Manic Monday Apocalypso on Friday!: Terminator Salvation

We were going to see the new Michael Keaton movie (he directs) called The Merry Gentleman, but it had cleared out to make room for the new Terminator movie, so we saw that instead.

I would save this review for Manic Monday Apocalypso but I figured some of you might consider seeing this this weekend.

I’d skipped the third movie in the Terminator series, feeling that it was really James Cameron that was the heart-and-soul of those flicks, that raised them above standard B-movie fare. (I’m dubious of Harlan Ellison’s claim on the property. Not that Cameron didn’t steal the ideas, only that the ideas are both fairly generic and not at all the point.)

A chilling factor for me is that this movie is directed by the infamous McG, who helmed the two Charlie’s Angels movies. There was much to dislike about those strangely uneven films but they at least weren’t boring. And that’s not a bad way to describe the new movie, though it’s not nearly as uneven as those earlier films. Unfocused might be a better term.

So, let’s talk about the good things. Fine acting, as you would expect from Christian Bale. In smaller roles are Jane Alexander (who could be her own MMA feature for her 1983 role in Testament), Helena Bonham Carter and the great Michael Ironside. The primary supporting roles are played by Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood, who I thought were fine, but seem a little callow in comparison. (Partly and maybe mostly, this is their characters, and by the end I think the actors have fleshed them out more than the writers did.) Anton Yelchin, fresh of his Checkov role in Star Trek manages to come off pretty dang tough, and evocative of Michael Biehn in the original movie. They even have a little girl in the Newt role.

Elfman does the music, and does a fine job, though there’s not enough of it. This may sound strange, but there’s not an over-reliance on CGI. The T-800–the classic Terminator–has been slightly redesigned. It was a skinny, skeletal thing in the original, stop-motion animated. But we’re sort of jaded to that now, I think, and the redesign has a more muscular build–like it’s a guy in a Terminator suit. This is a good choice.

Also, the CGI is really good. That helps a lot. It might not be a guy in a Terminator suit, but if not, it’s smooth. This helps the action feel a lot more credible, and to McG’s credit, there are some good old-fashioned fights and vehicle stunts, instead of the CGI spectaculars that get so numbing.

There are a lot of other really nice touches, too, which I won’t spoil by enumerating here.

This movie falls well short of greatness, though. First, we have the time-travel problem. The story requires John Connor (Bale) be the savior of the human resistance, but he mostly seems like a pain in the ass. In fact, I went through 2/3rds of the movie wondering what the hell he was doing that was even necessary, given the way the war was going. That was nicely resolved, though, and ultimately made sense. So I didn’t count that against it.

No, the real problem is with the characters of Marcus and Blair. We see Marcus put to death in the first scene of the movie (in 2009, presumably), and yet he’s walking around in 2018, and Connor and Reese (Yelchin) are secondary characters to him, and–to a degree–his relationship with Blair.

But because the story really should be about Connor and Reese fulfilling the prophecy of the first movie, we get a lot of cuts from Marcus to Connor or Reese, sometimes disrupting the flow of the action. Also evoking Star Trek, in the sense that the baggage the movie is required to carry is both its strength and its weakness.

This forces some awkward scenes, such as Connor having to decide what to do with Marcus. He actually makes up his mind and then yells, inexplicably, “Who are you?!” Bale does a good job, but the whole scene–a dramatic focal point–flops.

The next big dramatic moment, where Connor delivers a speech about how humans are different from machines, also flops out of sheer silliness and inappropriateness.

And without giving too much away, the story hinges on this bit of information which allows the main Skynet base–and silly me, I thought the Skynet base would be, you know, in the sky–to be attacked. Things don’t come off as expected (do they ever?), yet the Skynet base ends up seeming ridiculously easy to get in and out of.

And there’s the other thing, the big thing, which is that the view of the future doesn’t quite hold up. The original concept had humans as a ragtag underground resistance. This movie carries that idea forward, but at the same time, features humans with subs and jets–neither of which would really be sustainable in that context–and says there are areas the robots haven’t ventured. (And, queerly, at the same time, those areas are not where the humans are strongly based.)

To top this all off, there’s a strongly hierarchical command structure and traditional military at the begining of the movie, with a suddenly completely casual rebel feel at the end. And they communicate via radio. Like, regular radio.

But I suppose I’m just overthinking it. One of the nice thing about those old WWII movies, though, was that were enough people around who had been there, that movies had a certain verisimilitude I’d like to see more strongly applied to post-apocalyptic stuff. (As you know if you’ve read this blog for long.)

Anyway, The Boy liked it very much, though he was a bit taken aback by the PG-13ness of it. And it’s true, this is a much gentler movie than the first two. There were certain things that didn’t hold together for him, but it didn’t keep him from enjoying it.

So, once again, a good summer popcorn movie, like Star Trek, but rife with flaws, like Star Trek.

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