Friday, May 22, 2009

Well, McG's "Terminator" certainly doesn't suck ...

Before I dive into McG's take on "Terminator," I suppose the big news of the day is the return of Michael Moore, and this certainly seems to be a time that's ripe for his input.

Now, I've always had a lot of time for Michael Moore, and I'm glad he's still making noise (and documentaries), but I really just didn't care for "Sicko" at all. Watching him gallivant around Europe, Canada and finally Cuba just felt like such a stunt, and more importantly a missed opportunity to properly analyze the catastrophe that is health care in America.

But I've enjoyed all his other movies quite a bit, and I'm glad he's about to come back and tackle a subject he's rather familiar with: Capitalism and the American economy (I don't want to spoil anything here, but I don't think he's gonna be a terribly big fan.)

Due to drop Oct. 2, his as-yet-untitled flick "will explore the root causes of the global economic meltdown and take a comical look at the corporate and political shenanigans that culminated in what Moore has described as 'the biggest robbery in the history of this country' – the massive transfer of U.S. taxpayer money to private financial institutions."

The press release notes that year is the 20th anniversary of "Roger & Me," and assuming that's true it just makes me feel really old, but I'm still glad Michael Moore is back to make me laugh and hopefully think at the same time.

But getting to the main event, I come today mostly to praise McG, not to bury him, and he could certainly use it; "Terminator Salvation" currently sits at 33% positive at Rotten Tomatoes, made much worse because that puts it even behind "Dance Flick" at 35% (Really? Amazing.)

I, however, had a pretty great time with it, which admittedly may have had a lot to do with the fact I was going to see a new movie on Thursday at 5 p.m., when much of the real world is still hard at work. It's certainly not, however, a great chapter that propels the "Terminator" saga forward in a really compelling way. In fact, the screen script that sets the scene (Skynet, Cyberdyne, 2018) reads pretty much like what I'd imagine the flash card they gave McG to familiarize himself with the "Terminator" universe would have read.

That said, he at least doesn't manage to crap all over the established mythology like, say, Brett Ratboy did with "X-3." He instead seemed to just embrace as much of the saga as he could understand and made his own often very fun movie.

So, what's it about? Well in the truly ludicrous opening sequence (which is rivaled for sheer stupidity only by the final five minutes or so), we meet Marcus Wright (a very good Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signs his body over to "science" (which, in this case, means Cyberdyne, so you know he'll turn up later with a secret even he doesn't know about.) Meanwhile, flash forward and John Connor (Christian Bale, of course) is leading his followers in the resistance against Skynet, and Kyle Reese (remember that name?) and a young, mute companion make up the entirety of the resistance's L.A. branch.

And that's really all you need to know, because from there it pretty much just plays out as a chapter from the battle against Skynet and little else, but given the expectations that was good enough for me (were I a conspiracy theorist, I'd imagine McG might be engineering this expectations game W. style, but I really don't think he has that much power or cunning.) And, not surprisingly, the machines are indeed pretty friggin cool, especially one particularly menacing dude who shoots robotic motorcycles out of his feet, and I hope I never get too old to appreciate that.

The main beef I had heard going in is that Christian Bale delivers a performance as robotic as any of the machines, pretty much just barking orders through the whole thing, and that's true. I have to ask, however, given the way the part was written, what else was he supposed to do? And besides, though he clearly has a knack for picking movies that I and everyone else get thoroughly geeked up for, is he really all that good an actor overall? Although it pains me to say it, I'd say no.

As I said earlier, Worthington fares much better, and he's gonna be a big star very soon. Even better, though, is Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese. Yelchin, of course, has already played Chekhov in the far-superior "Star Trek," and he's now someone whose name I'll always take note of on movie posters and wherever else I might come across it.

And, finally, what of the humanity that made the first "Terminator" such a classic? Well, admittedly, there's not much of it here at all, but I really just don't think McG has it in him as a director to draw that out. The only other movie of his I've seen is "We Are Marshall," and oddly enough it left me with pretty much the exact same impression: A solidly told tale that would have been a lot more compelling with more of the human stakes thrown in.

The bottom line, however, is that if you show up five minutes late and leave five minutes early (because, trust me, those really are just about the two worst scenes you'll see in a movie this year) you'll get a better-than-average action flick that delivers a solid dose of summer fun, which on this day at least was more than enough to satisfy me.

And I'll leave with you this featurette for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which focuses on the relationship of Harry and Dumbledore. That's what made this installment my favorite of Rowling's novels about the boy wizard, and has me thinking this will also be the best of the Potter movies when it finally comes out July 15. Peace out.


J. Marquis said...

I'm glad to hear you liked Terminator Salvation okay. I really like the whole Terminator mythos and I think this new installment looks awesome. The wife and I will probably see it tomorrow.

bonzo said...

i found T3 so painful (although the "easter-egg" clip at end about the voice of the terminator model *almost* made up for it) that i have no interest in catching T4 in the theaters ... but will see on DVD for sure. plus the whole christian bale "meltdown" / media circus left me with a bad taste in my mouth for it as well.

michael moore - i find his work interesting, but it fails to satisfy that need for completion / closure. friggin' real life vs. fantasy i guess. haven't seen all his prior works but will get through them eventually.

looking forward to harry potter as well - fyi, your link is dead.