Terminator: Salvation

1 Jun

So yeah, I liked Terminator: Salvation. It was flawed in a lot of ways, but it gave me what I wanted most, what I have been waiting twenty-five years for: staying more or less within the bounds of canon, I got to see a story about how John Connor finally met his father, Kyle Reese.

And the movie really does honor canon. It happens in the year 2018, roughly eleven years earlier than 2029, the year Kyle goes into the past to defend Sarah Connor in 1984. The John Connor we meet is in his mid-thirties, which would make it reasonable to believe he was born in 1985 (the first movie takes place in May of ’84, so add nine months, John was born in ’85). Kyle Reese is about seventeen, which is what you might expect in 2018 if he is in his late twenties when he goes back in time. We never see or hear reference to the time technology in this film because it hasn’t been invented yet.

I do sort of wish we could have gotten the tale as told in T1 of John emerging as an inspiring leader in the death camps, but the movie allows us to safely assume that has already happened. John Connor is already a legend, he is just not the head of the resistance yet. Also, again, what you’d expect given the way T3 ended–John was safely ensconced in a deep fallout shelter, and one has to assume some of the actual military leaders of various nations were, too, elsewhere. Those are the people that take charge of the war against the machines initially (they show Asians and Russians among the leaders, I noted).

John Connor is one of their soldiers, and they mock him a little as a symbol to the resistance, but, after all, not one of them.

Connor is married at this point, to the woman who I assume is Kate Brewster, although she doesn’t get any action scenes in this film because she is very pregnant. She is still one of the leading people in John’s cell of the resistance, though, and a medical doctor.

The movie deals with John hearing about the existence of Kyle Reese, and searching for him, and finally locating him at a death camp that is also the regional headquarters for Skynet. John Connor must defy the leaders of the military in order to rescue his father. The military leaders want to bomb the facility now that they have a way of rendering the Skynet technology inert, and they see the civilian casualties as “collateral damage”–a necessary evil for a greater good.

John, of course, has a larger view of the value of his father’s life, but as he starts a series of radio broadcasts to use his celebrity to influence the scattered members of the resistance, we get the obligatory humanistic plug about how we should “rescue the civilians before we bomb, otherwise we are no different than the machines.”

The world military leaders, conveniently enough, sneak around together in a submarine (a nod to the TV show). Before they have a chance to launch the attack, they are targeted, discovered, and killed by Skynet (you think they forgot the one about not putting all your eggs in one basket?)

These leaders were on a list of primary Skynet targets, as are John Connor and Kyle Reese, and here’s where we get to one of movie’s flaws: Kyle Reese is captured by Skynet, identified in the death camp, and then held prisoner rather than shot on sight. They obviously know who he is. The movie never gives a good explanation for his imprisonment.

Kyle and John are united towards the end of the movie when John storms the Skynet facility and saves all the civilians, including his father. John is wounded during this fight in a battle with a terminator who starts out as a very naked Governor of California. And if any of my flist with medical experience who haven’t seen the movie are actually reading this, just FYI–there are some parts towards the end that are insanely unrealistic, including jump-starting someone’s heart with a live wire and a battle-field heart transplant.

But all of this enables John to remain leader of the resistance, now with a new ally by his side, Kyle Reese. *Beams the beam of ‘shipper joy*

Now onto what I consider the biggest flaw this movie has: the character of Marcus Wright. Take note, any of you kids out there who are aspiring fan fiction writers–this is textbook example of a Marty Stu. The movie starts with him, a man from the pre-war time during the pre-war time, a prisoner on death row who decides to donate his body to Science (well, technology, technically. Cyberdyne Systems, specifically).

We catch up with Marcus fifteen years later when John Connor, a mere soldier in the resistance, enters a Skynet research facility where they are obviously experimenting with developing cyborgs. Marcus is just another body in storage at the facility. John is sent above ground by the military commander of the mission, and luckily so, because a moment later, the place gets All Blowed Up.

And yet somehow, Marcus is the other sole survivor, with barely a scratch on him.

At that point, he becomes the Character of Invitation, the person from our world we travel with as we see this strange new world. This is of course totally unnecessary, because thanks to the flash-forwards of previous movies and the television show, we are familiar with the post-apocalyptic world of the Terminatorverse. The movie then shifts between scenes of John Connor soldiering and Marcus wandering and finally encountering a terminator. He is almost Dead Meat when he becomes the lucky recipient of an outstretched hand and the words which appear in every film, “Come with me if you want to live.”

