Then I said, "Nah," and went to see TERMINATOR SALVATION.
This was an error in judgment.
A while back, I did a sequel double feature with some friends. We watched FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER and PREDATOR 2. The latter has often been maligned a bit; it's more guilty pleasure than brilliant B-movie, as the first was. But in comparison with ROTSS, P2 is a masterpiece, not because it is so much better shot or better acted but because it is recognizably a movie. Scenes occur for a purpose, and lead into other scenes, and consistently develop a story that moves, if not to great heights, at least forward. By contrast, ROTSS treads water between clumsy and mostly uninspired action set-pieces; the movie tries to dazzle you with eye candy to take your mind off the fact that you are fucking bored.
That is pretty much TERMINATOR SALVATION. If TERMINATOR 3 is PREDATOR 2, then TERMINATOR SALVATION is REVENGE OF THE SILVER SURFER. Scenes happen, but they don't actually develop things; they're just sort of there. The movie's action sequences don't feel organic to the plot; they feel obligatory, as if they're just shoehorned in so the special effects guys will have something to do. This does not particularly stand out, however, because, as I mentioned, most of the scenes don't feel organic to the plot, either. They don't develop the characters, or make them particularly interesting. Many of John Connor's early scenes are just laughable; he doesn't run the resistance at this point, so he's butting heads with Michael Ironside (yay!), who does run it, and their interactions are so cliched that you expect Ironside to demand Connor hand over his gun and his badge. Perfectly completing the rebel-cop gag, Connor has no real reason to be seen as a legitimate hero; he is no smarter or tougher or more cunning than anybody else; he just yells a lot and is John Connor, and the movie thinks that's enough for the audience. It's not. This falls under the aegis of a problem that THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES recognized, and corrected for: if John Connor does not do anything particularly impressive, if he doesn't earn the respect other characters have for him, he is not believable as being worthy of that respect. SCC realized this problem. TERMINATOR SALVATION does not.
(Here is an example: early in the movie, Connor wants to get aboard the Resistance's command sub. So he forces his helicopter pilot to reroute to their general location. When he tells them he wants to come aboard the sub, its personnel sensibly refuse for OpSec reasons. So Connor yells at his helicopter pilot, who can't do shit about the situation. Then he jumps off the helicopter so the sub will be morally forced to pick him up. Thus, you know, *endangering the entire Resistance,* but it's okay, 'cause he's John Connor. Once aboard, he demands information he has no security clearance to know. He gets it, by yelling. The Resistance has come up with a Secret Weapon. A little more yelling, and he learns what it is. His next words? "Give it to me."
Paul Kirchner once held that a theme of Larry McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE was, "Some people are competent, some can at least follow orders, some aren't much use at all and some positively need to be shot." John Connor falls into that last category.)
The premise, such as it is, is that Marcus Wright, a very-early-prototype Terminator -- as in, a death row inmate who donated his body to science and got the Wolverine treatment, with his brain and heart and skin all that's left of him, the rest being Terminator endoskeleton -- wakes up in the middle of the future war and falls in with Kyle Reese, who then gets kidnapped by Skynet, so Marcus goes to get him back, only he gets caught by John Connor, and they wind up teaming up so Connor can get into Skynet and do some major damage.
There are some problems with this scenario. First, Marcus Wright is the kindest, nicest, cute'n'cuddliest death row inmate to ever walk the earth. (One of these descriptives is not like the others. It's not that he's Wrongfully On Death Row, either; the movie never tells us just what he did, but he is not innocent; whatever it is, he did it.)
Second, Marcus doesn't know squat about the Terminators, or the future war, or Judgment Day. Kyle gives the necessary exposition, but his reaction is entirely unbelievable. Example:
MARCUS (re: demolished buildings) What happened? KYLE Judgment Day happened.
