R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Defending Terminator Salvation

Come with me if you want to live!

Let me tell you folks, it might not be some award winning, “tell your kids about” kind of summer movie season out there, but there are still some real gems out there right now. That’s not to say that the good/bad movie ratio isn’t down from last summer, especially on the action movie front, since 2008 had a pretty decent run starting off with Iron Man, Speed Racer, Indiana Jones and The Incredible Hulk all coming out within weeks of each other. Still, even with stinkers like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Angels & Demons out there, it’s not hard to find some great popcorn entertainment.

I’ve talked extensively about JJ Abrams’ Star Trek in the last few weeks, and it’s still the best of the best when it comes to really finding that amazing summer blockbuster, but these last few weekends have brought out some of the best films I’ve seen all year period, especially ones from two names that I have the utmost respect for; Director Sam Raimi and PIXAR, the studio that can’t be beaten. Both Drag Me to Hell and Up ended up blowing my mind at the theater in the last month and offered up some of the best entertainments to be found in a multiplex I’ve seen since probably The Dark Knight. The movie I’d like to go on record this week and defend this week, though, is a movie that’s been a little beaten up by fans and critics, but one that I’ve found some particular enjoyment for on many levels; Terminator Salvation. The movie isn’t an outright success, but I think that a lot of the complaints against it haven’t been very fair, and like a lone warrior from the future I’m here to protect it so the machines don’t win.

So without further ado, I’ll get right to it. There’s gonna be some spoilers throughout.

Terminator Salvation Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, and Anton Yelchin. Directed by McG

So I see that crapping all over this movie has gotten pretty popular on the Internet lately. Many fans felt that McG has somehow tarnished the good name of the Terminator franchise, a franchise that I, myself am a huge fan of, but one that I’ve never really associated with the mythic sagas that have really stirred the hearts and minds of moviegoers. Now again, that isn’t to say that I don’t love this series, in fact I think James Cameron’s original two films are action classics and that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the movie that kind of defined the summer blockbuster in the 1990s, but I wouldn’t put it on the same level as the original Star Wars films, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and I don’t think its cinematic legacy is as important as say, the Bond franchise.

What the movies are, are the premiere films associated with the biggest action icon of the last two decades of the 20th century, the illustrious California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and because of that association fandom has sought to somehow raise perfectly good action masterpieces to the point of science fiction royalty, when the very movies they are holding Terminator Salvation up against are films with plot holes so big you could drive a truck full of liquid nitrogen through them. I mean honestly, the first film is an incredible achievement by Writer/Director James Cameron; a B-movie tour de force that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a superstar and launched the career of one of Science Fiction’s most talented directors. The movie is also a wild paradox where a man in the future must send his own father back in time in order to sire him, which I guess works if you buy into the type of Lost– time travel theory where everything that will happen has already happened and that Kyle Reese was always meant to come back in time to save humanity. Then again, if there’s no changing the future, and that Kyle Reese was always meant to go back to the 1980s to father his son, then why would Skynet send Terminators back to change the future, when it turns out if they hadn’t sent a Terminator, then Reese wouldn’t have been sent to the past to again father John Connor?

Confused yet? Well, allow me to present T2. While “no fate but what we make” is the motto of the movie, the more accurate “let’s create time paradoxes and blow stuff up” doesn’t seem quite as catchy, which probably explains why they didn’t use it. Sure, the film has incredible spectacle and gets you wrapped up in its forward momentum like a boulder toward its ultimate conclusion, but we kind of take it on faith that when John and Sarah Connor stop Judgment Day in that movie that it won’t have any horrible impact on their lives, especially considering that would again stop the very thing that causes Kyle Reese to come back in time to father John Connor.

In a lot of ways, it’s the maligned Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines that sets the whole thing right again, since it actually ends with Judgment Day occurring, just postponed. Sure, the movie is comparatively small in scope next to the epic second installment, the movie’s goofy tone at times is jarring, and the villain in the movie is pretty lame, but that ending is like a punch to the gut, and I think on that level and anything having to do with its action set pieces, the movie absolutely works. This finally brings us to McG’s all new, much hated Terminator Salvation.

Now again, this movie is far from perfect. Legitimately, there are some real problems with this movie’s script, which is a bit schizophrenic, not being able to really give us a main character to carry the movie through to the end. Many wanted to see John Connor’s rise to power and how he was able to get us through the war with the machines, but I don’t think that’s the movie that the film makers had initially intended to give us. You can tell that the movie was supposed to center around the journey of Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright and his road to redemption and his search for Anton Yelchin’s Kyle Reese. Adding Christian Bale’s Connor to this mix only made this movie focus less on the story it wanted to tell, and more on a story that wasn’t ready to be told yet.

To make matters worse, I think Bale is solid with what he’s given, but there are not a lot of layers to John Connor in this picture. Then again, have there ever been a lot of layers to John Connor? The best versions of this character we’ve ever really gotten are from flashbacks from the ravings of Kyle Reese, who makes Connor out to be a messiah-like figure. The man we’ve seen in our minds is the one who briefly shows up at the beginning of T2 leading his troops in a battle against Skynet, stoically looking bad ass with a huge scar down his face. That’s the image I think Bale built his whole performance around; not the snot nosed kid who talks like Bart Simpson and not the whiny twenty-something running away from destiny. Instead, we get the bad ass John Connor we’ve been waiting for, and then most people reject this performance because they say there’s not enough to him.

Then again, what’s the alternative? Do we cut Connor completely out of this movie, as some have suggested? Then that ends up alienating another half of the fan base that don’t really want to see any other character onscreen, especially since this is the first of the Terminator movies to not feature the star associated with this series, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do we cut out Marcus Wright, the character that was originally meant to be the focus of the movie, and basically start this film from scratch? Well that actually eliminates the most interesting character of the whole movie.

I know I’m not the first to say this, but I think this movie is only the beginning for Sam Worthington. He’s getting some of the best notices for this movie, and with his starring roles in James Cameron‘s Avatar and the new Clash of the Titans remake on the horizon, this guy could be the next big thing. I actually think he does really admirable work in this picture. You can feel the struggle within the character; a man with a past that is filled with wrongdoing, but one that Marcus is trying to make up for in this new world gone to hell. His tale of redemption is actually pretty moving in places and in the second half of the film, his storyline takes a turn that shows him as the best that humanity can offer. This flawed warrior has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he knows he has to act or all that he really is will be gone forever.

Alright, I know this is just a start and I didn’t mean to write this much about this movie, but I’m going to keep going with this next week and see where this thing goes.

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