Terminator: Salvation!

Hello and welcome to my first film review! Yes, much like my idea for a beer blog and my desire to write, it seems that a forum and an idea have once again come together to give me a chance to express my inane thoughts. Funny how that works, I guess the universe really does have a sense of humor! And as with all those other things, I value feedback and other opinions highly, so please feel free to drop a line and offer your own thoughts on all the subject matter I choose to review. After all, good films and cult classics need to be praised, or trashed, as the case may be. Furthermore, I would welcome suggestions as to what movies people would like to see reviewed. After all, what constitutes a cult classic is open to interpretation, and I’m currently looking for ideas for what to do down the road. That being said, let’s get to my first review…

As promised, I’ve decided to dedicate my first post to the relatively recent movie Terminator: Salvation, the fourth and most recent installment in the Terminator franchise. I say most recent (as opposed to say, last) because of the rather shameless hints that were dropped at the end of the film, but more on that later… And, just to be a nice guy, I’ve also decided to throw in some headers that looks like this (Background—>), (Content—>), and (Synopsis—>). This way, people can skip whatever sections they don’t want to read, cuts down on reading time. Yes, I am verbose, but at least I admit it! Anyway, it’s time to get down to business! Terminator: Salvation!

(Background —>)
When I first heard the film was coming out, I was hopeful. In fact, I was downright excited, seeing as how the last installment (Terminator 3) was a relative flop-fest that seemed totally unnecessary and was generally panned by critics and fans. And the way I saw it, this movie was supposed to do for Terminator what the Dark Knight (also starring Christian Bale) had done for the Batman franchise. My hopes were high, and I can honestly say I was genuinely impressed with the movie for the first hour or so. As hinted at in the previews, it was action-packed and pretty gritty, presenting the world of Judgement Day and the Resistance. And since that’s what fans came to see, I went in thinking that the movie would make good on these promises.

Then, the climax came… and all those hopes fell to pieces. Yep, the movie had the dubious honor of being pretty good up until the ending, at which point the audience is left with a contrived explanation for everything that’s happened and leaves the viewer thinking: “Really? That’s what they decided to do with this? REALLY?” Yes, the ending left a bad taste in my mouth that only seemed to get worse the further I got away from the movie theater. What should have been a fun movie that ended the franchise on a high-note was instead a contrived, forced story with a heavy-handed message about sacrifice and redemption and an over the top, totally implausible climax that was also meant to be open-ended. This last aspect of the film was especially bothersome, since it felt like this was a rather crass attempt to hedge the movie’s bets, letting the audience know another movie could be coming, if only this one made enough money!

But I digress… To recap, this movie was supposed to explain how John Connor and the resistance took down the machines in the future. This is pivotal to the entire plot of the franchise, the very reason why Skynet began sending Terminators into the past, to kill John Connor, the man who would lead the resistance to victory. Similarly, it is why Connor and the resistance began sending back their own people, to ensure Connor exists so that their victory will be assured. In the course of all this, we are treated to a temporal paradox. By trying to protect the future, they essentially created that future. Kyle Reese becomes Connor’s father and the remains of the destroyed Arny machine are found and become the basis for Skynet’s development; hence Judgement Day and the victory of the resistance over the machines becomes inevitable. Then, in movie two, the characters try to break this paradox by destroying the company that invented Skynet and every trace of its research. And, once they’ve killed the evil T1000, Arny sacrifices himself in order to ensure that no trace of the technology will ever fall into the wrong hands. Cool, smart, and virtually seamless. Since the rise of the machines was not totally ensured until Arny himself was destroyed, no obsessive critic could say “if they blew up Skynet, shouldn’t that be the end of the movie? Would Arny and the T1000 just, like, disappear?”

But of course, the studios decided a third had to be made. I mean, no sense retiring a franchise just because the story ended, right? Not when there’s still millions to be made! Naturally, this would prove difficult since the third movie took place after Judgement Day was supposed to have happened (Aug 29th, 1997). How were they to explain this, you might ask. Well, simple! The main characters didn’t stop Judgement Day in movie two, they only postponed it. It’s inevitable, and everything they do in the third movie only ensures that it happens as foretold. Not so smart and seamless, kind of flaccid really, but what the hell? If nothing else, it opened the franchise up again, which was what many fans wanted. Terminator 1 and 2 were box office smashes and critical delights, cult classics and just downright awesome! The studios couldn’t end it all there, so one crappy movie to get things rolling again could be seen as forgivable, provided the fourth one put things back on track.