It was probably after the first or second extra-long action scene with Marcus in it fighting at Kyle Reese’s side that I decided he was an obvious Authorial Stand-in. Fan-boy producer/director wants to be part of the Terminatorverse and wakes up in that world and gets to be part of the action with one of its signature heroes–over, and over, and oh, as for example, OVER.

I knew due to the previews that at some point Marcus becomes a cyborg, what I didn’t know was that he already was one. Unlike the cyborgs we’ve met before, he has retained a human heart and partial brain. Part of his brain is a machine brain. At the point we and he discover this, I thought, “Well, OK, maybe he’s not the Authorial Stand-in after all.”

But then I changed my mind again when he’s the one who tells John where to find Kyle and he’s the one who infiltrates Skynet headquarters and he’s the one who saves John Connor’s life, twice, once by stopping him from being killed by a Terminator, and then again when he heroically offers him his human heart.

And don’t even get me started on how he’s the one who teaches Kyle Reese how to holster a rifle.

Now, Marcus Wright does have a role to play in the movie. One can easily imagine as Skynet was starting to experiment with cyborg infiltration units, they started out making cyborgs who were still partially human and believed they were human so they could enter the human resistance cells without question. Then the programming would kick in and they’d carry out a deadly mission. It is also easy to imagine that Skynet quickly discovered this approach wouldn’t work, and started building the Arnie Schwarzenegger models instead. Sarah Connor never gets told about this model because they weren’t in use very long. And, if Skynet can manage to hang onto one of its units after the explosion, it is plausible it might send it after the other survivor, John Connor.

So maybe, if I didn’t know so dang much about Mary Sues, I wouldn’t cringe at Marcus, but really, truly. Textbook case, take notes.

And what about Sarah? One criticism I have seen leveled against the movie is that it is “all about the boys,” and the concomitant testosterone and Sarah Connor is forgotten. I don’t think that’s the case. True, the action scenes go on way too long and many are completely gratuitous, but that’s a signature part of the whole movie series I’ve learned to live with. And true, Sarah is dead, but that is canon–both the movies and the television show mention her dying of cancer before Judgment Day. John hasn’t forgotten her by any means; we see the Linda Hamilton photo from T1 taken when she was pregnant with him, the photo that will one day go to Kyle Reese. We see John on multiple occasions, when he is feeling most uncertain about his next move, listening to the tapes his mother made for him to gain strength and insight. They are not in Linda Hamilton’s voice, but that’s probably because we hear other passages besides the one we know from the end of T1.

All in all, if a sequel leaves me able to watch its prequels without thinking they’re now completely moot, and has me writing fan fiction in my head, it’s OK in my book. I give this movie a solid “B”. Won’t be every Terminator fan’s cuppa tea, but it falls heavily into OMG Could Have Been So Much Worse.

22 Responses to “Terminator: Salvation”

  1. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    Apparently Timothy Zahn wrote a prequel to the movie. I’m assuming it has more of the John Connor stuff you’re after, but seeing as I just ordered it yesterday, I can’t say that for certain.
    I loved the movie, even if Marcus was a bit eyeroll worthy. It wasn’t as good as T2, and currently it’s the tv show that’s first in my heart, but I honestly enjoyed it and OMG Kyle Reese!

  2. chicken_cem June 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    I really appreciate your textbook dissection of the Mary Sue issue.

  3. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    Whoever wrote T4 is a real fan of the movie series. Not just because they did the eye-rolling self-insertion character, but also because it was obvious that they watched the first three movies over and over while writing the script for the fourth. To get right most of the details that they could get right (some things bend a little for plot reasons), but also to add in subtleties like: in T2, you see a flash-forward of Future!John at 45 with old, healed scars on his face. In T4, you see his battle with a terminator where he gets those scars. Little stuff like that which shows respect for the prior material.
    T4 gets heavily bashed for being predictable, but a movie about a future we’ve already heard about a dozen times can’t be anything else, plot-wise, unless it wants to rewrite future history completely.
    Could it have been done in a fresher, more compelling way? Sure. But again, my criterion really is “Could it have been worse?” Big yeah.
    T2 is one of those rare sequels that outdoes its predecessor and everything that comes after it. I didn’t expect T3 or T4 to do better, only to Not Suck.
    I still think T1 is my favorite, though. Watching Sarah Connor’s transformation in that movie is amazing.

