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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terminator Salvation

More damned robots. I am so sick of the robots. It’s been three full-length movies already so shouldn’t someone have been able to have fix things and get rid of the pesky buggers by now? Seriously, it’s been 25 years since the first Terminator came back from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton; In Your Dreams) before she got pregnant with the would-be Messiah-against-the-machines. What I want to know is: Since the robots knew that the Baby Daddy of the would-be Messiah was another time traveler from the same era as these terminating machines then why didn’t the ass-kicking Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger; Cars) himself just kill the daddy-to-be before he could go back in time to spawn with the 1984 Sarah? Then they’d win and there’d be no reason for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and now this week’s Terminator Salvation. That would be a win/win situation as far as I can see.

Of course in the scenario I just laid out, the ‘bots win and that goes against Hollywood’s love for humanity, which is way overrated if you ask me. Look at the state of this planet today and tell me that we shouldn’t be ashamed of the way we’ve treated the world around us. Pollution, global warming, nuclear proliferation, poverty, racism, partisan politics, over-fishing the seas, clear-cutting the rain forests… Frankly, I think it wouldn’t be all that bad if the “Judgment Day” dished out to
mankind by the sentient computer network called Skynet in the Terminator series came to pass and we finally lost our spot at the top of the food chain so something else got a chance to try and make the world a better place. Granted, Skynet’s decision to detonate a nuclear device in downtown Los Angeles wasn’t what I’d choose as the starting point for making a “better place” because if the rubble and millions of decomposing bodies don’t bother you surely the radiation will. Okay, so Skynet hasn’t gotten all the bugs worked out quite yet in figuring out its plan for World Domination, but it does have a way with mass production of machinery, so it is clearly not the result of an American auto company. It couldn’t be; these terminators are constantly evolving, becoming more deadly and clever in design and execution than ever before.

In
Terminator Salvation, which takes us further along into the life of savior-to-be John Connor, it is 2018, and he has grown up from T2’s snotty teen delinquent (played by Edward Furlong; Stoic) past T3’s dreamy-eyed model boy (posed by Nick Stahl; My One and Only) into gritty, grumpy Batman himself (the now famously foul-mouthed Christian Bale; The Dark Knight). These past “15” years or so (wink, wink) since the action of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 have really changed John. He may have been intense before, but at least he shaved and believed in personal grooming products. Now, in 2018, this John Connor barks more than he speaks, and if he wasn’t wearing fatigues (a look that is so, so fatigued in my opinion, Darlings), I swear it wouldn’t have surprised me if he lifted his leg to pee all over the side of a downed helicopter like some wild dog.

As might be expected, Connor leads a ragtag group of human survivors (
aren’t there always in movies like these?) who are determined to bring down Skynet and crush the Terminators who
have ravaged the world around them. Somewhere between his transformation from man to beast, John managed to snag a wife, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard; Spiderman 3), who apparently wandered in from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village to kill some time. Why Kate is even in the movie is a near mystery. She has little time on camera and, despite being very pregnant, she has no storyline nor is there even a mention of the Connor in utero. Her only raison d’être seems to be to feed Bale the set up line: “What should I tell your men when they realize you’re gone?” so that Bale can look directly into the camera and repeat one of The Arnoldnator’s trademark quips “Tell ‘em… ‘I’ll be back,’” so he can nearly crack a smile for the first and last time throughout the entire film.

There isn’t much complexity to the plot in Terminator Salvation, but what there is resonates best when new character Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington; Rogue) is onscreen. Marcus was the role originally offered to Bale, who foolishly turned it down in favor of playing the “hero” as usual, but Marcus is definitely more interesting. He first appears before the opening credits in a sequence with Helena Bonham-Carter (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) as his prison psychiatrist, who is lobbying him for written permission to harvest his organs after he is execution for the murder of two people back in 2003. When next we see him it is 2018 and he is wandering the decimated streets of L.A. before being rescued from a Terminator attack just in the nick of time by a teenaged freedom fighter named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin; Star Trek). Yes, as anybody who’s ever seen the first Terminator will recognize, this is the same guy who will one day grow up to become that same time traveler to save Sarah Connor from The Arnoldnator and impregnate her, making him John’s father. In this timeline, however, he is barely 20 (if that) and John is 33. He has no idea of his future, though John considers it his number one imperative to find Reese and protect him above all else since without him going through time and knocking up his mother in a one-night-stand in 1984 he’ll never exist. Does this whole plot sound as gross to you as it does to me? Trying to make sure your own mom gets laid is one thing, but to hunt down the guy to do it and spend years taking care of him before he does the dirty deed just borders on pathological. It reeks of “A Very Special ‘Maury’.” Mostly though, I just kept wondering how Yelchin was going to change so dramatically in the next decade or so that would cause him to change into Michael Biehn (They Wait) since that’s who got Sarah preggers. Physically they look about as much alike as Aretha Franklin does to Gwyneth Paltrow.

The coolest “secret” of
Terminator Salvation was blown in the previews and television advertising, so I don’t suppose it is a spoiler to reveal that what makes Marcus such an fascinating character is that in his own amnesia he has no idea that he is actually the first (?) of what will become the type of standard hybrid terminator we first came to know as the Gah-vee-nah of the Great State of Cah-lee-forn-ee-yah. I actually felt something warm running down my cheek in the scene when poor, dimbulb Marcus discovers that he is not the man he thought he was. It reminded me of when I told my first husband that I had faked every single “O” with him from the first time to the last. I didn’t do it to be mean. I just wanted to provide him with a bit of educational information to help him be more self-aware of his limitations in the future, but he acted as if I’d told him I’d been powdering his jock strap with Estrogen for years. Oh, and by the way, the warm thing running down my cheek turned out to be a bit of butter from my popcorn. I knew it couldn't have been a tear.

For Terminator aficionados, this fourth installment will serve well enough to keep them satiated with a dozen new Terminator models, some cool, some stupid, some oddly familiar. Hmm. I wonder if Production Designer Martin Laing (City of Ember) ever saw Transformers or Race to Witch Mountain. I’m just askin’. For anybody other than die-hard fans (well, not Die Hard fans, but you know what I mean), there’s not much incentive to get invested in the franchise this late in the game. True, there is no real “Salvation” in the end (Liars!), and director McG (We Are Marshall) has already promised that this is only the first in a trilogy of new films (Dear God, why?), but is there really any more to be milked out of this story that hasn’t already been more padded than a fourteen year olds bra trying out for cheerleader?

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