5/25/09

Terminator: Salvation (2009)

Christian Bale (John Connor), Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright), Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese), Moon Bloodgood (Blair Williams)

Directed by McG (Charlie's Angels)

From IMDB: After Skynet has destroyed much of humanity in a nuclear holocaust, a group of survivors led by John Connor struggles to keep the machines from finishing the job.

Okay, I could become incredibly indignant and fangirly so as to pick apart the flaws in this movie's logic, plot issues, characterization, and general pissing around with Terminator lore. But I don't think I will--not to the extent it deserves. It deserves a disseration's worth a critique regarding all of these things, but I don't necessarily have the energy. My righteous indignation has worn off.

Let me tell you, instead, why The Terminator and, to a lesser extent, Terminator 2: Judgment Day captured my imagination as a young teenager. My fascination with Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise was already in full blossom, so Sarah Connor fit into that strong female role model niche. As opposed to most heroines, who follow the heroine's journey to remedy daddy issues and transform beasts into lovers, Sarah Connor undertakes the hero's journey in its full masculine, ass-kicking glory. Her ordinary world is established (she is a waitress, has a roommate, and owns a pet iguana), and then she crosses the threshold, meet mentors, etc. There are very few female characters in all of the Western canon that follow the journey without regard to her gender.

This is ironic in that the significance of Sarah Connor is that she is the mother of the future. Her very value and her very threat stems from her femininity and ability to bear children, but the trials she endures in The Terminator take no notice of her sex. This is most forcefully illustrated in one of the final scenes when, in an attempt to rouse Kyle Reese, her lover, she shouts, "On your feet, soldier!" Then she hauls him up and drags him to safety. The turnabout of gender roles in that one scene was enough to power me through high school with a perhaps overinflated sense of equality, justice, and other people's appreciation for feminine strength.

Terminator 2, although it sported Linda Hamilton's amazing physique, shifted the focus away from Sarah Connor to her teenage delinquent son, John, and his friendly Terminator caretaker. She looked amazing and continued fighting the good fight for women characters everywhere, but Arnold Schwarzenegger's overwhelming star power and the higher budget popcorn aspect of the sequel limited her importance. John made many of the major decisions, and the Terminator made the ultimate sacrifice.

The shift continued in the third movie, which I haven't seen, because Sarah is reported dead because of cancer. All of her power is gone. Her only contribution, at that point, is in John's training, resilience, smarts, and leadership abilities. He is her legacy. Forget the fact that because the series continues at all, her sacrifices and attempts to alter the future were for naught; I don't fault the series because sequels demand story.

So here we are in 2009, 25 years after the original film. What of the female roles in this movie? There is the ostensibly smart, capable, and physically fit fighter pilot, Blair Williams, who, after being rescued from getting stuck in a tree, is then rescued from being raped, curls up with her protector for warmth, and proceeds to defy all logic in an attempt to save his life. The girliness of her role, not to mention the tight pants and pout, offended me on so many levels that I wanted her to die in vicious ways.

The only other female role of note was Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor, the grown-up version of Claire Danes' character from T3. She is a pregnant nurse. This defines "mother of the future" in a very different way than I once took pride in with Sarah Connor. I loved Bryce in The Village, but she was so lacking in any screen presence that I actually didn't recognize her.

The stars of the show were three men: John Connor, a teenage Kyle Reese, and a new version of a Terminator named Marcus Wright. Hooray for progress and quality.

What's worse, John Connor is almost entirely emasculated by the aid he receives from this new Terminator. He seems glued to the floor when it comes to decision-making, not at all clever or capable. If Sarah Connor had a legacy, it was him--and he's none too impressive. Christian Bale shouted a lot and basically played his growly Batman role. Sam Worthington was wooden and the opposite of charismatic.

Only Anton Yelchin managed to save his scenes by gently channeling Michael Beihn.

The flaws in logic throughout the film--both in and of itself, and in relation to the overarching continuity--are too many to explain. I was able to put them aside for the first 45 minutes as some truly amazing set pieces unfolded. Had this been any other popcorn film, and if I hadn't just seen the absolutely amazing new Star Trek, I might have been able to forgive the plot holes and illogic in order to focus on what were truly amazing stunts, graphics, and goosebump-raising sound effects.

But I couldn't.

Funny, that. I guess I had more righteous indignation left in me than I thought.

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