Yeah, well… that might have been the case had the movie delivered on what was supposed to be its aims. One, show the world of the future, post-Judgement Day, where the machines and resistance are battling. Two, explain how Connor and the resistance brought them down, bring us to the point where the Terminators were sent back in the first place. That’s all… just work within the framework established by the other movies, and don’t do anything stupid like try to throw in another paradox or up the ante with an even bigger crisis. But of course, that’s what they did…

(Content—>)
At the very beginning, the movie introduces us to Marcus, a convict who gave his body to science via the Skynet corporation. Then, we are quickly brought to the future where Connor is a player in the resistance, but not yet its leader. He stumbles onto a facility in an opening action sequence that is cool, but kinda inexplicable (why, for example, did the machines set off a nuke in the distance?) Then, in the ensuring sequences, we are fed two plot tidbits. One: the raid put the resistance in possession of a master list the machines have been compiling, a list of everyone they wanna kill! The name at the top of the list, followed shortly thereafter by Connor’s and the names of all the resistance leaders… is Kyle Reese! Cue scary music! You see, Reese is still a boy at this point in the story and has not yet joined the resistance. If he were to die, Connor would cease to exist, and the resistance would be screwed. Oh, and the other tidbit, the resistance has figured out a way to shut the machines down using some kind of high-frequency thing, and they are planning their final strike with it on Skynet itself.

Then, out comes Marcus, the confused and obvious man-machine hybrid. The audience has the benefit of knowing this already thanks to all the trailers and spoilers. The only question is, what the heck is his purpose? Why was he created and what is he going to do? Well, after wandering from the facility the resistance just attacked, he runs into (of all people!) Kyle Reese. Through him he learns of the resistance and Connor, and then the boy and his little mute friend are captured. He then runs into a resistance fighter, played by the always smoking Moon Bloodgood! A budding romance forms, even though the two have absolutely no chemistry and the whole thing feels forced (but on behalf of men everywhere I think I can safely say, that shower scene was pretty damn hot!) Oh, and speaking of forced, were also treated to some obvious hints that Marcus is, despite his past, a nice man who’s looking for redemption. Then, of course, the wandering continues and they get back to the resistance base, where Connor just happens to be in charge. Shortly thereafter, Marcus steps on a land mine, and his secret is out. HE’S A MACHINE! (more scary music!)

Now Connor is left to ponder over the mystery of the man. Here we have a Terminator that walked right into his lair, has no idea he’s a Terminator, and is telling him he needs their help to rescue the kid who will grow up to be Connor’s father. The kid is currently in the machines HQ, and an attack on that place is impending. We can smell the tension at this point, as we are all well-aware of the fact that if the attack is carried out and Kyle Reese dies, that Connor will never exist and the machines will win. Things are beginning to make sense. So what does Connor do? Let’s Marcus go because he thinks he has a shot at getting into Skynet’s base, and follows him in himself, but only after he’s given all the resistance cells who listen to his pirate radio broadcasts the message that they are to disobey their orders and hold off on the attack. And with Marcus inside the facility, things finally come together. Some programming things takes over, he wakes up after being repaired by the machines, and the big, mean Skynet computer lets him in on everything.

And, as I said before, the explanation is bunk! The part about the “signal” was kind of neat. It’s a Trojan Horse, you see. Instead of shutting down the machines, its actually a tracking signal which the machines are now using to locate all the resistance’s positions and destroy them. But the rest? Bunk! I know at this point they want to make us think that all hope is lost so we start caring and get all emotionally involved, but man, what a stupid attempt at trying to tie all the loose ends together! In essence, Marcus was designed with the foresight that a man-machine hybrid would somehow manage to wander the desert, find Reese, find Connor, and deliver them both to Skynet so they could be killed. That was his purpose from the beginning, and what seemed like coincidences was in fact Skynet pulling his strings.

Really? I mean, aside from seeming highly contrived and way too convenient, the explanation is devoid of any and all logic! If the machines wanted to do what they’ve done many times over now and send out a machine to get Connor, and by extension Reese, why not just program him to kill them? Hell, Marcus had Reese at gun point twice in the movie, within the first half hour! If he was under Skynet’s control, why not just tell him to pull the trigger? Second, he was well within range of John Connor on multiple occasions too. If his death is what Skynet wants, why not let him kill him? Why the stupid game of cat and mouse, luring him to the base and all that? One shot, bang! and the movie’s over. I know, then the movie would end abruptly. But I mean c’mon! Both these people are supposed to be at the top of the machines hit list for Christ sakes! And as Connor’s father, if Reese were to die wouldn’t that make Connor disappear from the face of the Earth, thus taking out both of their biggest worries and making their victory inevitable?

But even more nonsensical was the fact that Marcus, now supposedly under Skynet’s control at this point, just reaches into his neck and yanks out the chip that’s in there, cutting off Skynet’s control over him, and goes off to save them both. A chip in his neck? That’s how Skynet was controlling him? Why not his brain? Why not somewhere where he wouldn’t be able to get at it? In fact, what the hell was the point in letting him keep his brain and heart but turning them rest of him into hardware? The flesh I can understand, you gotta put a facade on his exterior so he can get past the guards. And even the brain bit I could understand, that could be seen as a way of making sure he retained his humanity, so no one would guess he was an AI by his total lack of feeling… but the rest of him? Hell, the heart was just an obvious Deus ex Machina which comes out at the end. The rest served no purpose! But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself…

