9 June 2009

The Reel Deal- Bang, Boom, Wallop!

Illness is a bitch, ladies and gents. That's why you're getting this post so quickly after the Drag Me to Hell review, and it's also why I haven't had chance to see anything else this morning to add on here. Admittedly, I am going to drag myself down to the local Cineworld to see Spartacus tonight, and having never seen it, I'm likely to review it on here thereafter. Still, seeing as how I'm sat in the house, I might as well snap to and review 12 Rounds and Terminator Salvation, both action films, and neither exactly pushing the boundaries of that genre.

Reviews, as ever, shall contain minor spoilers, but not so far as to ruin your enjoyment of the films in question if you haven't seen them yet.


Who's in it?
John Cena (The Marine), Aidan Gillen (Shanghai Knights) and Ashley Scott (The Kingdom)

What's it all about?
Danny Fisher (Cena) is an ordinary beat cop who is accidentally involved in the capture of Miles Jackson (Gillen), an international arms dealer. One year into his prison sentence, Miles escapes prison, kidnaps Fisher's girlfriend (Scott), and pits Fisher against a series of twelve challenges to secure her safety.

Any good? Time was, when you were channel-hopping of an evening, usually very late in that evening, odds were that ITV1 would be showing a film featuring one or more of the following action stars- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Not being as up on telly schedules as I once was, I'm not sure if that tradition has now migrated to another channel, like Five, but the remarkable feeling you'll get after seeing 12 Rounds is that this film could join the Late Night Brainless Action line-up once it makes it to terrestrial television. That some critics have chosen to read the film as director Renny Harlin's homage to Greek mythology, and the twelve labours of Hercules, is mental. This is simply a film of bangs, booms and wallops, and anyone pretending differently is kidding themselves.

For starters, it's brought to us by the gloriously daft 20th Century Fox, and produced by the slightly questionable production stable of WWE Studios. I can only presume that the latter is the reasoning for casting the permanently befuddled John Cena, who comes across as Mark Wahlberg after an allergic reaction to something that causes his face and body to bloat horribly and completely negates any acting skill he might have. Cena is evidently trying to fit into that category of action star mentioned above, but having watched this, I'm afraid that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson remains the only WWE wrestler to successfully move into acting proper. Played off against him is Aidan Gillen, who is clearly capable of acting (and acting well), but for some reason, his move into Hollywood seems to be marked by slightly rubbish villains in films where the script gives him little to do. This one is no exception, and as Gillen's character is Irish and Cena's protagonist is called Danny, I'm surprised at how far the writers got before making a "Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling" joke, which I can only assume they saved especially for the pulse-pounding climax.

All this said, did I enjoy it? In spite of everything rubbish about it, I did find a reasonable amount to enjoy. While Harlin clearly isn't setting out to be daft like Neveldine/Taylor did with Crank, there's something to be said for seeing a good old 90s action film homaged in this day and age. Even if Harlin didn't intend to homage it. And of course there's nothing new in the formula- Gillen putting Cena through his paces in order to get revenge is lifted directly from Die Hard with a Vengeance, and each of the titular 12 rounds seems to be homaging some film or other. That I can't be more specific is merely a sign of how I was able to switch off my brain for once while watching. So yes, it's generic. Yes, it's daft. Yes, it's all those things that I've criticised in other recent Fox movies. But there's a joy in this that wasn't in the others. The most comparable of Fox's output to this one was last year's Max Payne, which was po-faced and boring as all hell, whereas 12 Rounds is much more enjoyable.

While I doubt the career of its star will really take off, and I'd really rather be watching the villain in a film where he's allowed to act a bit, 12 Rounds is a harmless enough throwback to the 90s action movies that tend to get shown so late on telly. It's a recommendation and not a putdown when I say your enjoyment of the film may be better served by waiting for it to show up on ITV at 11pm sometime.


Who's in it? Christian Bale (The Dark Knight), Sam Worthington (Rogue) and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek)

What's it all about?
Judgement Day has been and gone, and the war between humanity and Skynet is well underway in the year 2018. John Connor (Bale) is now one of the highest-ranking leaders amongst the resistance, but encounters Skynet's newest weapon when he's brought face to face with Marcus Wright (Worthington), a criminal seemingly given the death penalty back in 2003.

