Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ends & Odds

Watched: Terminator Salvation

You know, I was expecting to hate this, but I actually liked it quite a bit.  Turns out that I like the Terminator franchise in just about every iteration except the original two, which have that Cameron touch.  I'm apparently immune to the Cameron touch, with even the films of his I liked back in the day no longer being to my taste.

Admittedly, Christian Bale's one-note (that note is 'dour') John 'Batman' Connor is a step back from Nick Stahl's really smart and winning Connor in T3, but not as far back as Edward Furlong as the humanity's whiniest savior in the second film.  And Sam Worthington (as a death row inmate who finds himself wandering the wasteland fifteen years after his execution) is a charmless chunk of beef - sort of like Daniel Craig without the humor - but that works in his favor, here.  Although I now have one more reason not to see Avatar.

The weirdest thing about me liking this film was that it was directed by McG, and if anyone told me I could actually get involved at an emotional level by a McG film in advance of seeing this, I would have laughed. Laughed one of those harsh, braying, mirthless laughs.  And the laugh would have been on me.

Don't get me wrong: this is not a great film.  Sequences repeat oddly, with minute variations, like a fugue for people with short attention spans who like things that go boom.  That sometimes describes me, but not in this case.  And the script peters out at the end, despite having actually been pretty solid for the first 3/4.

This manifests as a weird flaw in the film, with the fixed idea that all Terminator films need to feature certain elements, even if they have to be shoehorned in with a credulity-destroying crowbar.  "Come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" get their usual airing, as do the old jeeps, the "Help me, John!" dodge, and many, many other far-too-specific callbacks to the first two films.

I'm not even 100% sure who they're doing that for - kids likely won't have seen the originals, and geeks of a certain age will largely have the reaction I did to seeing yet another Terminator chasing John Connor through yet another dark sparks-and-smoke factory with metal catwalks and stairs.  Fine, sure - except this particular factory was pretty clearly built by the machines solely for their own use, and if you can explain to me why machines need stairs, then you've obviously thought it out more than the scriptwriters did.

There's also one major plot element that never gets fully explained - why, exactly, are the machines rounding up people?  But that's okay.  There are certain things I like unexplained, and that's probably one of them, although I get the feeling you're supposed to know why, and I just missed it.

Anyway, all that aside, TS was a good, solid action film with a serious enough approach that got the job done and then some.  I think it was a mistake to dispense with the mythology from the third film and the television show - most of the really interesting reflections on the themes of the franchise come from those two sources - but I can also agree that franchise reboots that tie themselves too heavily to past continuity can doom themselves before the first frame.  So there you go.


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