As I’ve said before, Terminator Salvation seemed too good to be true. Angry Christian Bale kicking ass in the post-apocalypse? With homicidal, power-mad robots? That’s more than enough to earn my $12. But if I’ve learned anything from apartment hunting on Craig’s List, anything too good to be true usually is (too good, not true), and the fourth outing of John Connor & posse isn’t quite what it could be.
At the same time, based on some of the feedback I’d heard before I eventually made my way to a Sunday matinee, I was expecting Batman & Robin levels of badness. There’s a chance my expectations had been lowered so far down that McG would have had to put nipples on John Connor’s SWAT gear for me to really hate the movie (although the temptation of seeing Bale’s nipples wouldn’t necessarily deter me from anything), but I genuinely didn’t mind Terminator’s fourth installment. Is it flawed? Affirmative. It doesn’t and maybe can’t, in 95 minutes, capture the grand mythology that’s become so much more intriguing in the prematurely canceled Sarah Connor Chronicles, but...well, there’s killer robots. And shiny stuff.
So. Because I seem to be unable to make what sounds like a coherent case for why I kinda sorta didn’t hate, maybe even enjoyed T4, I’d like to address some of the charges brought against it. Court is in session. Spoilers will follow:
Charge 1: A fantastic supporting cast is wasted
Verdict: Reduced Charge
With names like Michael Ironside, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter and Bryce Dallas Howard filling in key roles, Terminator Salvation certainly had a better cast than it did script. While most didn’t get that big scene you would expect, I personally found that their very presence added a certain weight that’s not always found in blockbuster fare. Compare Alexander’s grandmotherly hostage to Common’s terribly acted mourning soldier and you see how vital a few good talents are (and how detrimental a lack can be). Ironside is always welcome--particularly when playing a surly badass. I find Bryce Dallas Howard to be an interesting actress, so it was a tad disappointing to see her relegated to the pregnant wifey role. That being said, this wasn’t Kate Brewster-Connor’s story. Hell, it was barely John Connor’s story. While I wouldn’t be surprised if the DVD release is packed with deleted “character development” scenes, the theatrical release couldn’t really sustain longer dialogue. It wasn’t an epic, and it didn’t waste its energy trying to be one.
Charge 2: Sam Worthington ain’t Arnold
..but I can be lenient. Worthington is solid enough, and sympathetic in a gravely heroic way. I don’t know that a franchise could ever be built around him, but learning that he’ll be wearing Harry Hamlin’s loincloth in the upcoming Clash of the Titans remake eases the torturous pain I’ve been in since I heard that classic film was being unnecessarily reshot. As Marcus, Worthington was stiff enough to be a robot while portraying confused torment with just the right touch of a human heart. There’s something there, even if it occasionally lapses into an Australian accent.
Charge 3: A PG13 Rating is blasphemous
Verdict: Not Guilty
Normally, a PG13 slapped on what had previously been an R franchise hurts like a mosquito bite from The Mist (yippee kay eh, mommy dearest). Past Terminator films made great use of the R with intense violence and some nice shots of an infamous politician’s firm buns, but Salvation doesn’t get soft with its more teenager-friendly restrictions. While there were no real holy shit! effects moments so wonderfully present in T2, the action was high and for the most part, suspenseful. And hey: the three-year-old kid some irresponsible moviegoer next to me brought into the theatre still cried a lot, so that must mean something...maybe I’m starting to reach.
Charge 4: No good villain
Verdict: Not Guilty
This Terminator had no colon (a grammatical one, not the organ). This was a different movie from the Arnold-enhanced previous installments, finally set during the war with machines. Machines, not A machine. What has always made SKYnet so frightening was not the fact that its poster boy was a future Kindergarten Cop, but that it had no face, no soul, and no individuality. I’d hate to get all JC inspirational here, but it’s vital to point out the difference between humans and the machines that are trying to destroy them. The very fact that there is no one entity to call the enemy, at this point in the franchise, is completely appropriate.
Charge 5: Moon Bloodgood is terrible
Linda Hamilton fans, join hands and nod. I miss her too.
Charge 6: The little girl character is unnecessary
Verdict: Reduced Charge
Yeah, the adorable lil mute child Kyle Reese watches over has no purpose other than to look sad and touch stuff, but something I found compelling (if not fully developed) about The Sarah Connor Chronicles was learning about children that grew up post-Judgement Day. It gave a human face to the apocalypse, and young Jadagrace (who continues what must have been an impossible-to-not-laugh-at role call in the names department on the set of Terminator Salvation) serves this purpose fair enough. Since she doesn’t talk, we don’t have to deal with the annoyingness so often present in kid actors and here and there, she’s quite useful. Most importantly, her presence helps to heroize Kyle Reese, not as a grand action star, but as a scared but brave human trying to protect what's still left in an empty world..
Charge 7: Christian Bale is one note
After two rounds of Batman + one John Connor, I’m starting to wish poor hearing on every Bale co-star, if only so that he no longer mouths his entire performance as a whisper and just starts speaking normally. I don’t know that it’s Bale or the script at fault here, but I will side with many a critic and concede that Wales’ best Method actor didn’t quite portray a messiah worth worshipping. It’s especially disappointing because I really hoped that after the blandness of Nick Stahl and the slowly improving pretty boyness of Thomas Dekker, Bale would finally incarnate the spunky and resourceful JC first hinted at by juvenile delinquent Edward Furlong. Sadly, I couldn’t muster enough belief in Bale’s performance. He just seemed really angry and kind of...well...dull.
Charge: Unbelievable ending
To nitpick the logic of a Terminator film is about as productive as explaining global warming to George Bush. The very foundation on which lies the Resistance--and, essentially, the future of mankind, is null: John exists because he sent Kyle Reese back in time to impregnate Sarah Connor. If time is linear--as is hinted at by the series--how can John ever exist in the first place? More importantly, if we’re applying common human logic, why can’t Skynet just send a terminator back to kill Sarah Connor’s mother? Or grandmother? Or grandfather? Surely there’s some weak link down the line. Considering the smartest, most powerful and advanced computers in the universe aren’t able to just blow one person up, I can forgive an outdoor open heart surgery with poor medical supplies.
So ultimately, I’m not willing to praise McG’s messy little movie, but I will defend it as decent summer entertainment. Hurl your comments, hostages, and Bale-inspired fury my way below. Or you can, dare I say it, lend me some support? After all, doesn’t everybody deserve a second chance (or, in the case of the morally fuzzy Marcus, a fourth or fifth?)