Monday, June 15, 2009
Terminator Salvation review
5:03 pm edt
By Bob Garver
“Terminator: Salvation” is a Terminator movie made by people who misunderstand the appeal of Terminator
movies. They are right to think that people are eager to enjoy a movie about a war between humans and killer
robots. That is, provided the audience can identify with humans such as themselves. The
humans in “Terminator: Salvation” don’t have endearing personalities, which means people are going to be
apathetic to their survival.
The film is the fourth installment of the
“Terminator” franchise. The series revolves around a robot revolution that threatens to wipe
out humanity. A human named John Connor is humanity’s best chance for survival. The
robots have sent evil Terminators (killer robots, usually made to look like humans) back in time to try and kill Connor at
various points in his life. Humans have responded by sending humans and reprogrammed Terminators back in
time to protect him. At this point in the series, the robots have taken over most of humanity, but Connor
and the rest of the human resistance are close to making a power play that will shut them down once and for all.
The first two “Terminator” movies worked well because they took place in our world. The
humans were like us, the settings were familiar, the dialogue was realistic. The twist was that the robots
kept having to try to adapt and blend in (sometimes with hilarious results) in order to execute their missions inconspicuously.
Of course, once their cover was blown, we got some killer action sequences.
There is a scene in the first “Terminator” movie where we get a glimpse of the world where “Terminator:
Salvation” takes place. Humanity spends all its time hiding in dilapidated buildings.
They take turns going out to search for supplies, often getting killed by patrolling robots. The
world has become a bleak place. Human attitudes have become bleak along with it. We
don’t want to spend any more time here than we have to. “Terminator: Salvation” spends
all its time here.
John Connor was once a fun-loving little
scamp that we adored, but those days are long over. He’s now played by Christian Bale, bringing his
now-trademark grimness to the role. Even the movie itself doesn’t think he’s that interesting
anymore, opting instead to focus on a character we’ve never seen before.
Wright (Sam Worthington) is a convicted murderer who was put to death in the 90s. He agreed to donate his
body to “science”, and is shocked to be revived early in the film. He thinks he’s gotten
a second chance at life, but comes to discover it’s more of a life*. The asterisk could determine
the future of the human race.
action sequences galore. Those robots, they’re relentless. There are deadly motorcycles
that drive themselves (cool until the humans discover that they can be neutralized just by tipping over), underwater beasts
with scary tentacles, and land soldiers with bodies that resemble humans (the robots have inexplicably decided to put vulnerability
points in their heads, which is exactly where a human would expect them to be). We also get a brief appearance
by the robots’ “latest” model, which because of all the time jumping is also the “classic” model.
You’ll know him when you see him.
All the chasing, shooting, and
blowing up is done in the name of saving a very dull version of humanity. Are we that interested in the
characters’ survival if we know that the rest of their lives are going to be spent fighting and hiding from robots?
Don’t fear the end of the world at the hands of evil robots, fear that we’ll get the depressing world of
Angels & Demons review
“Angels & Demons”
4:58 pm edt
By Bob Garver
It is not a rare thing for a sequel to be more generic and less ambitious than the original. It
is a rarer thing for a sequel to be better than the original. But it is a very rare thing for a sequel
to be generic and unambitious and for this to actually be an improvement. Such is the case with “Angels
The film is a sequel to 2006’s
“The Da Vinci Code”. That film (and the Dan Brown book on which it was based) is best remembered
for a controversial plot point where the characters discover that Jesus Christ had a secret family with Mary Magdalene and
the Catholic Church has been covering this up for centuries. The film devoted a painstaking amount of time
to explaining this idea, and very little time on its own plot. The result was a boring film with a shoestring
plot that outraged lots of people.
is no such thing as bad publicity, “The Da Vinci Code” made $217 million domestically. “Angels & Demons”,
another Brown book, has been turned into a film as well. Like “The Da Vinci Code”, the film’s
main character is Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). Like “The Da Vinci Code”,
Langdon works to solve a crime in the Catholic Church. But unlike “The Da Vinci Code”, the
film does not waste time accusing the Catholic Church of some outrageous conspiracy. Although the sequel
does not have the same aspirations as the original, it works much better taking the straightforward route.
The story begins with the funeral of a fictitious Pope. Shortly thereafter, a dangerous canister
is stolen from a Vatican research facility. The contents of the canister are complicated, and the movie
makes several attempts to explain them, all of which come off as sciency mumbo-jumbo. For a moment, it
looks like the film will make the same mistake as its predecessor with overlong explanations. Suffice to
say the canister is basically a bomb capable of taking out a radius of several miles.
Langdon is called in to investigate the kidnapping of four front-runners for the vacant papacy. By
the time he arrives, someone has taken credit for both the kidnappings and the theft of the canister. The
Illuminati were a group of agnostics allegedly massacred by the Catholic Church in the 18th century.
The movement has apparently survived and its current members seem to be out for revenge. They threaten
to kill the kidnapped cardinals and blow up The Vatican.
Langdon agrees to help the
police in their investigation. He is assisted by a scientist (Ayelet Zurer) who is pretty but doesn’t
add much. He also gets help from the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), the cardinal in charge of the church until
a new pope can be elected. The Camerlengo is helpful to Langdon’s investigation, but a power-hungry
rival cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) wants to be elected Pope before it can be completed. Langdon runs through The Vatican and Rome, finding clues that
lead to the kidnapped cardinals and the canister. The clues are too hard to figure out without a Harvard
symbology degree, something that distances the film from its audience.
Still, the action
and chase scenes are well done. There are some legitimately exciting sequences, one involving a sealed-up
room, one involving a fountain, and one involving the canister itself. The layers of the conspiracy (not
involving the entire church, but corrupt individuals) are a tad convoluted, but at least manage to be somewhat surprising.
The action and plot might not be anything
too fancy, but they make “Angels & Demons” passable. Director Ron Howard knows how to put
together a mildly entertaining thriller. He makes the right decision in pushing certain “higher”
specifics to the side in favor of getting the basics right. The result isn’t a great film, but one
that is at least better than “The Da Vinci Code”.