Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009)


Terminator Salvation begins with a dynamic and meticulous action scene of a Resistance-led aerial strike on a series of Cyberdyne satellites, and the thrilling result sets the bar high for the rest of the film. In this sequence, two ambitious long takes follow John Connor (Christian Bale) as he coldly maneuvers through the war zone as if the horrific surroundings are just another day at the office. Surprisingly, most of the film lives up to this opening crescendo of bleak apocalyptic imagery, mainly because director McG stages each key action sequence with this sort of layered bravado. Violent movement on different planes of the image wonderfully guide the viewer’s eyes back and forth, adding an epic uncertainty to the ongoing battle between man and machine without muddling the gravity of the fight. Which isn’t to say the film has much merit beyond the visuals. The terrible script relies on anticlimactic monologues by Connor to rally the troops, and the actors are given little room to breath, hammered down by illogical notions inherent in the series’ mythology. But Terminator Salvation is one of those rare action films bursting with pliable intensity.

The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)

How does a conflicted reviewer confront such a universally liked film as The Dark Knight? The hostile way most are defending Nolan’s film against negative reviews makes this a disturbing question, and taints what should be a defining moment for Hollywood filmmaking. Critics like David Denby, Dave Kehr, and a few others have been unfairly lambasted because of their negative reviews, mostly by the masses of viewers (some just plain idiots) who have instantly idolized the film (The Dark Knight is surprisingly at #1 on IMDB.com). I think this entire situation, admittedly flamed by the Heath Ledger tragedy, shows just how hungry the American movie going public is for mainstream entertainment defined by engaging, pertinent ideas, and to what lengths they’ll go to defend this collective passion. The Dark Knight does deliver a mosaic of emotions and tensions to feast on; the nuanced evil of Ledger’s Joker, the wide ranging scope of the Brothers Nolan’s script, and the haunting vision of Gotham City crumbling under the fear of uncertainty. But the paralleled insanity occurring over the film’s release just shows how far Hollywood has lowered the bar, that a very good entertainment elicits screams of outrageous defense as illogical as The Joker’s devastating mind games.

Hoopla and fanboy evangelicalism aside, The Dark Knight fascinates because it closes the gap between superhero and supervillian, making Bale’s stoic Batman and Ledger’s maniacal Joker two sides of the same coin. The real tragedy of The Dark Knight becomes how Harvey Dent, Rachel Dawes, and Gotham City as a whole get caught in this mortal battle between chaos and order. Nolan doesn’t sugarcoat the loss involved, nor does he reflect any unjust sentiment in the eyes of these consistently enraged characters. Unlike Nolan’s origin story Batman Begins, The Dark Knight feels scattered, apart of everyone’s fearful point of view, obsessed with how The Joker’s destruction crosses social and economic boundaries (look at the tense ferry sequence). The greatest element of The Dark Knight remains its mystery – The Joker’s contradicting autobiographies, Bruce Wayne’s ethical malfunctions, and Harvey Dent’s extreme cerebral and physical pain. The Dark Knight feels like it could go a number of directions, giving the audience a riveting sense of imbalance, an unlikely motif for a genre that depends on the grounded and simplistic heroism of its subjects. Thankfully, the entire film revels in this incompleteness, taking Ledger’s incendiary performance as its heart song while opening up the franchise for greater battles of morality and ethics down the road. But a masterpiece, it is not. Those faceless souls ready to violently anoint The Dark Knight as the second coming might be playing right into The Joker’s hands.