The Night Out: Terminator Salvation (2009), or The Emergence Of A Post-Apocalyptic SPECTACLE

23 05 2009

I know how I said that today I would be watching the timeless classic L’avventura for my PSA, but I’m a liar, OK? Just like Linda Hamilton. Linda Hamilton, as the sexy and sassy Sarah Connor in the blockbuster T2, said back in 1991 that Judgment Day had been stopped and that everything was cool. Well, apparently she was as big of a liar as I am, because here it is 2009 and I just watched the 4th Terminator movie! Apparently, not only did Judgment Day happen, but shit is worse than we thought. Great.

If you’ve seen all the other Terminator movies, you’re likely to know that they all take place in the present day, before the prophesied apocalypse brought on by the evil self-aware military AI, Skynet. Each film, someone goes back to the past to rescue a member of the Connor family and a robot goes back to destroy said Connor. Well, no longer! Judgment Day has happened already, put a fork in it; there is no more time travel. We’re in the year 2018, 15 years after the nuclear apocalypse but nearly 10 years before Skynet sends the beefy T-800 back to fuck with a wigged-out Sarah Connor in a last-ditch effort to destroy the nearly-victorious resistance. The war is grinding on, and John Connor has recently raided a Skynet base, discovering experiments Skynet is performing on humans in order to infiltrate the resistance’s ranks. When Connor returns from the raid, he receives word of a list of high priority targets for the machines, one of which is Connor and the other of which is Kyle Reese, the guy Connor sends into the future to eventually impregnate his mom. So it’s a race for John Connor to find his teenage father in order to protect him from Skynet’s clutches. But when they raided the base, they unwittingly awaken a strange man named Marcus Wright, who has blacked out for 15 years after he donated his body to science.  He doesn’t know where he is or what happened to the world, but during his travels through the wastelands of California, he stumbles across a teenager named Kyle Reese. Neither one of them know just how important they will become to the resistance in the future, nor do they know just how strange, and possibly dangerous, Marcus Wright really is.

Whew. What a mouthful. All right, I gotta say that, after watching the great post-apocalyptic film The Road Warrior yesterday, I don’t think that this is $200 million worth of wasteland entertainment. It’s not bad, to be sure, and I think that it’s probably the best summer blockbuster to come out so far this summer, but there are a few problems gnawing at this film that might make one second guess their decision to rush out and see it.

Firstly, there is not enough drama to weigh down this concept and these characters. There is a lot of empty action here, which inevitably begs that eternal question; why do I care if this person is in danger? There is not enough emotional stake in someone like Christian Bale’s John Connor to make me care whether he lives or dies. He doesn’t really hearken back to the days of Edward Furlong, where Connor had a plucky personality and a sense of humor. Instead, he’s your average battle-hardened badass, with only an imposing voice and physique to inspire his men into battle. The situations beg for more context, more human drama. Otherwise, it’s just explosions and robots, and a movie like Terminator Salvation wants desperately to be more than that.

The script meanders. The Terminator series has always strived to be fast-paced and action-packed in order to mask the huge plot-holes and dips in the logic. That’s fine and dandy, but here we take more breathers, which leads us at times to realize that the digital emperor wears no clothes. What is Skynet’s endgame? What happens when it destroys all the humans? Is there a step 2 to this plan? Otherwise, it doesn’t seem very well thought-out for a self-aware AI. Questions like these and others filled my mind while I had to hear about stratagems and assault counter-measures, not to mention the cold and heartless Mr. and Mrs. Connor dialog scenes where I forgot at times that Bryce Dallas Howard and Christian Bale were playing a couple and not co-workers.

But it’s not all bad. The action is pretty good, and I had a fun time taking a look at all the details on the machines. The Terminators look GREAT. I had to doff my hat to the SFX Dept. for the time and effort put into the machines. The California wasteland is also awe-inspiring. It’s as impressive as I always imagined it to be, and no expense is spared on the little details. It makes the action very genuine and organic, although quite ironic considering the context in which I say that.

And Sam Worthington’s character, Marcus Wright, was very well thought-out. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll let you discover it on your own, but his story alone is worth the $7 for this film. He actually over-shadows the main character of the damn series, John Connor! He makes the movie a little deeper than its original, more shallow expectation. I enjoyed him, and I hope to see more of Sam Worthington in Hollywood.

So, it’s okay. Go see it for during matinee hours. It’s brief, and engaging enough to make the 115 minutes go by painlessly. I think it’s the best big-budget movie to come out thus far, and while that might or might not be glaring praise to you, it is what it is. So, thank you, McG, you slick son of a bitch, for making a Terminator at least half as slick as you are. Next time, though, leave a couple dull spots on the paint job to not make your human characters seem so…robotic. I give Terminator Salvation 7 uncontrollable liars out of 10.

Tomorrow, I promise I will watch L’avventura! I mean it this time! I would never lie to you guys!