Monday, August 8, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Movie Challenge -- Day 21

Day 21 – A Sequel/Remake/Reboot that Wasn’t Worth the Celluloid it Was Filmed On

Great movie sequels are a wonderful thing, building on the triumphs of their predecessors and taking their respective franchises to new heights. However, it is more often the case that movie sequels are pretty terrible, filled with banal plots and stupid attempts to duplicate their forbearers' success. Sometimes, in the case of today’s entry, the project can even fail to miss the appeal of the series entirely.

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Another summer tentpole flick from 2009, Terminator Salvation is the yang to Star Trek’s yin. While the latter was a fun blend of popcorn thrills and underlying humor, Terminator Salvation is a mud-and-bronze-colored slog through the joyless, super-cereal world of the late 2000’s- and early 2010’s-era Hollywood blockbuster. Movies that aren’t at least partially overly-grim cannot be taken seriously these days, especially as a franchise-extending sequel priced at over $100 million. Didn’t you get the memo?

Terminator Salvation takes place in 2018, following the conclusion of 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (a film which I did not see, but never mind). The movie harbors something of a dual-protagonist storyline, alternating between John Connor (Christian Bale), leader of the human resistance after the military program Skynet launched a nuclear holocaust in 2004; and Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convict on death row executed that same year, but wakes up fourteen years later during the post-apocalypse. Connor needs to convince the humans to rally behind him and fight the machines, while Wright wants to figure out why he’s even there in the first place.

To me, Terminator Salvation represents everything that is wrong with the modern summer escapist movie. First, the film is obsessed with being “dark” and “gritty,” as though, by depicting its events as unsmilingly as it can, it will gain greater dramatic credibility. This may be true for an independent film, or film meant to show a realistic portrayal of war (Black Hawk Down wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it hadn’t been so dour), but this is a movie about time-travelling killer robots. It’s supposed stupid; it really is. However, like a middle school kid desperately trying to have “attitude” by wearing baggy clothes, smoking, and listening to Limp Bizkit, its cool-guy refusal to acknowledge how ridiculous it actually is proves absolutely fatal to any charms it may have.

Hoping for more "Hasta la vista, baby?" Boy, did you pick the wrong movie to see.

As an extension of this criticism, what the hell is up with this film’s color palette? I get it, it’s the post-apocalypse—does that mean that everything has to be the exact same shade of sunbaked asshole-brown? Hell, even the first two movies made their dark, oppressed-looking future appear more interesting than this movie, which looks like it was shot on-location on the set of The Book of Eli.

Lastly, as yet another continuation of the Why So Serious train of thought, Terminator Salvation simply isn’t any fun to watch. I’m generally pretty forgiving towards empty-headed films, as long as they provide me with a good time; if the movie isn’t too egregiously dumb and painful (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), standard-issue thrills, chills, and laughs are almost always enough to carry it through to a mild recommendation (Thor). Terminator Salvation isn’t interested in entertaining me; it wants to impress me with its story, and its deeper meanings, and how epic it all is. You know that Terminator 2 wanted me to do? Stand in slack-jawed awe at how cool Arnold Schwarzenegger was, with a close second being Linda Hamilton’s one-handed shotgun technique near the end of the film. Flippin’ sweet.

Terminator Salvation lacks anything flippin’ sweet about it, just like too many ostensibly “entertaining” popcorn flicks out there.

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