Saturday, August 1, 2015
Franchises: The Terminator. Terminator: Salvation (2009)
After my first viewing, I thought that the film was just okay and not quite as bad as people were making it out to be but, at the same time, I had no desire to see the film again and as time went on, its details rapidly disappeared from my mind. Once I did see it a second time, which wasn't until 2014 when I got the Blu-Ray cheap and I only did that because I knew I would review this series at some point, my opinion of it dropped even lower than it already was and now, I can say that this is not a good movie at all. The only things about it that I can compliment are the special effects and the action scenes but even those aren't nearly enough to hold my attention (hell, when I wached the movie again for this review, I was more interested in removing dead skin from the bottom of my foot than paying attention to the big truck chase near the beginning!), which really sucks because everything else is as forgettable as you can get. The characters are horribly bland and unengaging, the story is boring and convoluted, the film's very look, even though I know what they're going for with it, adds to the fatigue, even though there are a number of action scenes, it drags horribly and feels much longer than its 115-minute running time, and worst of all, there's no personality or heart to it at all. Therefore, and despite the fact that I have not seen Terminator: Genisys yet at this point, I'm going to say right now that this is the worst Terminator film in my opinion and this review is probably not going to be that good because even though I just watched it again before starting this, it's already starting to leave my brain. It leaves that little of an impression on me.
In 2003, convicted murderer Marcus Wright is put to death by lethal injection but not before agreeing to give his body to Cyberdyne Systems for medical research. Shortly afterward, SkyNet becomes self-aware and initiates Judgment Day, wiping out the majority of humanity with a large-scale nuclear attack. By 2018, the war between SkyNet and the human resistance is in full-force, with John Connor leading one of the divisions. After becoming the only survivor of an assault on a SkyNet base where he and his battalion find human prisoners and the plans for the T-800 Terminator, John meets with General Ashdown, leader of the Resistance, who tells him that they have discovered a radio signal that they believe can shut down SkyNet's machines. With this knowledge, they plan to attack a base in San Francisco in four days, mainly because it's been discovered that SkyNet has a list of people it plans to kill to cripple the Resistance, one of whom, along with John, is his future father, Kyle Reese. Meanwhile, Marcus Wright, having emerged from the ruins of the destroyed base, makes his way to the ruins of Los Angeles and meets up with Reese and his friend, a mute kid named Star, who save him from a T-600 and tell him of Judgment Day and the war against the machines. Upon hearing a radio broadcast that John sends out to give hope to others, as well as to get Reese's attention, the three decide to try to find the Resistance but on the way are attacked by the machines, with Reese, Star, and others taken prisoner, while Marcus manages to escape and meets up with Resistance fighter pilot Blair Williams. The two of them head to John's base, but when Marcus is injured by a magnetic land-mine on the base's outskirts, they discover that he's a cyborg and immediately distrust him, with John ordering him to be destroyed. Blair, however, helps Marcus escape, and when he saves John's life during the skirmish that follows, John decides to let him live if he helps him infiltrate SkyNet's San Francisco headquarters and save Kyle and everyone else there before the Resistance destroys it in their attack. Marcus agrees but when he gets in, he begins to learn that this plan may have been what SkyNet was counting on all along.
The Terminator franchise, despite very, very lucrative, has never been able to find a permanent production company or studio home in the thirty plus years that it's been active, bouncing from Hemdale and Orion Pictures to Carolco Pictures, C2 Pictures, the Halcyon Company, and finally, in the case of Genisys, Annapurna Pictures and Skydance Productions, as well as being distributed by a variety of studios like MGM, TriStar, Warner Bros., and Paramount, not to mention Universal's share of it for their theme park attraction (it's amazing to me that you can actually get a Blu-Ray box set with all of the movies). Each time a new film has been developed, it's had to go through a mishmash of legal issues concerning who has the rights in order to get made, resulting in the movies have very long gaps between them. Terminator: Salvation's development was one of the most troubled, with the rights passing from Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, who were feuding, to the Halcyon Company and said company then getting into a lawsuit with MGM when the latter decided that they wanted to distribute the new film and their negotiations broke down to the point where a court injunction was needed; in addition, the screenplay went through constant rewrites once the dust finally settled, which is undoubtedly a big reason why the story is such a mess. John Brancato and Michael Ferris, the writers of Terminator 3, are the only ones credited with the screenplay but their draft was rewritten by Paul Haggis, whose work was then revised by Shawn Ryan three weeks before filming, and then Jonathan Nolan, brother and constant writing partner of Christopher Nolan, came in and did some rewrites during filming, with Anthony E. Zuiker also contributing to it. This constant tinkering was mainly done to accomodate Christian Bale, who was originally meant to play Marcus Wright but decided he wanted to be John Connor, who was not a major character in the earlier drafts, instead, leading to the role being expanded. It also didn't help that the original ending, which was quite bleak, was leaked onto the internet, with Warner Bros. then deciding that the entire third act needed to be changed. So much tinkering and last-minute changing of a script can severly damage a film's potential (look at all the crap Alien 3 went through) and, although not impossible, it's very hard to pull a genuinely good product out of such a situation, especially if you don't have a very strong guiding force, which this film certainly didn't in my opinion.
