Saturday, February 26, 2011

The thing that annoys me most about Terminator Salvation. My fandom demands that I am a Terminator completist, although I have never gone as far as to collect action figures, T-800 endoskulls or a full-size endoskeleton standing on a plinth of crushed human skulls. I content myself with owning all the DVDs, including the Sarah Chronnor Conicles box set… and including last year's disappointing Batman vs Jake Sully.

Watching it again last night, I think McG unfairly took the fall for making a bad film. He's actually made a pretty exciting war film, with some spectacular, tension-filled action setpieces. There's a great shot near the start where we stay with Connor's perspective as he struggles to control a helicopter caught in a large-scale bomb blast… when finally he drops to the 'ceiling' we realise the helicopter has crashed upside-down.

The other thing I really liked about it on reflection is the way it constantly makes little gestures to the franchise's history. The way there's always a close-up of a Terminator crunching a human skull underfoot. The petrol station in the desert. Motorbike-vs-truck chase scenes. The way John Connor uses a plug-in hacking device to get into a Skynet installation much as he did in T2 to get into Cyberdyne Systems. (No "easy money" line, however.)

The way Marcus Wright asks the teenage Kyle Reese, "What day is it? What year?" – which Kyle asked in the original film. Marcus gives his birthday as August 29, 1975 – we know August 29 as the date for which Judgment Day was scheduled in 1997. Anton Yelchin also says the iconic line "Come with me if you want to live", while Christian Bale gets to say, "I'll be back."

The way the T-600s totally resemble Kyle's description of them in The Terminator. ("The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy.") And the way they are larger and bulkier than the T-800s, which I liked because technological advances tend to be expressed through miniaturisation. The technique of freezing the Terminator with liquid nitrogen then melting it with molten metal.

Rewatching it, I also noticed McG and Sam Worthington explicitly using Arnie's old tropes to flag that Marcus is a terminator. Worthington's performance seemed more ambivalent and menacing to me this time, whereas I saw him as an unambiguous 'good guy' when I saw this in cinemas.

The way he emerges naked and scavenges clothing; the methodical way he scans the terrain, especially against a background of flames; the way he grabs a shotgun; an assailant punches his face to one side, then he methodically turns it back again. Even in the climactic fight scene in an industrial setting (another series trademark) the style of the beating dished out to Marcus reminds me of the way the T-1000 beat up Arnie.

Whereas the real problem was fucking Christian Bale wanting to be (Edward Furlong voice) "this great military leader" when he'd actually been approached to star as Marcus. Thus he forced radical script rewrites that gave Connor more action, more screen time, a nice happy ending, and more hoarse, barking self-identifications as "JOHN CONNOR!" Bale was utterly miscast and basically ruins the movie. Him and me – we're done professionally. I haven't even seen The Fighter, in which he is meant to be quite good.

I was kind of horrified when I heard the early reports that the script would reveal that John Connor himself was a terminator. That seemed like a profound betrayal of everything that the main characters of the franchise had striven for, but the actual original script was much more Marcus's story. In it, John Connor was an enigmatic figure known only via his radio broadcasts. He appears in person only towards the end of the film, then he gets killed by a terminator and Marcus steps in to 'become' John Connor.

This is a much more resonant 'second chance' than the silly, anticlimactic skirmish that the final film offers him. In an epic fuck-you to Skynet, Marcus gets to be the saviour of the entire human race! It doesn't matter that the real John Connor is dead because the idea of John Connor is what sustains people. ("You trust him. He's got a strength. I'd die for John Connor." – Kyle Reese, The Terminator.) Plus, he can listen to Sarah Connor's tapes to teach him about his 'past', and he's got her picture to inspire Kyle.

But none of this is what I promised in this post title – the single thing that annoyed me most about this movie. Here it is: the plot hinges on the destruction of a Skynet facility that everyone in the human resistance calls "Skynet Central". But THERE IS NO 'CENTRAL' ON A NETWORK!!! They are acting like blowing this place up will be a major disaster for the machines BUT IT JUST WILL NOT! The entire purpose of a network is to survive the destruction of any one point on the network by re-routing through the surviving points. All they have done is set the prototype T-800 development schedule back a little while. NO WONDER THE WAR LASTS ELEVEN MORE YEARS!!!

Ahh, it felt very good to write that.

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