Thursday, May 28, 2009

After the apocalypse, dirty unwashed women will still have bright sparkling smiles.

I'm going to make this one kinda quick, since I'm going to try to catch a midnight showing of Drag Me To Hell tonight.

I went to check out the new Terminator movie, or as it was spelled on my ticket, "TERMENATOR" (there was also a receipt on the counter for nachos that noted the extra price for "Extra Chesse"). On the way to the auditorium, a man of raza was carrying his infant son with him ahead of me. He stopped in front of the cardboard stand for Terminator Salvation and did the whole "Wow! Lookit dat!" deal to his kid. He fashioned his finger into a gun, aimed it at the T-600s and went PEW PEW PEW at them to amuse the little tyke, and that's when I remembered that this movie was PG-13.

That's also the last time I even thought of the movie's rating, because Terminator Salvation manages to work without the occasional blood and gore of the first three films. This is more of a big-explosion-and-things-smashing-into-each-other kind of flick, anyway. Not much opportunity for a Terminator to shove its fist through some dude's chest or to stab its liquid metal arm through some poor schmuck's mouth via milk carton. The last Die Hard movie was hurt more by its friendlier rating than this one.

Terminator (no colon) Salvation begins in 2003, with a man on Death Row named Marcus Wright receiving a visit from a doctor who wants him to sign his body over to science. He does, and we see above the dotted line that it's Cyberdyne he's signing it over to. Later that night, the execution commences and he is given a lethal injection. Cut to post-Judgment Day 2018, where John Connor and a team of resistance fighters attack a Skynet "research facility" and attempt to rescue some captive humans. After the battle, a naked man climbs out of the wreckage and it's none other than Marcus Wright, alive and looking exactly as he did the night of his execution. He doesn't know where the fuck he is or even what year it is.

I watched Salvation a couple of days ago, and my opinion of it has lowered a bit since then. I was wowed by the excellent special effects and I really enjoyed the exciting action scenes, but once I got over that I realized that all that flash was distracting me from the fact that there wasn't all that much to this movie. It's pretty fuckin' useless, actually.

The previous flick, Terminator: Rise of the Machines, was OK, but at least it served a purpose in the canon of the series. It showed us how Skynet took over after becoming self-aware, it confirmed that Judgment Day was inevitable, and it showed the audience how John Connor managed to survive it. Salvation unfortunately doesn't really tell you that much, since most of the focus is on the character of Marcus Wright. I was hoping we were going to follow Connor as the leader of the resistance and watch as he became the savior for the Judgment Day survivors, and that's not the way it works out here.

I get the sense that this movie wasn't really supposed to be about John Connor in the first place, and maybe his part was originally much smaller or even non-existent, but then once they got Christian Bale involved, the filmmakers realized they needed to rewrite the script and beef his character up. As it is, most of what we see from Connor is in the first and last third of the movie. The rest of the time, the movie only occasionally cuts to him giving out radio messages to the resistance or sitting alone with a tape recorder, listening to those old tapes his mom Sarah Connor made when she was pregnant with him.

Another problem is that this feels like the filmmakers wanted to create a new series of Terminator flicks, rather than concentrate on making one self-contained story. Parts two and three ended in such a way that another sequel could be made, yet the endings also worked as a final word on the series. Salvation's ending is more like "Hey guys, we promise you that the really cool stuff will be in the next one!" and that's bullshit. What if this one doesn't make enough money to warrant a sequel? Then all we're left with is what's basically fan fiction, or a spin-off character that we never asked for in the first place.

There's also some callbacks and references to the other movies that made me cringe a bit. We get to hear characters actually say "Come with me, if you want to live", "I'll be back", and at one point we even hear the Guns N' Roses song "You Could Be Mine", all this apparently to make you go "Remember the other movies? They were cool, weren't they?". It would be like having young Vito Corleone beat someone up with a trash can in The Godfather Part II as a way to wink wink nudge nudge the audience into remembering his son doing that in the first one.

I'm not saying that this is a bad movie, I'm just saying that I was disappointed that it doesn't push the series to another level. Sure, we finally get a Terminator movie that takes place during the war between humans and the machines, but that's as far as it goes. The biggest change is the setting, and ultimately the only thing you get out of this movie is that the T-800 hasn't been invented yet. This also appears to take place before Skynet started building plasma rifles, which kinda sucks. I was looking forward to watching and hearing those lasers whizzing by.

It's a very exciting movie as far as action goes, and the new Skynet inventions and different forms of Terminators we see here are really cool. Just don't expect anything deeper than that. A matinee ticket or a Blu-ray rental later on sounds about right for this one.

On a final note, Michael Ironside is in this movie and that guy fuckin' rules. It's cool to see him in a big summer action movie again. It shows that in addition to directing cool action scenes, McG knows how to cast his parts well. Now he just needs to find better scripts to direct and change that stupid fuckin' name.