"Kick your fucking ass! I want you off the fucking set, you prick!" "Think for one fuckin' second... what the fuck are you doing?! Are you professional or not?!" "Then why the fuck are you walkin' through, 'oh, da, da, da, da,' like this in the background? What the fuck is it with you? What don't you fuckin' understand?" "Oh, good for you, and how was it? I hope it was fuckin' good because it's worthless now, isn't it? Fuck's sake, man, you're amateur." "I'm gonna fuckin' KICK YOUR FUCKIN' ASS if you don't shut up for a second, alright?! Do you want me to fuckin' trash your lights? You want me to fuckin' trash 'em?! Then why are you trashing my scene?" "I ain't walkin' on this set again if you're still hired." Okay, you get the point. Like I said at the beginning, this is by far the most well known thing to come out of Terminator: Salvation. People who've never even seen the movie know of this sound byte of Christian Bale going off on DP Shane Hurlburt when he made the mistake of walking around the set for the second time in a row while Bale was trying to do a very intense scene. The audio went viral months before the film's release and promptly overshadowed the movie itself, causing a bit of a fallout between Bale and some moviegoers who felt that he had been revealed to be your typical asshole movie star and leading to an internet remix called Bale Out. While it didn't make me hate him, I was still pretty shocked when I listened to the audio and did feel that he's got some serious anger problems, especially when I learned that around that same time, he assaulted his mother and sister in some way while in London for a premiere of The Dark Knight. Learning what an intense, committed method actor he is (he never drops his American accent during that rant), however, made me understand the outburst better, and the same goes for that alleged assault when I learned that there's some bad blood there. Plus, if that was the second time that DP did that, then he should have been called out on it... but not as harshly and violently as Bale did. It's all water under the bridge now, though. Bale apologized (one of the few celebrity apologies that felt sincere to me) and is still an in demand actor, so it didn't hurt his career one bit. Plus, when you win an Oscar, I think people are more willing to forgive you for anything you've done, especially when you make fun yourself in the process, as he did.
A big mistake that a bad sequel can make is remind you that you could be watching its much better predecessors and Terminator: Salvation makes it time and time again. There are a number of nods to the previous three films, some of which are done well and subtly, like when Marcus teaches Reese the trick to keeping a shotgun attached to your arm that the latter would use in the original film, but most of them are so blatant and obvious that they tempt me to turn this boring movie off and put on one of those other, better movies instead. Besides the most obvious ones, like Reese telling Marcus, "Come with me if you want to live," when they first run into each other and John saying, "I'll be back," as well as him using a radio that's playing the Guns N' Roses song You Could Be Mine from T2 in order to lure and take control of a Mototerminator, there are others like Marcus asking Reese, "What day is it? What year?" after they first meet, which is what Reese says to that cop upon arriving in 1984 in the first movie, and John getting attacked by a Terminator whose bottom half has been blown off during the battle scene after the opening credits, a reference to the climax of the original movie. (McG claims the latter was meant to show that John has learned from his mother's past experiences, which makes me roll my eyes.) It also doesn't help that you have Sarah Connor's voice on the tape recorder speaking virtually the same dialogue she did at the end of the first movie, you see the actual photo that John gave to Reese, and that during the climactic battle between John and the T-800, there's a shot of the latter's feet as he walks up a flight of stairs, just as there was during the climax in the factory in the original movie. I could go on but then I'd be nitpicking because those are the ones that really stood out to me and made me think, "I already don't want to be watching this and you're not helping by making me want to go back and watch the other movies, especially the first one." Plus, references are fine, but when you throw in as many as this movie does, it gets egrigious and distracting.
Not surprisingly, the music score is as bland and unremarkable as the movie itself, but what's really sad about it is that, while Terminator 3 had Marco Beltrami, who's a so-so composer, here you have Danny Elfman, who's a great composer more often than not. He's had some duds here and there but usually, he can come up with a really memorable score; that's not the case here at all. Save for this kind of heroic theme that you first hear during the opening credits that is then mostly attached to Marcus throughout the actual film and a very loud, bombastic, distinctly metallic version of Brad Fiedel's original, "Dun dun, dun, dun dun!", the music in this film is so generic and forgettable. I can hear a tiny bit of Elfman's recognizable scoring style at a few points during some action scenes but nothing else sounds like something you'd expect to hear from him. There's nothing else I can say about the music and because of the post-apocalyptic setting, we don't even get any memorable songs on the soundtrack, save for that one Marcus hears on that jeep radio when he gets it working (I think it's Rooster by Alice in Chains) and that repeat of You Could Be Mine.