Friday, June 12, 2009

I Know Now Why You Cry

I saw Terminator Salvation this past weekend.

Let us forget Christian Bale's distractingly-awful growl-speak. Let us forget his widely-disseminated tirade against the movie's director of photography. Let us forget McG's atrocious track record. Let us forget the previous installment in the Terminator franchise.

I went to see the movie, despite the onboard warning siren--and on one of my two days off in the last three weeks, no less--because I am kind of in love with the mythology of the Terminator story.

Man v. Machine. Good v. Evil. Time travel. Robots. Judgment Day. Penance. Indomitable will. Chosen Ones.

The Terminator movies--the first two, anyway--are great action movies with endearing-yet-effective special effects and strong characters; they are also as close to the Bible (as far as story goes) as you can get in the movie business, in this day and age, and not doom yourself to the pseudo hell that is a Red-State Netflix shipping center.

This engrossing grander-than-thou-yet-you-are-still-somehow-integral-to-the-solution myth that both the Bible and the Terminator series propagate, this seemingly instinctive moral/emotional core of socialized humanity, this 'our fate is what we make it' life-lesson, has recently been ignorantly devoured, shat out, and finger-painted across the big screen by a vapid faux-fanboy who goes by McG, King of the Douchebags.

There is a joke in the film industry that goes like this:

"We'll fix it in post."

It is the easiest way to pass the buck and let somebody else fix your mistakes so you can just keep chugging along. Well, Mr. McG, there is at least one thing that is IMPOSSIBLE to fix in post--story. Busted!

The franchise, sadly, has now been sullied beyond redemption and I genuinely hope the powers that be choose to halt pre-production on the already-in-the-works fifth installment (again with McG at the helm, despite atrocious reviews and lackluster box-office receipts) for whatever reason they choose--financial prudence, artistic integrity, boredom, death, distraction by images of Meghan Fox...choose your poison, gentlemen--I'll be right there to guide it down your gullet, if you could just sign this pesky legal document first...

It was bad enough that in Terminator and T2--easily the best of the four Terminator movies--the time travel gimmick (among other things) never really held any water:
So let's see...John Connor sent someone back in time to fuck his mother and be his own father...but how did he exist if he hadn't yet sent somebody back in time? Are we in the middle of an endless circle? If it's an endless circle...then who cares what happens?

And then Mr. Connor had to send back a hijacked Terminator to protect himself from a better Terminator...why didn't he just send back the whole army and destroy SkyNet?

Why didn't SkyNet simply send an army of T1000s to eliminate the young John Connor, instead of just one?

Why did none of these uber-advanced Terminators have onboard weaponry? Laser beams? Guns? Did the computers not realize this would help?

How could humanity ever actually hope to survive against ruthless, computer-accurate, relentless killing machines in control of the infrastructure of the entire globe, even if they really wanted it real bad-like?

As an audience, we forgave these gray areas, these troubling questions, because, ultimately, the movies were so fucking kick-ass it didn't matter; you didn't think about such things in the theater--you only thought about them later on, lying awake at night, alone with your thoughts, your mind racing, trying to make sense of it all, trying to work out the proof.

T2, as it played, simply became a battle between two robots--one good, one evil--over the fate of the prodigal son, the savior and future heart and soul of humanity--John Connor.

As such, the otherwise-high concepts became accessibly low-tech--fistfights, car chases, gunshots, metal-fisted punches, etc. It was not all that different from Die Hard or Rambo, which shared the unbelievability factor--you knew no man alive could live through such an affair, survive such blows, such wounds; no enemy alive would be so inaccurate with a gun, etc. You just didn't care.

Terminator Salvation has sadly blown the lid off such audience concessions.

This movie was like the worst combination of Terminator, Back to the Future, Empire Strikes Back, Road Warrior, and Total Recall imaginable--there was not a single scene in this movie that did not make me either cringe or voice objection on a matter of complete factual idiocy or glaring internalized plot/character contradiction.

But let's not jump to conclusions here, folks. Maybe I'm just an idiot. Maybe there is a rational explanation for the rampant flaws in this movie.

I put it to you, McG--

Ten concerns of mine with which you must deal:
1. Okay, so, the machines are so fucking bloodthirsty and vicious and invincible that there's only like a hundred people left in the United States and they don't venture out at night, live in caves underneath abandoned 7-11s, avoid playing the radio, etc, but John Connor can shoot flares into the sky and engage in a prolonged hail-of-gunfire-and-explosives firefight with Marcus Wright and NOT ONE Terminator or drone or enemy aircraft or anything will even come by to sniff around or drop an atomic bomb? Beyond that, NOT ONE character involved in this affair even voices concern about giving away the position of their resistance unit's headquarters? That is just too ridiculous.

2. How does everyone have batteries to listen to radios? Did the computers/robots program their nuclear bombs to avoid destroying all the battery warehouses / convenience stores? Come to think of it, how are there cars and gasoline trucks and airplane hangars and entire Air Force fleets left? Was there a total fucking nuclear holocaust or not?