The other problem I had with this climax was obvious. How does Skynet know how things are supposed to unfold? I know that at this point in the story, everyone knows about the prophecies and the future, as told by Connor, but he has all this knowledge because he was told about it by those who were actually THERE! Kyle Reese told his mom what was going to happen and she told him, simple! The machines? They got no crystal balls, they got no people from the future telling them how its going to be. So how do they know Reese is Connor’s father? How do they know Connor is the one who will destroy them? How, for that matter, do they know that they’ve repeatedly failed to “get John Connor” as Skynet puts it? It wasn’t until Connor and the resistance had them on the ropes and were delivering the death blow that Skynet even decided to send Terminators back in the first place, as we are told in the first movie. So really, how does Skynet know anything? Some explanations of how they figured this out might have actually helped tie things together more plausibly. Like, “we interrogated people and they told us about Connor and who his father was. We did some calculations using higher-order mathematics and temporal theory and established that they needed to die!” Just a thought. Also, some indication of how the machines were building a time machine in the first place so they could send Terminators back in time to kill Connor and his mother. It’s been established that they were doing this in the earlier movies, so shouldn’t the machines be actively working on that by this movie? Wouldn’t now be the time for them to send Arny back to kill him and his mother? Wouldn’t now be the time for Connor to send Reese back so he can do what he’s supposed to do, i.e. save his mother’s life, knocking her up with him in the process? Temporal paradox people, these things need to happen in the past so things will unfold in the future…

Ah, whatever, there’s enough wrong with this movie without over-thinking things. So, to summarize, Connor rescues Reese, Marcus rescues Connor, and they decide to set some of the machines fuel cells to explode. These just happen to sitting around since the base is also a factory where the Terminators are built. And to top off this unlikely ending, the resistance flies in to their rescue and pulls everyone out before Skynet goes boom! Uh, really? If it was this easy to get into Skynet, why the hell didn’t they do it sooner? Shouldn’t this big, important base have some kind of… oh, I don’t know, defenses??? In fact, we already got to see these big gun towers protecting the place when Marcus walked in. What the hell happened to those? A quick scene or one line of dialogue would have solved that, say you had a hard time punching through and lost a lot of men, or have Marcus and Connor say they managed to disable them from the inside! Show some people dying or some such shit, it’s not that hard!

Then, back at the resistance base, the medics declare that Connor will die. Hold on, I thought, were they really going to kill him off now? Now that they won, were they going to sacrifice their main character? Such a move could only be considered risky and respectable, but of course, they didn’t! Remember Marcus’ real human heart? Yeah, well, he decides to commit the ultimate act of sacrifice by giving it to Connor, thus fulfilling the whole redemption angle of this movie. Personally, I would have thought saving Connor and Reese the first time around and ensuring that the machines lost the war would have done it, but what do I know? Then, in a final scene, Connor has a voiceover explaining that in spite of the fact that the big bad machine is dead, there is still danger because Skynet’s “Global Network” is still out there. What the hell man? Wasn’t the whole idea that taking down the central AI would knock out the machines everywhere, or at least leave them disorganized and easy pickings? Why is there more to do if you just whacked their nerve center? Did you really think the audience would be screaming out for more, or was this just in case the studio decided to squeeze the franchise for more blood down the road?

(Synopsis—>)
Okay, to be fair, there were some things I liked about this movie. The action sequences, for one. We did get to see some pretty cool scenes where Gatling-gun toting Terminators shot up the streets, HK’s were doing aerial combat and big towering tanks blew shit up. And the robot bikes and other assorted killing machines were neat as well. But those strengths were not played upon nearly enough in this movie. Also, the homages that were paid to the originals: Marcus doing the whole “you hit me, I look at you angrily before taking you down” thing that Arny perfected in the second movie, Bale saying “I’ll be back”, the scene with Guns and Roses playing while he hijacked a bike, the cameo by the Arny-bot; those were all pretty cool too. But none of that could save this movie from its forced ending, its heavy-handed theme of redemption, or the fact that the movie should have ended with Skynet being destroyed.

The romance story is also pretty stiff, the actors themselves just don’t have the right kind of chemistry to sell it, and the dialogue between them is pretty damn cheesy. Marcus: “I’m not a good man!” Moon Bloodgood: “You are, you just don’t know it yet.” Yeah… yeah. But what was most disappointing about this film was the fact that instead of redeeming the franchise after Terminator 3, the movie ended up doing the same thing it did: cash in on the franchise with a movie that was all flash and little substance, not to mention full of plot holes so big you could drive a truck through em! I could be wrong, maybe that was their intention from the beginning. But it seemed to me that the whole point of making a fourth movie was to end the series with a bang. Instead, we got a whimper and were openly told we could expect more, should they decide to make another. I don’t know about you, but if they do decide to make T5, I’ll wait to download. That’s right, I won’t even rent it! Take that, money-grubbing studios!

Terminator: Salvation:
Entertainment Value:7/10
Plot:2/10
Direction: 6/10
Total: 5/10

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