I have bought every copy of Empire magazine since I picked it up in an airport and broke my "no magazine" rule. After some months of viewing the critics reviews as gospel, I began to spot the tastes of particular reviewers, and sense when the magazine had adopted a certain stance toward a movie. This goes with the territory of running a national magazine that has to balance sales and a honed taste in cinema. What concerned me was the review of Terminator Salvation.
I had listened to Mark Kermode's rant on Radio 5 - and while I enjoy his reviews and listening every week - was waiting to see what the slightly less biased view from Empire was going to be (Kermode habitually takes umbrage to a particular point, and then is unable to view the film objectively; entertaining, but frustrating). All blockbuster reviews tend to have at least half a star added while the hype machine runs, but this can be taken into account.
For some reason though, the reviewer of this film lacked the confidence of their own convictions. They seemed apologetic of their praise, dusting off old clichés to dress up an explanation that read more like trailer voice-over - "The film is propulsive, barely stopping for breath. There are exciting chases, suspenseful close calls, edge-of- your-seat battles and adrenaline-charged set-pieces."
There appears to be a desperate desire for this film to be good - "For a summer blockbuster, Terminator Salvation is bursting with plot and incident. Much of it even makes sense!".
A complaint made by other reviewers of McG's film, is how derivative it is; not a problem for Empire - "McG borrows from the styles of his peers to make something that breaks few barriers but works well on a visceral level".
Coming to the conclusion of the review, we are told of a flaw, that it finishes abruptly, but even after this, four stars are emblazoned below. I was left shocked at the low level of critique, even for a Summer tent pole release, and reminded of a very similar piece of work. The review for Danny Boyle's Sunshine.
Another four star review of a so-so film, and another range of excuses, albeit far better written. The film has a lot to commend it, with great attention spent on the visuals, the creation of a believable world, and focus on character. But this was movie that borrowed heavily from predecessors, according to Empire, unavoidably - "Do the limitless realms of space and the human psyche paradoxically only offer a finite number of ways for people to go bonkers?"
To imply that we should forgive Boyle rehashing old plot lines and far better films, as there are no new genre stories, is a weak argument to say the least. Consider how Donnie Darko approached time travel, or Brick's take on Raymond Chandler, and to a lesser extent, Children of Men's fresh angle on a simple road movie. There is originality to be found, and to deduce that we should stop trying to seek out what is new, is soul destroying.
To like a film that does not break boundaries and set new standards is far from a sin, but the film should nonetheless be given a review and rating that reflects its true status. For example, we all have our taste in art, perhaps the Impressionist period. Some artists, however, still paint in a style that apes Monet or Toulouse-Lautrec. This is not to say they are without talent, or those that buy their art are at fault. But those paintings will always be sold from gift shops, and not hung in the Louvre.