Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wack To The Future: Arturo vs. Terminator Salvation!

Forget the easy “No wonder Christian Bale was mad” jokes, just believe the hype: this is the anti-Trek, in all the wrong ways.


Actually, director McG does a good job setting the table in Salvation, which takes place after the events of Rise Of The Machines, with Los Angeles and the rest of the west coast devastated and the human resistance forced, literally, underground. And here's where this new series could've set itself apart from Trek: As a war story with sci-fi trappings, showing John Connor and the human Resistance trying to hold on to their morality while battling for survival, we might have gotten a good, gritty couple of films out of this “tentpole,” the no-frills alternative to Trek's iPod shinyness.

Instead, trapped by a PG-13 rating – little blood, no cursing and no much-needed gallows humor – McG and writers John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris have to build a “blockbuster” out of cherry-picked bits from other franchises and increasingly forced shout-outs to Salvation's predecessors.

The set-up, such as it is, isn't horrible: Connor's mission is to ensure the beginning of the movie timeline (namely, his mom getting knocked up) comes to pass, so that he can grow up to be Marty McFly Neo the spiritual, if not actual, leader of La Resistance. And the key to that happening is lost in the badlands of Los Angeles – from the lack of upkeep and basic supplies, I'd guess somewhere in Orange County. Christian Bale tries to give us a glimpse into Connor's increasing desperation, but the script doesn't let him do much but be Action Hero Guy, all gruffness and Jack Bauer-like pronouncements of doom, even when he's broadcasting an inspirational message via CB radio.

Hope arrives on two fronts: the sudden discovery of a means to win the war, and the arrival of Marcus Wright, who we meet in the past as a Death Row inmate and, to be honest, is a bit of a d-ck. Yet somehow, Wright re-emerges being able to hotwire cars that've been out of commission for years, and instantly battle-ready, not even needing to stop for food. And none of these Hardened Resistance Fighters even raises a finger of suspicion against their new friend Marty Stu.

Of course, the trailer already spoiled it for us – Marcus is a Cylon Terminator built to infiltrate Connor's forces and set them up for defeat. Wouldn't you know, though, Marcus is still convinced he's human, thus revealing that Skynet is not a sophisticated form of cyber-intelligence; it's actually a Bond villain with a higher screen resolution. And the moment Connor and co. find out what we already know, the "plot" accelerates past plausibility and off the deep end. In a little more than an hour, Marcus gets the girl, confronts his masters, renounces his origins (complete with “throw the chair through glass in anger” slo-moment) and helps save the day.

The problem with this character arc, though, is that it's undone from the get-go. We never find out exactly what he's in for, and we never see the moment where he decides, “Okay, I guess I won't be a douche.”

Like Bale, Sam Worthington is asked to be as plastic as an action figure, more robotic than Summer Glau ever was on The Sarah Connor Chronicles -- which, this film inadvertently(?) reminds us, doesn't "count" in movie canon. And that's all the sadder, because between that show's cancellation and this film's lack of ... well, humanity, Salvation is exactly the opposite: it's the death-knell for a series that used to offer us a lot more.

1 comment:

Erica said...

Props for sitting through this. I haven't been able to put up with the Terminator franchise since the third movie. (Sounds like I am not missing a whole lot...)