Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation

I have a very strange relationship with the first two Terminator films. Depending on my mood when you ask me how I feel about them, you're probably going to get a very different answer. It's mostly dependent on whether or not I feel like giving them the benefit of the doubt or not.

I watched Terminator 3 for the first time last week and walked away from it very annoyed.

Nick Stahl looks absolutely nothing like Edward Furlong. He does however look at least somewhat like Michael Beihn (who played his dad in the first film), so I'm willing to forgive this somewhat.

The T-1000, from Terminator 2, was pure liquid metal. The T-X here is liquid metal over a more solid frame, and automatically looks like a random hot chick the moment she appears in the future. This seems like a step down in model rather than a step up to me. Not because she's a hot chick, though really there's no logical reason for her to be so beyond them wanting to use a female terminator this time. When she shows up, she has eight people she wants to knock off. She succeeds in killing at least three of them. This contradicts the predetermination theme the movie is trying to bring us back towards. This is my biggest complaint about the film - the way there is absolutely no consistency and the details change as needed to move the story forward.

The most obvious version of this is Kate Brewster. She is a veterinarian because we need a reason for her to meet up with John. She's the daughter of the military guy because she needs a connection to Skynet. She wields a machine gun in one scene so John can be reminded of his mom and therefore attracted to her. And finally, she can fly a plane simply because there's no other way for them to escape. This is not how you build an interesting character.

I also really hated the long drawn out car chase scene. It was a complete and utter "let's blow stuff up!" excuse if there ever was one. I find that action scenes with actual motivation behind them are infinitely more thrilling then explosions done just for the sake of it. I ended up eventually fast forwarding through this, because it went on far too long and lacked any kind of suspense since you knew the characters were going to survive.

Once again, they spit in logic's face for the sake of watching Arnold Schwarzenegger attempt to act. The scene where he needs to simultaneously kill and save John makes no sense, and watching him pound the hood of that car in what I guess was supposed to be frustration wasn't even laughable, it was just dumb. I hated the "I cannot self terminate" scene in 2, and seeing this callback to it just had me groaning all over again.

The one thing I do like about the film is the fact that it takes us back to everything being predetermined. It's one of the reasons I prefer the first film over the second. The idea that all of their efforts to change things actually help create what they're doing really appeal to me.

Eager to be done with the series, I followed it up this week with Terminator Salvation. I don't know if its the lack of Schwarzenegger (beyond the quick CGI cameo) or the fact that it's set in the future, but I actually enjoyed this one a bit more than the others. I wouldn't call it great by any means, as it certainly dragged in parts. But at the very least there was nothing for me to laugh at or get annoyed by like in the earlier films.

I found it interesting that the film essentially had two leads - seemingly trying to balance between Christian Bale and Sam Worthington's popularity at the time it was made. I don't think it hurt the film though - John Connor's rise to power as a leader and Marcus's struggle with the fact that he was a terminator were both interesting stories, and I'm not sure either could actually fill a movie on their own. They also tie them together fairly neatly at the end, even if it doesn't exactly seem practical.

The action was pretty good and given the post apocalyptic world made perfect sense - you expect a lot of fights with robots, and those fights are probably going to include explosions.

I don't think Anton Yelchin looks like a young Michael Beihn at all, but I'm willing to bet they weren't even trying at this point. He does do a good job in the role though, and I honestly didn't even remember he played Chekov until after I watched it. Between these two films and Fright Night coming up, he seems to be establishing himself as a young actor with a decent amount of range.

I also thought Sam Worthington did a really good job, I was much more impressed with his range here than what I saw in Avatar. The main thing I noticed was that his accent was really inconsistent. Sometimes he was obviously speaking in his normal Australian voice, other times attempting to sound American. Perhaps the dialogue coach on set just wasn't very good, because I noticed some inconsistencies with Christian Bale as well.

More than anything I liked the fact that the film seemed to suggest that it was Skynet's actions that have created John Connor. It leaves both sides of the war equally responsible for the conflict, in a way.

I know there has been some talk of continuing the series, and even of Schwarzenegger being involved again. Personally, I think that's insane. The only way you could include him at this point would be to show him as the man they modeled the T-800 after, now aged and perhaps trying to take Skynet down. There is apparently a deleted scene in Terminator 3 that actually showed him being based on a real person, so they could technically do that. I think seeing him as an actual terminator at this point would just be ridiculous. I also would prefer to keep the story in the post apocalyptic era, but then I've always really loved that setting so that's no surprise. At this point the planned sequels seem to be in limbo, so who knows what it will actually be once things get off the ground.