3. The Terminators are nearly invincible. SkyNet manufactures easily a dozen a day in their Silicon Valley factory, and yet we see less than a dozen in the entire movie. Why is their headquarters not crawling with them? Why do they not roam the plains of our fair nation? Why are they so easily beaten by children? Why do they never follow their primary target when he needs a breather? (ie, the scene toward the end, when the Arnold Terminator, sans skin, fails to follow John Connor through the hole in the wall for a good ten minutes of really shitty exposition)

4. So, the obligatory Sexy Asian Chick Who Kind-of Kicks Ass But Ultimately Needs a Man/Robot to Save Her from Being Gang-Raped has somehow managed to thus far avoid her otherwise immediately-post-holocaust fate of becoming a brutalized sex slave to all the dudes left on Earth. Okay, I'm with you, maybe she got lucky, but...after we witness one in what I can only imagine to be a series of close calls...she immediately falls in love with her savior/half-Terminator Sam Worthington and makes the cheesiest move on him ("I'm cold...") and then actually utters this line: "It's so hard to find a good man these days..."???
Gag me with a Terminator dick and blow my head off, Regis!

5. Why does the Arnold Terminator not melt in the molten metal flow that envelops him in the Terminator assembly room? It was enough to eliminate him and the T1000 in T2, yet the clunky, Bret Rattner-esque 'homage' of lava and liquid nitrogen both fail to destroy the Arnold in this one? Does not compute.

6. Why is this movie so much like Empire Strikes Back? The new Star Trek stole a lot from Star Wars, now Terminator Salvation borrows heavily from the second installment in the trilogy. Darth Vader leads Luke into a trap, letting him get into the Death Star too easily; SkyNet leads John Connor into a trap, letting him get into their headquarters too easily. In both, 'Our Hero' escapes, but barely. In Empire, it is believable; in Terminator Salvation, it is ridiculous.

7. John Connor knows the Terminators well--he's known them since he was a kid, after all. He knows that they can be good, if programmed properly. Yet he cannot understand that Marcus Wright could be good, could be unaware, could be a human half-transformed? He doesn't even think to ask about his earlier human existence? No time! More action scenes!
Mr. Connor also knows that punching a Terminator would do nothing but break your hand--and yet he must punch a Terminator's face at least three times in this movie. Not only does his hand never break, but Mr. Connor never seems to learn the lesson he already knew--a fucking BULLET, a fucking MISSILE, a fucking LAVA FLOW, and, yes, also a punch, will not stop this futuristic killer robot. And yet he tries, instead of searching quickly for a better weapon, instead of running away a bit sooner...

8. Apparently, nothing will stop John Connor, either. Not vicious robotic snakes in the river that greatly outnumber him, not multiple Terminators throwing him against metal walls, not bullets to the torso, not a metal pole as wide as his heart puncturing said heart... Really?

9. And enough with the goddamn confused Christ analogies already. How many resurrections must we witness? How many times must these robots die for our sins? Does every movie have to end with a robot giving his 'life' for mankind? Spare me.

Also, who above the age of 4 doesn't realize that a heart transplant is not an easy thing to do, especially with one doctor--of questionable skill/education, of questionable identity (who is she, other than a pregnant woman who kisses John Connor? Why should I give a shit about her when she moons for the camera?), who may or may not be pregnant with somebody's baby or a robot or a snake or something--who is forced to perform the surgery off-the-cuff in the middle of a DESERT?!!
Oh, but don't worry, Mr. Hissy-Fit, Mr. Picky-with-the-Details--the Terminators can't find humans if they're underneath a desert-camouflage net and it doesn't matter what blood type a heart-donor is and of course a self-aware computer trying to eliminate the human race with nuclear bombs would fail to destroy extravagant heart-transplant machinery only found in major hospitals in the largest cities...these things don't matter in McG's world! All that matters is the half-robot man gives his life for John Connor--isn't it awesome?! Jesus is saved! Humanity is saved! Carry on! Buy the DVD, too!

10. The opening sequence in the prison, between Sam Worthington and Helena Bonham Carter, was the worst fucking piece of trash I've seen on the silver screen in a looooooong time. For those of you who haven't seen it, I will summarize:

Sam Worthington: "I won't sign that paper. Because of me people died--I must be destroyed. Wait--I change my mind--I'll do it for a cancer-soaked kiss. Hmm--so that's what death tastes like. Let's move! Huh, now it's the future and I am suddenly in a position to redeem my entire existence..."

Helena Bonham Carter: "Do it. Please. It will be good for stuff. No? Shit. Yes? Great. I will return later on in the movie, to tell you what a fool you were to trust me--look how scary and untrustworthy I looked! Btw, I died of cancer, which is totally irrelevant. Anyway, back to the stupid action sequence where it took Arnold ten minutes to find Christian Bale after he climbed through a hole in the wall..."
Okay, enough bitching for now--I'm bringing myself down.

Let's just raise a glass to the gods of culture, entertainment, and knowledge, and hope one of McG's assistants (poor souls) has the courage to respond in his honor.

Until then, stay cool, Planet Earth!



Karl said...

Don't leave out the fact that when we finally get a movie that takes after Judgement Day, when the machines have nuked humanity within a breath of extinction and John Connor rallies us to join together and fight back, instead...he's a lowly private in the army, and Michael Ironsides ALREADY HAS A NUCLEAR SUBMARINE to issue orders to his highly-organized, well-equipped human army. Awesome! So, um...why do the Terminators need to kill John Connor so badly for? Maybe they were supposed to kill Michael Ironsides instead.

Max said...

Note also the "J.C." initials of John Conner, beating the Jesus Christ analogy into the ground. much like Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath with his "Jim Casy" character. BORING said...

from the IMDb quote section for "McG", on his inspiration for Terminator Salvation:

"I regard the late 1970s and early 1980s as the golden age of science fiction filmmaking with movies like Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and The Terminator (1984) and I wanted to honour that golden age."