When the previews popped up months ago, I was more excited for this film than just about anything else this summer. Terminator: Salvation’s trailer showed Christian Bale – the man whom I boasted was so good that he could play any genre character – stepping out of a helicopter and capping an endoskeleton in the head to the accompaniment of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Day the World Went Away”. I knew that the movie would not feature the excellent and fittingly bleak tune, but I expected it to keep the badass nature intact.
Watching the movie, the word badass feels fleeting. Especially around John Connor, who is more of an ass. The leader of the resistance has apparently decided that all machines are evil, despite having previously been saved by them – twice! Anyone aiding one of those untrustworthy machines, no matter how loyal to the cause, is as good as dead in his eyes. There is a certain level of hypocrisy in following the words of our trusted JC.
Despite holes in logistics, I will not go as far as to call the film bad. It is by all means a completely acceptable summer action flick. The plot is simple to follow, especially given that everyone knows at least a little bit of history about the Terminator franchise, and things explode. Add in a couple of decent looking chicks and attractive men to have yourself a fun time. There is even a teenaged Kyle Reese and his little black girl who unexpectedly can detect when somehow silent giant machines are present – so the whole audience can find an identifiable character.
But there are two gaping problems with the movie from my standpoint: the inability to grasp what it is about the first movies that burned them into the social consciousness, and the stupidity of the film’s ending. The first part is understandable given the fact that James Cameron is some sort of magician in cinema. He turned an image of a burning skeleton into a masterpiece, after all. The latter problem just goes to show that Hollywood needs to hire more actual writers.
The Terminator was a spectacular piece of cinema that barely stands the test of time. It is a very, very eighties movie – from the hair to the horrible synthesized music. At its core it’s a slasher flick, right down to the killer pulling out a page from the phone book and killing everyone with the target’s name. What helped to boost the film beyond its average trappings were the science fiction elements. An unstoppable man with a metal skeleton under his flesh is absolutely frightening, especially when you seem him pull out his own eye to work on it. Then there’s the time travel element, which explains why such a monster can exist now. The most clever aspect of this is the fact that the true hero is John Connor, whom we never see but we know is amazing because he has saved the world from an army of these monsters and convinced someone to go back in time and be his own father. JC is, in a way, pretty immaculate. But what separates it from most Hollywood fodder is the fact that there is no true happy ending because Judgment Day is destined to happen.
Terminator 2 attempts to avert this with its message that there is no destiny but what we make. It even had a happy ending with Judgment Day averted, which pissed me off because the entire thing becomes a temporal paradox unless one believes in multiple timelines. That just makes things pointless. Regardless, the film redeemed its lack in logic with its action adventure nature. The T-800 was a complete badass, Sarah Connor stepped up her game, and the the T-1000 was downright scary in that it could be anyone and created weapons from itself.
I’ll even go so far as to say that Terminator 3 had redeeming qualities in its fixing of the paradox. Judgment Day could only be delayed, not prevented. The bleakness of that ending was enough to keep the film from being totally hated by me, no matter how stupid I thought it was that they played up the sexiness of the T-X and said that John Connor would be killed in the future by a T-850. Making Judgment Day an unavoidable event and Skynet a computer virus just told me that some people know how to write stories.
Looking back at Terminator: Salvation, I just have to ask what it really had to offer the franchise. It breaks the mold by not involving time travel and instead shows us the bleak future that John Connor is destined to conquer. They tried to twist things around by making the movie about protecting Kyle Reese so that the past could be saved. The thing is, the past has already happened. By the logic of the films, it is inevitable. Skynet cannot terminate Reese in the present because it already has proven itself a failure in doing so.
Also, I have to ask, how the hell would it already know that John Connor’s father is Kyle Reese if the time travel stuff hasn’t already happened?
The movie just lacks any sort of thought beyond the admittedly impressive aesthetics employed. The ending definitely proves this. Marcus Wright, the Cyberdyne cyborg whom Connor feared and was technically right about, sacrifices his very human heart to give Connor (and himself – awww!) a second chance at life. And then it’s over. Just like that. Very weak. The idea of Connor’s dying and his face replacing Wright’s was dumb when I first heard it, but it definitely has more punch than what we got instead.
I’ve noticed that MetaCritic has given the film mixed and average reviews at the time of this entry. That seems just about right. Salvation is not a horrible film. The problem is that it is simply easily comparable to everything else that has been coming out lately. The film was produced simply to cash in on the names involved – Terminator and Christian Bale. Actually writing the movie and creating a story were not the main priorities. I will go as far as to say that this film will have no lasting impact. I will always have in mind killer machines that emerge fleshless from fires and display the ability to morph into my loved ones, but a cyborg with a beating heart is useless to me.
Bechdel Rule: Failure. I think the women talk once, and it’s about Marcus Wright. I found it surprising that the women even had a scene together, since it’s obvious their roles were more about being seen than heard. Korinna Moon Bloodgood, whose name sounds like a Star Wars EU character, was hired completely on the basis of her body because Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Kate is pregnant with the son of the savior. Fortunately, Howard is an absolutely adorable ginger, and I’m not doubting that she appeals to some prego fetishists.