The delivery on this is, like the rest of the movie, very somber and serious, because director McG is trying to show he can do somber and serious, so every line is delivered as if it is portentous. This limits the emotional palette and undercuts the effectiveness of the movie. The scene above is a case in point. A believable human interaction would have gone more like this:
MARCUS (re: demolished buildings) What happened? KYLE What *happened?!* The fuck?!! Are you out of your motherfucking mind?
Because, y'know, somebody who didn't notice the end of the world is *just a bit unusual.*
Anyway, Skynet has an APB out on Kyle and Connor. They kidnap Kyle because they're taking lots of human prisoners for research on the T-800 series, and when he's being inprocessed he's recognized and snatched up by a huge metal claw for special imprisonment. This is part of a rather silly plot to lure John Connor to Skynet. Bad news: the Resistance is due to launch an attack on that facility, bombing it to rubble, thus wiping out Kyle Reese and John Connor's entire existence. John Connor wants to free the prisoners. Michael Ironside says no.
This is the thing that gets me: AT NO POINT DOES JOHN CONNOR ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN WHY RESCUING THE PRISONERS IS IMPORTANT. He just expects Michael Ironside to do it because John said so and, well, he yells and he's John Connor. It would be one thing if he were trying to keep Kyle's importance a secret -- but it's not a secret! SKYNET FUCKING KNOWS! Why doesn't John Connor just say, "Um, guys, y'know, if Kyle Reese is dead then *I* get dead?" Even if he doesn't let it be known Kyle Reese is his father, then he could say, "he gets sent back in time to protect my mother!" It would be one thing if Ironside didn't believe him -- if John's revelation of his destiny would make the Resistance think he was totally bugfuck -- but John doesn't even try.
(Another thing, about Skynet knowing. Let me point out something the movie apparently missed: IF SKYNET HAS IDENTIFIED KYLE REESE, THERE IS NO NEED TO KILL JOHN CONNOR. Kill Kyle. Mission accomplished, Skynet wins, movie over, Hines has time to watch SCC reruns. Of course, I should point out that this is set before T1, from Kyle's POV, so there's no way that Skynet should even know that Kyle Reese will be going back in time, because he *hasn't,* yet.)
Anyway. Ironside is against doing what John Connor yells at him, so John, who's been doing the "the chair is against the wall" broadcasts for the Resistance, gets on the horn and orders the entire attack to stand down. Everybody does. On John's say-so. Despite the facts that 1) John Connor doesn't run shit 2) the enemy are machines capable of perfectly mimicking human voices.
(I gotta tell ya, folks, it was around this time I started thinking maybe the movie's human race *deserved* to die.)
The final showdown is entirely unexciting, with the exception of an Arnold cameo that's *brilliantly* done and 100% convincing, the best special effect in the movie. Afterward, the end of the movie involves the Terminator, Marcus, donating his heart to John Connor, who is dying after getting a small I-beam shoved through his chest (!). Astoundingly, Connor survives long enough to be evaced and treated, but his love interest/doctor Kate (presumably the same Kate from T3) reports that he is dying. Now, the threat to his life is not blood loss, or direct organ damage, or infection. Oh, no. Kate knows exactly what's wrong. "His heart can't take it," she says sadly. Yeah, his heart can't take it BECAUSE IT WAS IMPALED ON A FRIGGIN' I-BEAM.
Also, I have a close friend who has very recently gone through a major organ transplant, and I feel safe in calling "bullshit" on the plausibility here. As in, not even *remotely.* As in, they might as well have just bounced a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish, because they are officially aboard the U.S.S. Make Shit Up.
TERMINATOR SALVATION is a lousy movie. It was reportedly a Christian Bale ego rewrite job, and it shows it. The storyline makes no sense, the hero is a gigantic asshole, the dialogue is laughable, and -- sorry, McG -- the action scenes are dull and uninteresting. It's pretty much a waste of time from stem to stern, and I really recommend against spending even matinee prices on it.
OTOH, it'll make for an awesome Rifftrax.