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Terminator: In Need of Salvation

Movie Title: Terminator: Salvation (2009)
Spoilers Ahead: No

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There is a sizable disconnect between the consensus of moviegoers’ reviews of Terminator: Salvation (T4) and those of professional critics. The former love it and the latter hate it and are telling everyone not to see it. I stand in between these extremes and I find the disconnect explainable. The latter category is made up of those who are regularly critical of science fiction, and as a result, are probably composed of loyal or semi-loyal Terminator fans, while the former, consisting of miscellaneous movie frequenters who perhaps don’t remember that much about the Terminator series, are not.

Average sci-fi lovers would do well to see it and would enjoy it while diehard Terminator lovers are only going to bother because they have to know what Hollywood did with their beloved machines that don’t feel pity or remorse. All in all, it was entertaining, but there’s no other way of saying it: the more loyal the terminator buff, the more disappointed one is going to be. As a Terminator fan myself, I stand disappointed along with the rest of the faithful, but mainly with the ending.

As is to be expected, I went in worrying: “Just how exactly are they going to mutilate the best killer robot series of all time?” Prequels and sequels are too often a cinematic throat-slashing. While that is a fact, it also happens to be a fact that this fourth addition to the Terminator series has phenomenal potential. T4 doesn’t butcher the plot, but it does dance on the dangerous minefield that the Star Wars prequels danced on, and you remember what happened. Being overdone and trying too hard to make a lasting impression, they sucked. Regrettably, T4 goes a similar route.

But T4 gets a lot right and manages to be almost groundbreaking. First, we have the portrayal of the resistance in 2018. Though humans are ants to the machines, remember that ants are ants to humans. We fight them and kill them with pesticides, but we can never kill them all. The machines have the same problem with the humans. Human intuition makes them a match for the cold, calculating, mechanical beasts they seek liberation from. In T1, we saw bits and pieces of a war-ravaged, Skynet-ruled future. In T4, we see a lot more of it, and the humans are holding their own. Not only has Skynet not won, the humans are gaining ground.

What has been touted as criticism by certain critics is the charge that the characters resemble “actors who look more like models than they do like people who’ve grown up in a radiation-ravaged world” where death and war conditions abound, but this is a strength and not a weakness. The fallout effects of radiation are not universal and not degenerative or fatal for every single person. Remember that in T1 Kyle Reese is sent back through time in the year 2029. He’s scarred up and tattered by then, but he’s older. Kyle and the human resistance now are younger. They are alive and haven't yet lost their health, coming from a pre-war time period. The years of hardship will yet take their toll. The film was accurate in not overplaying conditions of squalor. After a nuclear holocaust, it is more likely to die of anarchy and lack of food than straight fallout.

What T4 does do that deserves recognition is tread new territory. No more going back in the past. Screw that. The real fight is here with the generals and brave warriors who have looked hell in its red, cybernetic eyes and have chosen to sacrifice themselves for their species. The use of intuition, ingenuity, and charisma to beat the machines should be more appealing than pathetic nostalgia ploys and introducing new techno-gadgets and robots—it is to the more intelligent audiences. But this fight entails introducing new characters, and T4 gives them to us.

Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright was an example of effectively covering new ground in an old story. The character was wrapped up in the story, and it worked. Anton Yelchin as a young Kyle Reese was fitting. It’s 2018 and Reese is young. Some eleven years later, he’ll be sent back to 1984 by John Connor to safeguard his mother Sarah Connor, and John Connor will then be conceived. You get to see what makes Kyle Reese Kyle Reese, down to his references and tactics. Christian Bale plays a most charismatic and effective John Connor. Michael Ironside is an appropriate General Ashdown. I liked the performances—minus those meaningless nods between characters where better writing was called for to fill the air.

Aside from the compliments that can be paid to the plot, it still lacks the dignity to refuse giving the movie junkies what they want—senseless nostalgia. The machines, like the tech-effects, were amazingly done (though, to be honest, those snake-like water terminators were a bit much). “Too much” hit the fan when a computer-generated nude Schwarzenegger had to get in on the action and toss John Connor around like a rag doll. That’s nostalgia-appeal gone too far, and it is an unfortunate trademark of our time.

Thirty minutes before the end is where the bulk of points are lost. If Arnie coming back is not too much for you, then surely a conveniently placed tank of lava will be. If that doesn’t do you in, then humans stunning Terminators by hitting them in the base of the neck will. Prying off a T-800’s head with a steel bar…don’t even get me started! And I got news for you: if a terminator punches your heart (if it doesn’t carve through your chest), your heart is going to explode!

I don’t know why a director and writers who would make a big budget movie with something as beloved as the Terminator and not bother to use the brain cells to see to it that the physics lines up with what is expected. This is science fiction we’re dealing with. If the droids can’t punch as hard, if their armor doesn’t hold up as it should, if mission parameters are not executed properly, devoted fans are going to be all over stuff like that, and so they should.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: John Connor leads the resistance in the battle against Skynet and the machines.
Director: McG
Starring: Christian Bale “John Connor,” Sam Worthington “Marcus Wright,” Moon Bloodgood “Blair Williams,” Helena Bonham Carter “Dr. Serena Kogan,” Anton Yelchin “Kyle Reese,” Jadagrace “Star,” Bryce Dallas Howard “Kate Connor,” Common “Barnes,” Jane Alexander “Virginia,” Michael Ironside “General Ashdown”
Genre: Sci-fi / Action / Thriller

Comments

  1. I liked your review but would point out that the punch the T-800 gave the one defending Connor was to another Terminator.

    Hence, the Marcus Wright's exoskeleton would have been able to withstand alot but not enough from another Terminator.

    The biggest flaw with the move was the end but it was there was only the T-800 and no other Terminators came out to kill Connor or Wright.

    Otherwise, I was very pleased with Terminator Salvation and look forward to others down the road.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Uh, thanks.

    And, yes, what you mentioned was a problem, but I don't see what you mean about the punch. The T-800 hit Marcus. What's the problem?

    (JH)

    ReplyDelete

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