By Tom Macy
June 5, 2009
One thing you can say about Joseph McGinty Nichols' (you may know him by his vapid nickname, McG) film Terminator Salvation - he pulled out all the stops. The problem is, when you pull out all the stops, eventually there's going to be a train wreck.
When I look back now, I'm baffled as to how I could have ever thought this might be a good movie. How could I have ever thought a film that got financed because of the success of Transformers, a film whose director's claim to fame is the Charlie's Angels "franchise," would be worth my time? I only have myself to blame. I was, as I always am, seduced by their big computer generated machines and reused catchphrases. If only I had stayed true to my mantra that expectations ruin movies. But who am I kidding? They're why I go to the movies.
So how did I get myself genuinely excited for Terminator 4 when my right mind told me I would only end up disappointed? For starters, I really do have to hand it to whoever headed up the publicity campaign. They did and said all the right things, including locking up Christian Bale at the height of his Dark Knight popularity and having McGinty say things like, "[it has] the look of Children of Men, but with the velocity of Transformers." And that trailer. The first time I saw it I was prompted to pull an in-theatre text, very rare for me.
I wasn't being outrageous with my standards. I knew better than to expect the true greatness of Cameron's originals, which I watched again in anticipation. I was reminded of the impending mediocrity I would encounter on opening day when I caught the finale of T3 on TV. Regarding T3, I have to confess I liked it when it came out. But this time around, watching Arnold desperately rehash his eternally iconic character that, despite being from the future, feels terribly outdated was more awkward than a Sarah Palin interview (talk about outdated). But perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Rise of the Machines is that only five months after film's release, Mr. Universe took office as the Governor of Cahl-eef-orn-i-uh. Luckily for him, that current position prevented Arnold's participation in the latest installment. Who ever thought that public office would actually save Arnold from embarrassment?
So going into the ironically titled Terminator "Salvation", I basically just wanted some expensive, badly plotted fun a la, dare I say it, Transformers.
Let's start with the positives. Yes, there was some impressive stuff. The motorcycle chase was pretty cool and the whole film looked like a million, or should I say 200 million bucks. Okay, I'm done with the positives. Would it kill them to try to make me care a little? Oh how I miss those heady days of Star Trek when Hollywood movies were competent. There isn't a single human moment in the entire freaking movie, completely in contradiction with one of the series overriding strengths. In T2, a machine garners an understanding of humanity to the point that he becomes a legitimate father figure to young John. Here, John Connor has about an eighth of the personality that any of the Arnolds had and is reduced to an action figure. If you ask me, the world that this movie exists in isn't worth saving. My best guess as to why there was no attempt at plot or character is that McG and Co. assumed that the audience would already have their sympathies in the right place based on previous films. Well, they were wrong. A Terminator film with no Arnold is uncharted territory. They needed to operate this as a standard reboot, once again harkening back the good ol' Star Trek days.