  4. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    It became so blatantly obvious after a bit that I had to boggle. I forget that to most of the world, this isn’t a well-known trope to be Avoided At All Costs.

  5. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    I still think T1 is my favorite, though. Watching Sarah Connor’s transformation in that movie is amazing.
    Hell yeah! That movie changed my life. Before Terminator, I thought I didn’t like action movies, or possibly that I didn’t like movies at all. My relationship with T1 is special, even if T2 is in some ways the better movie. Which one I name as my favorite usually depends on which one I’ve seen most recently. Then there’s the tv show, and I’ve always liked tv shows better than movies due to the level of character development that’s possible, and since that’s what I’ve seen most recently going into T4, well, that leaves me somewhat confused about naming a favorite. My next fanfiction effort will be tv show related, though, so that’s where I stand at the moment.
    Also, I love a good explosion and don’t mind as much as I should when a fight scene goes a little long, so when they manage to balance character with action I’m a very happy fangirl.
    And I’m so overtired that I’ve completely forgotten what exactly I was replying to or if I had a point, so I’ll get back to you later if I remember.

  6. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    It’s a crowd-pleasing trope, as Bella Swan and Sally Sparrow have shown us, so perhaps we need to be reminded of the usefulness every now and again. Bella Swan being an appalling example, of course, but Stephanie Meyer and her truckloads of cash probably don’t care what we think. Sally Sparrow is worth contemplating further, imho, but the phone is ringing and I’m still overtired, so I’m going to go away now.

  7. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    I suppose someone in the crowd is pleased by it, but Marcus just mainly annoyed me. The show has its pick of previously-established point-of-view characters we can walk in the shoes of. To invent a new one and then give him inordinate amounts of screen time just makes me grumble over and over again, “Who the hell is *this* guy?”

  8. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    Terminator was one of few action movies at the time with a female point-of-view character, and one of the few that left her alive and alone at the end to give the final death-blow to the enemy. I think it lead to later characters like Ripley and Buffy.

  9. its_art June 1, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    According to IMDB, it is Linda Hamilton who voices Sarah.
    I don’t mind that Sarah wasn’t in this. They paid good homage to her. What I do mind is the pretty crappy female characters that were put in. Kate doesn’t really do much, other than look worried for John and some highly implausible doctoring. Granted, she IS pregnant, but that was such a random addition it was never mentioned AT ALL in dialogue and seemed to only be included to explain why she doesn’t do anything.
    And what’s her name… The other chick… Who seemed like she was supposed to be a bad ass resistance fighter, but is essentially only around to drool over Marcus and having heaving breasts. Any time when she might be able to demonstrate some badassery instead goes to Marcus.
    Sarah Connor ruined me for all other Terminator female characters. She was so ridiculously awesome all other pale in comparison.

  10. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    You notice I don’t even mention whatshername, the hot-resistance-fighter-chick who Marcus gets to hang out with on top of all his other obnoxious Marty Stuing.
    She *was* one of the fighter pilots, but after that, she’s just a Plot Device.

  11. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 5:04 pm #

    Oh I absolutely agree in the case of Marcus, and I’m not a fan of Mary Sue at all, I’m just saying that there are times when they seem to be a useful or at least not completely awful mechanism in a story. I think. I’m not really keen on defending them, just wondering if those of us who write well are missing something that causes us frustration when we watch Stephanie Meyer make bucketloads of money. If I was less exhausted I might make more sense.

  12. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    No, I think you can do an original character who is meant to be an audience stand-in well. That’s where my “Character of Invitation” concept comes from. It’s a useful trope in fantasy where we are often thrust into odd places that operate by different rules. A character who is more like us or comes from a familiar background is useful because we learn about the strange new world at the same time they do.
    What makes Marcus a Mary Sue isn’t his Character of Invitation status; it’s his superpowers and his stealing the thunder from the established characters.

  13. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    I think if she had been more than a plot device, I would have been a little peeved, because if I’d cared too much about either her or Marcus the ending would have been painful instead of happy-but-implausible with a side of melancholy. She got a few nice moments, too, which doesn’t always happen with a plot device character.

