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Terminate this: Salvation and McSuck, posted by Enrique G

You know, as a card-carrying pinko-commie-hippie-liberal, I’m all for recycling.  Green planet and all that.

Which must mean that McG is Al Gore’s BFF, because I will be damned if I can think of a sci-fi movie he DIDN’T rip off in putting together Terminator: Salvation.

A lot has changed in the 25 years since The Governator first told us that, “He’ll be back.” (Jesus, did I really type that number?  Where does the time go?)  James Cameron gave us an intense sci-fi chase picture and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star.  Then seven years later, the special effects were kicked up into overdrive and Cameron’s not-so-closeted Oedipus complex was given greater display as Robert Patrick and Arnie locked down with Sarah and John Connor.

Flash forward another decade and we get Jonathan Mostow directing Kristanna Loken as a new Terminatrix chasing down Nick Stahl as John Connor, along with Claire Danes as his future bride and Arnie in support.  I have to wonder if Arnie appreciates the irony of one his lines from T3 in its application to Schwarzenegger’s political career: “I’m an obsolete design.”

The one thing all three movies had in common besides the main star was their common mythology about what role Connor was to play in determining the future of humanity.  Yes, because there is time travel involved, keeping continuity in line is a tricky endeavor, but there was at least some consistency about it, even as the franchise changed hands.

Now director McG, along with screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, attempts to show us how John Connor (played by Christian Bale) will save the world in the future battle against the machines.  We get to see his first interactions with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man who would be sent back in time to become Connor’s father.  How does it all play out?

About as well as you would expect from the writers of Catwoman and the director of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Before we can get to that point, we have to meet the new part of the equation: Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), convicted death row felon on the verge of his execution.  Before he dies, he hears an entreaty from a friend (and former lover?), Dr. Serena Kogan.  Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) pleads with Wright to sign papers turning his body over to Kogan after Wright’s death.  Kogan hopes to advance work in genetics through experiments with Wright’s body, if she lives long enough.  Cancer has Kogan on a countdown to extinction as well.  The deal gets done; Wright gets strapped to the gurney and finds himself seeing a bright light as we fade into…

The year 2018.  Judgment Day is now behind us, the machines reign supreme on the planet, and John Connor is a foot soldier in the resistance force fighting to keep humanity alive.  The resistance movement thinks they have found the key to defeating their mechanized overlords.  There’s just one hitch.  The machines are in pursuit of Kyle Reese for reasons unknown (but that could be easily deduced by a two-year-old).  So Connor has to find out where Reese is and make sure he’s safe so that Reese can eventually go back in time and become Connor’s mama’s baby-daddy.  The key to making that happen?  Marcus Wright, who finds himself suddenly awake and alive in the future with no recollection of what happened or how he got there.

The nonsensical reason why Wright is part of this equation gets laid out pretty quickly, but the whole thing reeks of plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon.  But McG has never been a director who really focuses on plot and character development.  He just blows things up spectacularly, and that’s what the Terminator franchise is all about, right?

Well…yes…and no.

See, here’s the thing: when you start out with characters that already have a well established legacy, even if that legacy has yet to happen through the foibles of time travel, there’s a fair bit invested for the audience that has to see some kind of payoff for that investment.  We saw Sarah Connor evolve from timid waitress to ass-kicking revolutionary. John Connor went from Edward Furlong’s punk delinquent to Nick Stahl’s haunted drifter trying to avoid his fate.  Hell, even Arnie’s Terminator had some development from silent killing machine to overmatched protector.

McG and his cohorts seem to think that that should be enough for the audience, and thus don’t give us any real reason to care beyond what we already know.  There’s no new reveals where the principles are concerned, and so everyone just sort of slogs through their roles thanklessly.  Bale’s performance is so shamelessly mailed in, I half-wonder if the effort was paid product placement for UPS.  Yelchin maybe gives the fullest effort of the characters we already know, doing his best to try and capture what Michael Biehn brought to Kyle Reese in the original while not doing a full on impersonation.

That leaves the new character to hang our interests on, and that’s pretty thin gruel as well.  Worthington must have pictures of big Hollywood execs fucking goats hidden away somewhere, as he has managed to pull down the lead in three of the biggest productions to hit screens between now and 2010 (Salvation, Louis Leterrier’s remake of Clash of the Titans as Perseus,  and Cameron’s long in development return to directing Avatar).  He does have some charisma at work, but there’s not a lot to work with in his dialogue.  That, and there’s a drinking game that could have you in a coma if you did a shot every time he slipped and let his Aussie accent come through.

Moon Bloodgood (what a name) plays Blair, a pilot in the resistance who befriends Wright.  She’s pretty to look at, vaguely reminds me of Tia Carrere, and seems like she could handle some meatier roles.  She just won’t find that kind of work in this series.  And God save me from child actress Jadagrace as Star, Reese’s mute sidekick as they scavenge the burned out streets of Los Angeles.  It’s not that Jadagrace is bad, it’s just that her character is the source of the most ridiculous set of convenient coincidences since The Dog That Wouldn’t Die in Dante’s Peak.  How they have Star contribute to this movie is just the epitome of lazy screenwriting.

And lazy could just as adequately describe the inspiration for most of the action sequences.  McG not only shamelessly cribs…no, call it for what it is…STEALS from not only the previous three movies in the series, but Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Blade Runner, Aliens (not just for the set pieces, but the Star/Newt parallel as well), Lawnmower Man (I suspect for the interface with Skynet), as well as a pinch from Princess Bride (credit Brea for noticing the Aquabots similarity to the Screaming Eels), and (I swear, I’m not making this up) the original animated The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (again, credit Brea for the catch).

Seriously, if it were just mockups from the original Terminator movies, I could maybe buy into the homage/parallel explanation that history repeats itself even as the timeline is disturbed/altered by the actions the various Terminator units have incurred in their attempts to kill John Connor.  When the other movies start entering into it (SPOILER ALERT, don’t read the following line or the next paras if you don’t want to know how things shake out), I don’t care enough to see how we get to the point of time travel to make that happen.

Yes, folks, that’s right, we don’t even get to the point where Reese gets sent back in time.   Because it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain as we get to about the midway point of the movie that McG and the powers-that-be that greenlit this piece of crap intended it to be part of a future series of movies that wade their way through the life of the war.  They might as well have called the movie Terminator: Whoring for Cash.  Which in that context makes Arnold’s Terminator a multi-million dollar Sybian with legs, a comparison I find apt in ways that have nothing to do with film.

For crying out loud, this thing made me long for the character development of Michael Bay.  How sad is that?

The only thing I can hope is that the movie underperforms, making that hoped for series commercially unviable for McG and the rest.  The only way to do that is to spread the bad word-of-mouth about this movie and hope people stay away.  They did have one line right from the original.  There is no fate but what we make.

Don’t pay full price to see this movie.  Otherwise, the machines win, and get a chance to direct again.