Any good? Read that synopsis again. Straight off the bat, there's the problem, because here's what it might have read...

Marcus Wright (Bale) wakes up in 2018, having been put to death by lethal injection in 2003, to find a world rocked by war and ruled by a sentient computer system called Skynet. With only a young man called Kyle Reese (Yelchin) as his ally, he attempts to traverse the war-ravaged lands and join the Resistance, little realising what he really is...

What changed between that synopsis and the finished film? Christian Bale would've been playing Marcus, and the film certainly wouldn't have centred around John Connor. In one of many decisions taken by the ludicrously named "director" McG (I use "director" in the loosest sense of the word), a major script rewrite was undertaken in order to get Bale to star. Bale wanted to play John Connor and the rest as they say was... well, a bit of a mess. I wouldn't mind, but the only new thing Bale brings to the role is his much maligned Batman voice and a lot of shouting. It's astonishing to see him phoning in any performance after every other performance thus far has been superb, but Terminator Salvation clearly gains nothing from the presence of John Connor. On the contrary, it actually loses something.

The best parts of Terminator Salvation, I'll say right now, are Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin. Worthington is being quite hyped up lately as the Next Big Thing, with roles to come in Avatar and a remake of Clash of the Titans, and from his performance here, it's clear to see why. He provides a much more three-dimensional performance than the character demands as written, and plays well against the superb Anton Yelchin. Having also played Chekhov brilliantly in Star Trek, I really can believe he's going to be the Next Big Thing, even if he's sadly underused. This is even more criminal when it's considered that the film was originally going to be about Marcus and Kyle, trying to survive and join the Resistance, and I honestly feel that would've made a better film. John Connor has little to do other than... be called John Connor, and so it's a shame that so much of the film focuses on him. Christian Bale isn't to blame for this though- the "director" is.

Joe McGinty Nichol (I can't decide which of his names sounds sillier) clearly sucks as a director. While even Terminator 3 managed to capture some of the spirit of its two James Cameron-directed predecessors, Terminator Salvation is clinical, joyless and full of plot holes. When you watch The Terminator or Terminator 2, there's a genuine thrill to watching a machine that cannot be stopped ruthlessly hunting down its prey, but seeing them on the assembly line in the film just seems to kill any chance of menace dead. In showing the future for a whole film rather than the fleeting glimpses from the earlier instalments, it's almost like they've Clone Wars-ed the Terminator franchise. And worst of all, any other director would've stood their ground and said "No thanks" to Bale's demands, but it seems that McG gave up any chance of the film being good to try and grab Bale after The Dark Knight (almost) became the highest grossing film ever. And I don't know what stage of development they were at when they decided to make the film PG-13/12A and release fucking Terminator voice changer helmets to target a young audience, but that's probably where they went wrong. It's a Terminator film! What about that says "appeal to children"?

Most befuddling of all are the random set-ups for a further sequel that McG seems to seed throughout the film, like Connor's wife being pregnant, something that is never mentioned in the dialogue or given any significance whatsoever beyond an occasional glimpse of a baby bump bulging from her jumper. In the evidence of Terminator Salvation's disappointing box office returns, it seems unlikely that McG will be allowed near the franchise again, thankfully. If by some horrible twist of fate he is, it seems sadly plausible that Terminator 5 will be more of the same- video game logic, a bag of tricks containing little more than a couple of explosive set pieces and a script that's being dictated by whichever actor McG is trying to cajole into headlining it. No wonder Bale went mad on set. Hopefully it won't be back.

(The rating is for Worthington and Yelchin alone- if the whole film had centred around them, it likely would've been four)

Well, that passed some time- two distinctly average action films. And that's a more pejorative label for Terminator Salvation, which should really be something more. If any of you were intrigued by that mention of what the script was like before Bale came on board, here's the full story. Obviously there were problems with that original Marcus and Kyle script, but hey, that's what you get when you put McG and the writers of Catwoman on a Terminator film.

Next time... um... The Hangover will likely be involved, and possibly Last Chance Harvey too. Spartacus will probably get a look-in if I see it tonight as well.

Until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,

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