Thursday, May 20, 2010
Terminator Salvation (2009)
The Movie: It's 2018, after the machines have pretty much destroyed civilization as we know it and the human Resistance is struggling to survive against them. John Conner clashes with the official leaders of the Resistance, and struggles to save Kyle Reese, a teenage who will one day go back in time and become his father. Also, a criminal from 2003 who volunteered his body for some major experiment wakes up in this nightmare age, stumbles into the Resistance, and finds out that he's not quite human anymore.
The Review: First the good. The special effects are wonderful. The settings are beautiful and the machines are well designed. My personnel favorites were these nasty snake-like things that turn up everywhere at the least convenient times. A lot of things blew up and/or got smashed. Also, there were a few lines and moments I found amusing; ditto some homages from the earlier films.
The bad: My major gripe was with the human element. First of all, this was your typical Hollywood big-budget, PG-13, feel-good family action flick. Basically, for a violent movie, it's really toned down. These kinds of movies work on suspense, and I didn't feel any suspense or worry for the characters we're supposed to like, because I knew nothing bad would happen to any of them. Of course, the hero couldn't die, nor any of the love interests, or the obnoxious teenager who will become John Conner's father. Very few of even the R-rated horror films these days will cack a kid, so the little girl will be alright. In short, whatever happens to our "heroes," they will suffer no lasting ill effects from it in the end. It makes it very hard to care about them.
Also, like most Hollywood films, there was no real depth. There were plenty of opportunities throughout the plot to do something complex, ambiguous or thought provoking; but they were never used. The plot always took the simplest, cookie-cutter route throughout the movie. For example; our machine man. There were plenty of chances after he learned his true nature for him to suffer a crisis of identity, possibly consider switching sides. After all, most of the humans didn't give him any reason to care about them after they figured out what he was. I know, were I in his place, I probably would have seriously considered hand-feeding them to the machines personally. But you know from the beginning he won't sell out, so a potential source of suspense falls flat and comes to nothing. Even when it's revealed that he has some sort of brain-control device in his head, he just removes it without any effort at all.
My final complaint applies to all the Terminator sequels. When James Cameron made the first Terminator, he made a very good, competent, suspenseful film. However, it was also a closed circle; it really had no place for a sequel. It's revealed in the end that Skynet's little stunt with time travel is really an exercise in futility; because it's that stunt that brings about the very enemy Skynet is trying to destroy in the first place. Because Reese, the man who turns out to be John Conner's father, is sent back in time, Conner is born. In fact, the movie suggest very strongly that Conner knew full well who Reese was, and manipulated him into volunteering for what both knew was a suicide mission, so that he would be born. Rather disturbing when you think about it.
The other element is Sarah, John's mother. At the start of the movie she is your average, mildly flaky, not particularly ambitious young woman who is beaten down by the world in general. However, she does have hidden depths which are brought out by the situation she finds herself in. If the Terminator hadn't been sent back to kill her, then she wouldn't have become the intelligent, clever, resourceful young woman that could teach her son what he needed to know to defeat the machines. In short, when the movie ends, even though the story itself isn't over, it's pretty clear that there's nothing left to tell. Despite Skynet's best effort, the future is fixed and it is impossible to change it; Skynet will destroy civilization, and John Conner will destroy Skynet. As a result, the other movies feel forced, because they pretty much destroy that continuity.
Time travel is always a risky plot device because it plays hell with cause and effect, but Cameron handled it very well by creating that loop. This leaves the sequels at a disadvantage; they either screw up what Cameron did in the original movie, or, if they go by Cameron's original premise, then there's no room for suspense because you know the villains will just fail anyway. The sequels do have their moments, and I do watch them. However, I also own and have watched a copy of the Vanilla Ice movie, so that's not much of a recommendation. In short, as a way to waste a few hours this movie's okay. As anything even remotely resembling art, not even close.