6 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of Terminator 3. Not that it's bad, but too much of it is recycled from the first two, and too many of the original elements they add feel goofy. The tank-like T-100s. The "hot chick" terminator in a ridiculous red leather suit with heels. Kate. I like the idea of John's guardian being forced to try to kill him, but the execution was, yeah, strange. Unlike you, I really dislike the predestination angle. That's an element of fantasty in what's supposed to be a reasonably practical science fiction series. I much prefer the tv series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, that brought in the accepted theory that every time someone travels back in time, they create a divergent time stream that leads into a new future. There are large events, SkyNet, that remain an inevitability because events leading to it have already been set in motion, but that's not fate, that's still a realistic set of elements our heroes can take down one at a time. Just saying "It was meant to be" simplifies it to a whimsical degree.

    There's a lot to like about Salvation, but I do find the two main plot threads to be very disjointed, and the ending is a cop out in my opinion, especially compared to the rather ballsy version they originally filmed (John dies, Marcus "becomes" John to keep the legend alive). This might just be because I read and really enjoyed the original script, which focuses entirely on Marcus, with John being a constant background presence the people talk about and listen to on the radio, showing him as more the legend than the man. This script had a huge twist involving the Helena Bonham Carter character which was mostly cut down to irrelevance by the constant on-set rewrites, most of which were driven by Bale, who was offered Marcus but became more intrigued by John and made sure to give himself enough screen time to warrant his presence.

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  2. There's no doubt that 3 was definitely one of those sequels where they were trying to give people what they thought they had loved about the first two films.

    I haven't seen the show yet, but it's definitely on my future watch list. I've heard a lot of good things about it.

    I'm really glad I didn't know all that about Salvation going into it, as it probably would have effected my opinion quite a bit. The other version does sound rather intriguing though, it's a shame it was never made.

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  3. +JMJ+

    Oh, I could go on all night about Terminator 3. =/

    I love the point you make about Kate Brewster as a character. Way, way too easy. I can't believe I never saw it before . . . but then again, this isn't a movie I'd watch again.

    The killing of at least three future officers seriously bugged me. The biggest appeal the first Terminator movie had for me was the idea that every human life is important--and that anyone who doesn't think so might as well be a machine. So why does the Resistance send back one Terminator to save only John and Kate (OMG, I just saw the combination of their names! Reality TV will pay for this!), but let other officers die??? Yes, the Connors are the most important figures . . . but another message of the first movie is that you never know when a "little" person is going to do something big. Yes, Terminators have killed innocent bystanders before--but they've never been able to get to their targets until this movie. WritingFail!

    Nick Stahl does look more like Michael Biehn than Edward Furlong, but I liked Furlong's performance better. Stahl looked totally lost as John Connor and made me think that it was really Kate who runs the show in the future. =/

    As for Terminator: Salvation . . . it wasn't as bad as Terminator 3, but I still needed a stiff drink after watching it. =P

    You're right that there were two protagonists here, and not a very graceful way of switching back and forth between them in the storytelling. But I really didn't like the ending. =( There's a difference between a cybernetic organism and a cyborg, namely that the latter is still human. It just wasn't okay for me that everyone put Wright's offer on the same level as the T-850's self-termination, when it should have been on the level of Kyle Reese's sacrifice.

    Oh, speaking of Kyle . . . I really couldn't see anything of Biehn's original performance in Anton Yelchin's. And yet I actually liked Yelchin's interpretation of Kyle better. I know that Biehn read about concentration camp survivors to prepare for the role, and that's why his Kyle is super traumatised. But Yelchin's Kyle is more laid back: someone who might even have a sense of humour about living in a dystopia. I actually liked that. =)

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  4. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with such disgust for Terminator 3... not that I could see how anyone could like it.

    I think the reaction to Marcus's sacrifice makes sense given the way the people around him can't help but see him. Blair is pretty much the only one who should be upset, and she is.

    You're right in that the two Kyles are very different, but that didn't bother me, mostly because young Kyle has a lot of living to go through before he gets sent back in time.

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  5. My take on the previous three aside, I freaking hated Worthington's character. I understand the purpose of the prototype in the grander scheme of Skynet but the constant direct interactions with every major character, even going as far as to selflessly save the hero's life in the final seconds of Salvation come off like a self-inserted fan made character; like this is some fan-fiction submitted by an eager fan who made himself into an epic action hero who is best friends with the main protagonists of the previous installments.

    And don't get me started on the scene where he rescues Moon Bloodgood from a trio of rapists and beats them half to death, only for the one he's about to actually kill suddenly have the moral high ground! Talk about ham-handed schlock. Schlock, I say!

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  6. In a lot of ways, I think fan fiction is slipping into canon these days.. because the people who grew up with the series are now writing for it. I didn't feel that way about Marcus, but I can see how you could.

    That rape since did aggravate me quite a bit. I believe my thoughts were, "Really? This is what they're going to go with to try to prove he's a good guy? Way to destroy the strength of your female character."

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