  14. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 5:17 pm #

    And she is not without agency, even if she’s still too much The Girl for someone in her position.

  15. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 5:22 pm #

    No, I meant both the audience stand-in perspective and the thunder-stealing. Hence my better example of Sally Sparrow. Bella Swan is pure reader-proxy with a side of implausible awesomeness that’s not actually explained, because she mostly just pines after a boy and sets herself up to be a victim, but setting her aside as the wrong example for my musings, how about Ayla from the Earth’s Children series? People love her, and she has absolutely no personality except of course for her mile long resume of inventing pretty much everything invented between fire and the wheel.
    Then back to Sally Sparrow, who is worshipped by half the Doctor Who fandom and hated viciously by the other half. She’s an obvious viewer proxy who overshadows the series regulars in her episode, and everyone in the episode is very focused on her as The Important Character while she never really earns it. She’s just a generic cute girl who manages to look a little bit clever because the plot elements are built around her.

  16. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    Any time a character like that is successful, I always consider the makeup of the audience who enjoys them. ; )

  17. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 5:38 pm #

    Okay, there is that, I was just wondering if there was something important that we enlightened people were missing. Or maybe I’m just overtired and unduly influenced by the past accusation that anyone who never indulged in Mary Sue fantasies could never understand human emotions enough to write anything fictional.

  18. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    The Mary Sue fantasy in and of itself is very, very human and I don’t see anything wrong with it. I have Mary Sued myself into the Star Trek verse in my head on numerous occasions. And as long as your audience can identify with your Mary Sue character and join the fun, it *is* a lot of fun to actually fold it into a fictional tale other people will see.
    The problem with Mary Sue characters is they run the risk of being very alienating to readers who don’t identify with the Mary Sue. Watching T4, for example, I neither could relate to Marcus, nor did I find him attractive. I wanted to see John Connor’s story. I want to see some significant John/Kyle interaction. What do I get instead? Somebody else’s wish-fulfillment.
    You gotta be very careful doing Mary Sues, ‘s all I’m saying.

  19. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    I’ve never done a Mary Sue, and I don’t get it, is what I’m rambling on about. I fully understand all the bad, and I see how they are used, but I’m completely missing the appeal and therefore I feel insecure about it, I guess?

  20. neshaffer June 1, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    Someday you’ll be reading something or watching something and enjoying the heck out of a character, and then you’ll wake up in the middle of the night with the jolting realization that they are a Mary Sue.
    Or not.
    ; )

  21. backup_mars June 1, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

    Yes, giving agency to a minor or plot device character is a plus. I’m going to excuse this character being The Girl in this movie because she is just a plot device, and we really see very little of her own personal life story.
    Perhaps if one were inclined to use her in fanfic, this point in her life could be explained as showing her need for a little so-called normalcy as defined by society, so she let a little of her usual responsibility fall on the Big Strong Guy.

  22. atpo_onm June 5, 2009 at 3:11 am #

    I avoided reading your thoughts until I got to see the film, which was today.
    While it’s hard to argue with your writerly reasoning that Marcus is a “Marty Stu”, without knowing the actual intent of the writing team, I would like to chime in that for me, I didn’t read him as that. I saw him as the character that was a reference to the TV series, as opposed to the many more obvious references to the films. To some degree, I believe Marcus is a Cameron analogue.
    There are a couple of clues that Marcus is the character that gives future John the ability to think of the cyborgs as anything other than purely programmable machines– i.e, that they could have free will. One of the best is in the scene near the very end when the mute girl takes Marcus’ hand– the metal-fingered one– without hesitance or fear. She accepts that this machine has fully human qualities, and therefore does not reject him simply because of the machine elements.
    Now recall Sarah’s dream sequence in the late episodes of TSCC– where she see Cameron watering plants that grow into metal cacti that embrace John without harming him.
    So, is Marcus the progenitor of a future John who believes that he can create a machine with free will that– although, deep down, is “programmed to kill humans” nevertheless decides to override that programming and co-exist with, or even protect humans?
    Marcus was a murderer in his former life. Given a second chance, he supports the series’ overriding adage that there is “No fate but what we make.”
    Oh, and jumpstarting the heart? Over the top, verily, but hey– movie.

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