels more like The Sequel We’ve All Been Waiting For. Really, it manages to strike a tone (in the latter half) that feels very, very much like T2, which is commonly hailed as the best movie in the series, so it’s got that goin’ for it. Oh, and Arnold is actually in this movie, but digitally composited — very, very convincingly I might, and do, add — onto a double’s body. His brief role as a freshly built (and naked) T-800 seemed to make the more rambunctious folks in the theater sit up and pay attention, and with pretty good reason. Since he’s digital, he looks very much like the T-800 from the first one, and we get a couple great close-ups of his face in all its stoic awesomeness. Seeing adult John Conner ambushed by this badass effigy of the past was surreal, though not really the most nostalgic thing I’m seen (the entirety of ‘Star Trek’ takes that cake and bakes it for me). The biggest weakness McG’s received baton has is a lack of focus and freshness in the writing. The creators were playing it safe, like an aging football team that doesn’t want to break some bones on the road to victory. That’s my most, I don’t know, obvious criticism. I just needed to see ’em break some bones, take some risks, put more heart and emotion into the characters. I understand, it’s post-apocalyptic, but does everybody need to stay so… flat? Not everybody is, you understand, and it’s not like there’s no humor, it’s just… especially after seeing ‘Star Trek’, I needed to see more humanity, more dimension. ‘Star Trek’ made me hopeful, its characters were full of vitality. I guess it’s unfair to expect the same from ‘TS’, but it would’ve been cool. The writing in ‘T2’ was much more vibrant. Maybe the next time around, we’ll see some of that. Anyway, another thing that would’ve been cool is if, against all studio wishes, it had been rated R. Warner Brothers was really hesitant to release another R-rated blockbuster after ‘Watchmen’ failed to meet their best hopes, but that film was ridiculous. And it’s not like R-rated action movies haven’t been successful in the past, heck, Warner’s own ‘300’ proves that! All the previous ‘Terminator’ turns have been given the ol’ roughsound as well. ‘Terminator’ isn’t ‘Transformers’, it isn’t fun for all ages, it’s a very adult franchise, gritty sci-fi pulp. When you establish a tone, you should follow it through with the next installments, to stay true to the spirit of the original idea. ‘TS’ stayed true, but barely. There were some very obvious cuts of scenes that would’ve made it more like T2, and it would’ve felt more… hmm, post-apocalyptic. And there’s this one other scene I heard they cut that…
Well, where were we? At the end of the movie, the emotions do seem to come through. Connor’s stoicism is broken by Marcus’ efforts to save him, and Marcus himself becomes a Truly Good Guy. It ends on a cliffhanger for the next film, which caused me to (mentally) facepalm. I thought they didn’t want to take risks? First you keep it from moving creatively into completely unknown territory, next you make it PG-13, and then… your ending banks on a sequel that may never come!? Whaaaaat!? Can’t they see IT’S A TRAP!? Ah, hazelnut. At least they finished Marcus’ character arc — and since this is an, er, interesting prequel, they can just let it end here, I guess. But we still haven’t seen the full breadth and depth of John Connor’s supposed awesome-coolness of excellence, which we DID! get a glimpse of this time. You know what my ideal ‘Terminator’ finale would be? Showing John Connor save the world, by making peace with the machines, which offer to give humanity comfort in the absence of the green, living world they knew… by plugging them into ‘The Matrix’.
Until next week, syanara. And don’t unbuckle your seat belt just yet, I’m getting ready to introduce y’all to… The Silver Mirror: The Beginning. (With an all new cast! Well, okay, I’m casting myself and Patrick. And no one else. But we’re new at heart. Yeah!)