10/5/09

R095 Terminator Salvation

(2009, Action/SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Are those donuts?

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


A postapocalyptic revolutionary rescues the teenager destined to impregnate his mother.

Summary:

Terminators really like to bob for things.Wow. Looking back at what I wrote for the “In a Nutshell” section, it seems kind of inappropriate and creepy. Yes, I was going for sarcasm (I usually am), but still, that one-sentence summary is in no way misleading or incomplete. For better or... Okay, just for worse, this is the subject of the film. Did the filmmakers intend it that way, or were they oblivious to the basic stupidity of their movie’s central conceit? Given that Terminator Salvation was directed by the one-named “McG”—a man who no doubt chose his own moniker for its supposed coolness factor—I’d say the latter scenario is not just possible, but probable.

I guess I ought to start with the backstory. Way back in 1984, cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger went back in time to kill Sarah Connor, mother of the resistance leader who would eventually defeat our post-apocalypse robot overlords. She was rescued by the charming time traveler Kyle Reese, whom she rewarded in true action movie fashion (shortly before his heroic death) and conceived the hero of every subsequent film in the series.

This is not part of Terminator Salvation, by the way. When Michael Ironside dramatically says “Kyle Reese” on the submarine of doom, he doesn’t explain himself. When the young Kyle Reese (played by Chekov stand-in Anton Yelchin) appears to tell our secondary hero, “Come with me if you want to live,” everyone assumes we already know what they’re talking about. Basically, if you didn’t know going in, you’re screwed.

And now I’ve gone on for three paragraphs without touching on the intricacies of this movie’s plot. Let me get to that now: There aren’t any.

Sigh.

Stupid robot should have stayed out of Christian's eye lines.Okay, so legendary resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale) fights the good fight after the robot apocalypse until his squad gets blown to pieces by... something, after which he jumps into the ocean to argue with Michael Ironside on a submarine. Meanwhile—this is to say, both way before and a little after—a pre-apocalypse death row inmate named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) smooches a bald Helena Bonham Carter before donating his post-execution body to science. He wakes up after the lethal injections in the crater caused by the explosion of Connor’s squad, and wanders until he finds the aforementioned Kyle Reese. Marcus, Kyle and a magical mute girl wander more or less aimlessly until the latter two get captured by robots.

Marcus tries to follow on foot, but gets sidetracked by the beautiful Blair (Moon Bloodgold), a fighter pilot shot down in an altercation with the machines. They hike back to her base, where he sets off a robots-only mine. His flesh partially burned off, he discovers that he is metal underneath, a source of some consternation to Blair and her commander, John Connor. Connor orders him destroyed, but Blair sees that he thinks he’s human and lets him go. Connor tries to chase him down, but lets him go anyway because... uh... I think it’s because Kyle is in San Francisco and something about a frequency, but really, your guess is as good as mine.

Marcus goes to San Francisco, after which Connor goes to San Francisco, after which Michael Ironside’s submarine blows up for some reason, after which everyone else goes to San Francisco. Digi-Helena Bonham Carter fills Marcus in on the plot in true Talking Villain™ style. It doesn’t make any sense, so I won’t bother repeating it here. Connor wanders the halls looking for Kyle—so that he can send him back in time to shtoink his mom, naturally. Digi-Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up to wreak havoc. In the end, Kyle is saved, the machine base destroyed, and Connor mortally wounded. But it’s okay, because Marcus still has a human heart, and apparently it’s a Snap-Lock™ now. Marcus gives up his life (because it’s, you know, a battlefield, and there aren’t dozens of better—i.e.: nearly expired—potential donors just, you know, lying around) so that they can bolt his heart into Connor, allowing him to continue leading the resistance.

Thoughts:

Nnnnggggyyyyaaaahhh!  Come with me if you want to live!  Nnnnnggggrrrrrhhhh!The more I think about this film—a painful experience; I can’t wait to finish this review so I can stop—the more I wonder what kind of film our three-letter auteur thought he was making. In the early “escaping the explosion” sequences, he’s clearly trying to ape the continuous action sequences of Children of Men. In that film, the lengthy takes ramp the tension up to near-unbearable levels, often ending with the emotional equivalent of a gut punch. By contrast, Terminator Salvation doesn’t think we need to know what the hell’s going on, where the hell it’s happening or why the hell we should care, leaving its audience with a vague sense of confusion and motion sickness.

Also, according to Wikipedia (so take this with a grain of salt) “McG” instructed his actors to get into character by reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Road, two of the grittiest, most eloquent apocalypse books ever written. Christian Bale, of course, turns in an intense, art house-worthy performance, but he always does that regardless of what kind of film he’s in. More remarkably, the rest of the cast follows suit, entirely populating this film with the glowering and desperate. This is a serious movie, people! A deep, profound film in which every line of dialog falls into one of three categories: 1) action movie clich├ęs; 2) quotes from the previous films; or 3) gibberish.

McG (should I call you “Mick” or would you prefer “Mr. G”?), the Terminator films are cheese. That’s what series originator James Cameron makes. He’s a great director because he knows he makes cheese. He embraces the cheesiness and churns out some of the greatest cheese in Hollywood. I’m not saying you could have made a good Terminator film—after watching this ugly turd, I’m reasonably certain that’s beyond your ability—but if you’d lightened up a little, you could have at least made it fun. As it is, you’ve made your film both stupid and depressing, and that’s a lethal combination.

Of course, Mike, Bill and Kevin have to spice up the commentary with many, many references to Bale’s famous rant at the lighting guy, including a general crowd scene admonition to “Get out of Christian Bale’s light!” (Mike) and Connor’s dying words, “We... are done... professionally....” (Bill). Other observations have to do with the rather dim machine enemies, as in Bill’s, “They wiped out most of humanity despite having the aim of a stormtrooper with Parkinson’s.” Regarding Blair’s, um, “interesting” eyeshadow, Mike says, “She puts on her eye makeup with a big rubber stamp.” When Connor rescues Kyle and sends him on ahead, Kevin shouts, “Just be sure to make it with my mom!” Many, many inappropriate head-turns prompt the riffers to say, “Is that donuts?” each time it happens. It’s a brutally stupid film and the riffers punish it mercilessly. My viewing was often entertaining and sometimes cathartic, but not always pleasant.