Terminator Salvation

By Adam Lippe

terminator_salvation_baleThey should remake Predator 2. Not because it’s a great movie, in fact, it is lousy 70% of the time, or any time someone opens their mouth. No, the reason to remake Predator 2 is because it is so flawed, but has some terrific hints of ideas near the conclusion, why the Predator does what he does, where does the Predator we see stand in terms of the other Predators on the spaceship at the end in terms of the hierarchy, etc. It would work even better if the unprepared cop who battles a gang wasteland every day (played by Danny Glover), was killed right at the start of Act III, which frankly would have made a lot more sense than the vicious Predators letting him roam around their ship unscathed and then letting him go at the end. Then we could follow the Predators as they do their work, expanding the limited conception that the writers gave him (one of the few creative elements that was carried over from the first Predator film to the second was that Jim and John Thomas wrote both scripts).

What does a discussion of the inherent promise of a Predator 2 remake have to do with Terminator Salvation? Well both films have very interesting third acts that explore the possible origins of their otherworldly villains, leaving the human characters to get the shaft in terms of exploration, and both films are brimming with possibility for creative diversions, neat gadgets (Terminator Salvation has, amongst other things, an eel Terminator, and a Voltron-like contraption, where little pieces of a huge Terminator break off and attack the heroes), but the quality of the filmmaking never rises above passable and businesslike. There’s nothing engaging about either film, except what they could have been with a more ambitious creative team behind them.

Terminator Salvation: The Future BeginsTerminator Salvation spends so much time fulfilling its sequel requirements, repeating famous lines, assuming characters known from previous films don’t have to be developed any further, explaining scars, throwing in familiar scenes (another steam and flame factory!), that it forgets the minimum objective, to be entertaining. All the opportunities for spectacle, thrills, and momentum are tossed aside in favor of a whole bunch of none-too-intense yelling from Christian Bale (playing John Connor with no particular distinction) and an endless retread of the old cyborg gambit, how human are they, and can they be trusted. Director McG* (Charlie’s Angels) blows every opportunity for awe and kinesis in favor of exploiting the idea of making a dusty, grey, big budget rip-off of The Road Warrior (there’s even a mute, feral kid). In fact, Terminator Salvation plays like one of those fun, cheap Italian Road Warrior knock-offs if it had somehow garnered a big star, like if George Clooney was the lead in Bronx Warriors 2… Except Terminator Salvation has an enormous budget, making its visual ineptness a bother and eliminating the possibility of being quaint. The movie is a mix of screaming and random gunfire which then morphs into some Air Force One-level CGI. McG forgot that one of the main ways the first Terminator was so effective was its very spare nature, and the use of stop-motion animation, making the Terminator’s movements to be creepily robotic, the way it should be.

Terminator: Salvation is just impatient, skipping over can’t miss material in favor of getting to the end. There’s an early scene where Bale jumps out of a moving helicopter into the middle of the ocean and an enormous wave, worthy of The Perfect Storm, trying to find a hidden submarine, and just as you’d think we’d get into an exciting exploration sequence, combined with the fear of running out of air, and finding an entrance to the seemingly impenetrable submarine, we get… Nothing. As soon as Bale jumps into the water, we cut right to him in the control room with his boss (a wasted Michael Ironside) and crew, and Ironisde reprimands him for “pulling a frogman stunt.” A stunt which we didn’t see.

terminator-salvation-stillIt isn’t just the lack of interesting action that dulls Terminator Salvation, even at the plot stage, it falters, adding further confusion to the complicated timeline structure of the first three films. In this version of history, John Connor and Kyle Reese (played by the wimpy and poorly cast Anton Yelchin, who, along with Star Trek, has had an irritating role in two dull franchise reboots that play with timelines, this month alone) co-exist, and the story involves Connor trying to save Reese’s life after he’s captured by the cyborg-run Skynet. Connor knows that if Reese is killed, he’ll no longer exist. But the problem with that is the Terminator films work off of alternate timelines, where it is possible for two realities to exist, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense that John Connor could send Kyle Reese back in time to save his mother, since Reese impregnates Sarah Connor and she gives birth to John Connor. The fact that the future version of John Connor is aware of his past and who his father is, means that killing off Kyle Reese would have no effect on that particular timeline. Anyway, you could deal with the timeline thing forever, the point is, Terminator Salvation doesn’t even obey its own rules.

So apart from the plot, the dialogue, and the action, is there anything to savor in Terminator Salvation? Not really. Mostly we get the standard neutered PG-13 gore (the movie never feels particularly violent, that would require intensity), British actors occasionally dropping their American accents, a few Terminators who look like extras from the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and thoughts about how, if extreme poverty is the norm in this version of the world, with only small amounts of food and water available, and certainly no idea of cleanliness and showers, it is nice to know that a girl can still put on makeup and show off her cleavage. The future is so advanced, that despite the primitive medical equipment and poor conditions, if you ever need a heart transplant, you could always ask a cyborg for his. Apparently, you don’t even have to worry about his blood type.

terminator-salvation-cyborg* In interviews promoting Terminator Salvation,McG has expressed interest in being taken seriously. Using your real name might be a way to do that, or come up with a better nickname. That is, unless he likes hearing profane variations on his nom de plume, such as one that expresses the current perception of McG as a filmmaker, ubiquitous, annoying, a consequence of celebrating shallow people’s meager accomplishments, and the ability to cause slow-building nausea, McGonorrhea…   Or he could keep the McG name, if he intends to make the long-awaited sequel to Mac and Me.

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.