Friday, December 4, 2009

Terminator Stagnation

Finally got around to see Terminator Salvation and I can think of no better way to describe it than this:

It's a big-budget fan-fic.


TS's action sequences are big and 'splody, but there is no drama. The second-act plot twist that Marcus is a terminator was given away in the trailers. The third-act plot twist that the machine-killing McGuffin and the presence of Marcus are Skynet-engineered subterfuge are clever but rather obvious. The characters do absolutely nothing to endear themselves to you--we root for John Conner because he's John mother-fucking Conner and for no other reason. He's heralded as a prophet and a respected leader, but we don't ever get to see him do anything that is particularly charismatic or respectable. Rather, he's generic tough with requisite dark-melancholy. If you don't already know about the going-back-in-time plot device that fuels the first films, you're just out of luck. We get next to no explanation of why Kyle Reece is important, just the assurance that he's extremely important.

And, in the manner of true fan-fiction, the movie is littered with homages both subtle and holy-crap-did-John-Conner-just-say-"I'll-be-back"?!?!?! We get a retread of the liquid steel and frozen terminator sequences from T2 (in fact, that entire fight scene was eerily reminiscent of the second film's factory climax). We get a bombed out gas station in the middle of a desert outside Los Angeles that looks surprisingly like the gas station in the middle of the desert outside Los Angeles from the end of the first film (may be coincidence, anyone else get that vibe?). When Conner blares a radio in the street, the song that plays is Gn'R's You Could Be Mine, which was the highly promoted single from the second movie's soundtrack.

And then we get a naked Arnold. In short, a movie that could have been a stand-alone action thriller in a very unique setting is instead a series of action set-pieces punctuated by inside jokes and a complete lack of character development.

Of course, I have a larger beef with the continuing Terminator franchise. The first movie made sense. James Cameron took a wild premise and made it fairly believable by focusing on the human struggle and by being James mother-fucking Cameron. Then he made the second movie, which was bigger and 'splodier than the first, but he still made it work. And the end of that film was a beautiful way to cap off the franchise--and really, how could it go on? How could a John Conner who was coddled and protected as a child ever grow up to be the fearsome warrior who would save mankind. Frankly, T2 stretched the range of believability on that end and only redeemed itself by averting the Judgment Day calamity altogether. Yeah, they managed to send back another set of Terminators, and yeah, we decided to send them later in time because, well, I'm not sure why. But we went with it because it was a phenomenal film with cool new special effects that was able to tell a hugely emotional story. I love the fact that part of the T-1000's downfall is that he assumes a mother can be tortured into betraying her child.

Everything after that is cinematic masturbation--making more films (and TV shows) that are poor executions of a hugely popular brand name.



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