Terminator Salvation is basically a slightly better version of Battlefield Earth. I know this an ad hominen point that’s been run into the ground, but it’s hard to expect much from a director who encourages the use of his “McG” nickname, especially one who has never made a movie that was worth watching. Never. This guy is such a douche, he publicly tells those who criticize his big screen adaptation of Charlie’s Angels and its sequel to “fuck off.” I’ve seen more artistic integrity in a stick-figure doodle. You cannot make such a set of movies and defend it when people rightly recognize it as shit.
I’m so sick of movies with such ridiculous plots taking themselves so seriously. Since when was it okay for a movie to be so joyless? Are all the new filmmakers emo adults who think the audience should be depressed just by the way their movies look? When you have metal skeletons shooting at your characters, it takes a lot of misdirection to make that boring. What we have here is an example of a movie director who doesn’t understand drama trying to craft a drama out of a franchise that was fun the first two times around, then uninspired the next.
The movie begins with a story box. I groaned. Then, a future biological machine named Marcus (Sam Worthington) is prepared to be executed on a table which conveniently allows the director to sneak in crucifix imagery—shit’s so basic they teach it the first day in Metaphor 101. I groaned again. There’s a plot, which is as simple as you can get when you tamper with the mythology surrounding John and Sarah Conner, Kyle Reese, and the fact that, originally, Skynet was supposed to have roasted the world by 1997.
(When the flow of time can be so easily changed, why should we care what happened/happens? One gets the feeling they’ll just change it in the sequel anyway.)
Despite this “simplicity,” the plot’s needlessly complex and convoluted; beginning with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, they had explanations for why Skynet was “postponed,” but no real good reasons beyond the obvious financial ones.
And there was no good reason to continue after T2: Judgment Day, either. It’s so obviously a money-making scheme, I was turned off from the get-go. Which isn’t to say I didn’t give the newer films a chance. It took me several false starts to get through parts 3 and 4, but I did it. Too bad John Conner can’t send a terminator back to stop the production of those movies, for they take away a lot from the good ones. You can’t trust anything in the series anymore. Part 5 will probably go back and alter it so that parts 1 and 2 never even happened. Then the filmmakers will be free to screw up the franchise in any way they choose.
Terminator is a great movie, but Terminator 2 is also great movie in a completely different way. It wasn’t about Skynet and machine-on-machine fight sequences, not entirely anyway. It was about John Conner and his need for a father figure. It was about how a machine, the very thought of which the main character’s mother despised, could provide that role. I imagine the idea came to James Cameron naturally. He wasn’t just sitting around, wondering what he could do next to keep the franchise going. And for the film’s villain, he imagined a logical successor: the T-1000, which provided something we had never seen before in a movie.
The villain in Terminator 3, on the other hand, provided something we had seen done a million times before in all those terrible movies that ripped off the first Terminator films. There was nothing new. It felt more like a sequel to JCVD’s Cyborg than a movie worthy of the Terminator title. John Conner was an absolutely terrible kid in part two, yet he was a lot easier to sympathize with than the boring adult version presented in part 3, or the one-note JC in Salvation for that matter.
Which brings me to the continuity errors surrounding John Conner’s character. The only father he’d ever known was a machine. He was helped again by a machine in the same incarnation in part 3, albeit a lot less believably. So why, then, wasn’t he a little more receptive of the idea of a good terminator in Salvation? Why did he automatically hate Marcus so bad? Even his mother eventually learned to accept the idea a machine could be good. So why the sudden turn-around?
I’ll tell you why: bad writing. That and lack of respect for the preceding films. You ask me, that’s unforgivable.
The obvious direction the fourth film should have taken was an exploration of Kyle Reese’s relationship with John Conner, similar to the father/son riffs in Terminator 2. Instead, you have Reese taken hostage midway through the movie and held there nearly until the end. By the time Conner finally meets him during the ridiculous climax, there’s no time left to explore anything remotely interesting.
Which just goes to prove that once you remove the human element, you’re left with is a film that amounts to porn for action junkies. But even though it’s the focus, I felt even the action wasn’t good enough for the franchise. It didn’t flow like music as it did in the first two and it didn’t do anything new whatsoever. (Okay, one scene was pretty good: it’s when John Conner gets into a helicopter, flies away from a nuclear blast, and crash-lands when the EMP knocks him out of the air. It was all done in one shot, which was mildly interesting, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that Conner was so lacking in character, I couldn’t sympathize with him enough to care.)
Other thoughts about the franchise:
- The writers of part 3 were sitting around a table, wondering how they could make their villain better than the villain in Terminator 2, which was an impossible goal from the get-go. One writer probably exclaimed, “I know! We’ll make it a woman!” And then they proceeded to pat each other on the backs and blow each other.
- The obnoxious biblical symbolism began in part 3’s ending, I believe. John Conner and Clair Danes are Adam and Eve. How goddamned sickening.
- In parts 1 and 2, we get a feeling for how the terminators were programmed. We get in their heads and learn how they think. In parts 3 and 4, they don’t think at all. They fire a million bullets, even when the characters have long ago removed themselves from the path of fire, and they fall into impossible traps with all the grace of lemmings. (By the way, why do they have such bad aim now?) One terminator, in part 4, is caught hanging upside down in a rope. Instead of shooting the rope, it shoots its foot—its own fucking foot! Yet another point where I groaned. The terminators now lack a certain strategical purpose. They’re essentially metal zombies with guns now.