Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Terminator: Salvation. Don't think of this as a spoiler...

...think of it as me saving you $8 and 2 hours. Short version- the only good thing about this movie is that it ended. Read on for the long(winded) review.

McG and I are done professionally, man. How is it not only possible, but permissible, to take something that is so cool, so awesome, so much a part of our pop-culture psyche, and turn it a steaming lump of shit?

For those of you who don't know me, I absolutely hated Transformers. That movie was fucking garbage, plain and simple. And yet knowing what I know now, I would have much rather sat through Transformers 2 than subject myself to the travesty that was Terminator Salvation. Yes, it was that bad. At least with Transformers you know up front that it's a Michael Bay movie. You know to go in with minimal storyline expectations (if any), with a huge lack of accountability towards reason and plausibility. Terminator was almost like a trick. It's like someone saying they're going to take you out for Italian food, and then you end up at Olive Garden. At least with Michael Bay, you know you're headed to Olive Garden from the beginning. This movie masqueraded so deceptively as not just a decent cinematic experience, but as a reinvention of the franchise. To be fair, it was "reinvention." In the same way that excrement is a "reinvention" of the food that you digest.

This would have been a great movie if it came out in the 80's, because it so desperately clings to those once-cool-now-tired 80's cliches. Do you remember Jr High, when your vision of a post-apocalyptic future was crumbling cities, burned out cars, and rag-tag survivors outwitting thier would-be robot overlords with ingenuity and urban resourcefulness? Well so does McG. His vision of the Skynet future is overloaded with burnt out rubble fields where cities once stood- that still have random fires burning among the wreckage; patrolling robots of various types because they are all single-purpose specific; plucky young rebels who get by on heart and wit. Yes, it's all there in glorious detail.

Sadly for McG, storytelling evolves. It has to in order to be interesting. McG lives in the same reality that we as a movie-going audience do. And yet he steadfastly refuses to update his pathetically dated version of a "post apocolyptic future." The original Terminator came out at a time when it was entirely plausible to think that if something like Skynet happened, there could concievably be pockets of humanity surviving in decaying rubble, fighting against machine opressors. It wasn't out of the realm of possibility. It was the 80's- we didn't even have the internet. Today we have ipod nanos, flatscreen TVs thinner than Cheney's credibility, and nanotechnology. But for some reason McG takes a technological leap backwards and gives us big, clumsy, slow-moving robots and grimy, smoke-belching factories that produce them. Do you think that's what the inside of Apple R&D looks like?

For that matter, why do Terminators look human at all? At this point they're still just metal monsters, so what's the point of a humanoid form? That can hardly be the most efficient form for hunting humans. I think something that flies would be much more suitable. Even if Skynet must use human form, why go so far as giving them fingers, mouths... hell, even eyes? Is visual data really that reliable? What about infrared? Motion detectors? Radar? Their main base is actually patrolled by Terminators who are ON FOOT and LOOK for anything suspicious. Fuck me. Anything, really, would be better than visual input. The most ridiculous example of this was a Hunter Killer airship that had tracked a submarine to its location off the West Coast... and for some reason it shined a SPOTLIGHT onto the surface of the ocean. As if it could see the sub down below. Or that a floodlight would help. Haven't we become sophisticated enough as an audience that we need things to make a little more sense now? Maybe not (see "Michael Bay" above).

Why on Earth would these Terminators- these ultimate killing machines- resort so often, so disappointingly, to fisticuffs when trying to kill a target? Sure, they carry guns, but when they lose their weapons, they seem to go into "bar brawl" mode. Not really effective. Certainly not as lethal as lasers, missiles, bombs, poison gas, electrocution. But no, they just punch and throw like a drunken Quinton Jackson.

Technology aside, McG falls victim- well, more like celebrates- so many bad, cheesy movie cliches that you'd think he stopped watching movies himself somewhere around '89. The military leaders are a perfect cross-section of humanity, as well as the brief glimpses of multi-cultural Resistance fighters (who, for some reason listen to Connor's broadcasts- which somehow Skynet is not able to pick up- on shitty old Sony tape deck/radios. Really. Even though they have all manner of helicopters, jets, secret bases, submarines, even medical teams that can peform a fucking heart transplant. Just no decent radios) and yes, even the "good ol' boy" rogue resistance fighters who see a woman and automatically think "Let's rape her!"

Skynet- if not its progeny- is really freaking smart. It has to be to pull off this Usual-Suspects-level-of-situational-engineering caper. Creating Marcus- a nearly-human robot- as a Trojan Horse of sorts, planting it in the desert, nuking it, hoping John Connor survives the nuke, counting on Marcus making his way to LA and meeting Kyle Reese, befriending Kyle Reese, being accepted by Kyle Reese, surviving the ensuing attacks (which, given the compexity of this plot, almost had to be staged), having Marcus witness Kyle get abducted to Skynet's main HQ, having him subsequently get picked up by John Connor's crew, begrudgingly win their trust, and (finally!) lead Connor into a trap. Keyser Soze's a pussy- THAT is a logistical nightmare.

But let's say all that happens. I mean, the Lions could win the Superbowl next year, right? So let's give 'em that. It's the other part of Skynet's master plan that falls apart. Letting the Resistance think they have discovered a secret code that can disable the robots, to the point that 2 robots they test the signal on actually pretend to become disabled... what's that? They weren't pretending, and the signal actually worked? But then why didn't it work on the Hunter Killer that tracked the submarine to the Pacific... oh shit. My brain just cramped.

The only part of the movie that I enjoyed were the nods to the previous installments. But McG even beat the life out of that horse too. The first couple callbacks were kinda funny, clever even. But by the time he used the music from T2, it was such a sad attempt to prove his fanboy street cred I almost felt bad for him.

In the face of all these tremendous failures, it's important to catch all the minor failures as well lest we not give McG enough credit as a top-notch hack.
1) How the hell did they ID Kyle's face? When would they have ever had his face on file somewhere?
2) Why would the terminator motorcycle have any manual controls at all? Or manual controls on the doors of the main Skynet base?
3) How did Marcus know exactly where his "chip" was?
4) Why not just kill Kyle right away and pretend he's till alive? There was no reason to keep him alive at all.
5) What really was the point of leaving Marcus with a human heart? Besides the tin-man-esque metaphor of "heart" conquering the enemy. And the contrived plot device of him donating it to Connor.

Don't even get me started on the exposition- "the signal works!" "We're in a cattle car." C'mon, McG, that's screenwriting 101.

If I ever meet you in real life, I'm asking for my $8 back.


  1. So wait, are you saying you didn't like this movie?

  2. Seems like the biggest surprise the movie held was given away in the trailer...