Review: Terminator Salvation

Wow. Even with lowered expectations that was painful.

People who know me will attest to the fact that I love fanfiction, and that there are some works that match the original. When Hollywood takes on an old, venerable franchise after a long hiatus, sometimes the sequel produced has less of the feel of a sequel and more of the atmosphere of a fanfic. Sometimes this is done well–the new Sylar-powered Star Trek reboot has been described as J.J. Abrams Alternate Universe Star Trek fanfic… and it worked.

Sometimes though, as with actual fanfic, you get a dud, and one of the more common causes for bad fanfiction is the inclusion of the infamous Mary Sue character type. It’s not one you get to see often in a professional production, because it is an amateur-ish mistake…

Apparently whoever came up with the character of Marcus Wright didn’t get the memo. Actually, much of the the story of Terminator Salvation is a case study in how not to write a good narrative.

[Spoiler and Rant Warning]

Well, it’s not really a spoiler because anyone who watched the trailers know Marcus Wright’s real nature. I want to get the fact that Marcus is a Terminator out of the way right quick just to nip at the bud any defense of his extraordinary capabilities simply on the basis of the fact that he is a machine.

Yes, because Marcus is not human, he should be capable of feats such as beating a rag-tag band of scavengers to a pulp, but that’s not the point. It’s theoretically possible that Marcus can drive a jeep (excellently), fix a radio (superbly), ride a bike (awesomely) and fight like a young pre-“found gold in the Philippines” Stephen Segal because he’s a robot–but if that were solely because he was a robot then this new prowess should at least surprise him. It doesn’t. Not once does he ever look at his accomplishments and think–hey… I didn’t know I was that good. (Heck, he doesn’t even seem to wonder why he doesn’t get hungry or thirsty.)

We can assume then that he’s not surprised at his prowess because, well, he’s used to simply being bad-ass… and maybe, somehow, that’s justified, but if so nowhere in the movie is justification given. We know he’s a convicted murderer–but unless he was murdering Delta Force soldiers or members of the Mossad, that alone doesn’t establish him as a good enough fighter that his feats would be believable.

Note that his being a convicted murderer, and occasional douche, seem to be his only “flaws.” It was as if his creator, like many fans of the self-insert Mary Sue, have equated a character having angst or a “bad past” as substitutes for actual imperfections and faults in character.

While Marcus was my main complaint, other aspects of the movie, particularly characterization and plot, were deeply wanting. Characters frequently were made to act in irrational ways simply to fulfill the needs of the plot–another basic mistake in fiction. For instance, the contrived romance between Blair and Marcus–I have trouble believing that if you spent all your life fighting robots, you’d be so quick to fall in love with one–to the point that you betray your cause and your comrades–to save a man you’ve known for a grand total of two days, knight-in-shining-armor act aside; and then, after being caught, Blair is suddenly accepted back with no repercussions–even if one of her comrades had died because of the pursuit of her new boyfriend? I’m not saying it’s not possible to do this plot line in a believable way, it’s jut that such treatment required set-up and context that were not present in the movie.

Even worse was when, in order to get an expository infodump in, they had the villain have the traditional “I Will Explain My Plans to the Hero” moment. What makes this terrible are two things: first, the villain is Skynet, an artificial intelligence, which we presume does not have an ego to receive a benefit from all that gloating; second, the hero was Marcus, a terminator with a chip implanted in his brain which I’m assuming gave Skynet some hold over him. Why bother trying to ‘convince’ him to join the robots when Skynet could simply reprogram him or switch him off?

There are more, but I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say, I am saddened by the sheer waste of the setting, and the potential in both the plot and the franchise. I was going to say I’d stick to the Sarah Connor Chronicles for an intelligent exploration of the Terminator mythos… but then, that’s been cancelled.

If only they’d cancelled this movie along with it.

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