I don’t remember how or why Terminator: Salvation ended up in my Netflix queue. I think it was in some rush of misguided completism, after I finished watching Sarah Connor Chronicles a few weeks ago. (While I have a long Netflix queue, in practice I’m constantly rearranging the top four or five movies, so the queue itself is mostly an aspirational list of movies I think I should see and probably never actually will).

I say misguided completism because (a) I’m really not a completist at all, (b) the Terminator ‘franchise’ is a fairly disconnected and incoherent one that doesn’t really have a sustained narrative vision and (c) I kind of wish they’d only made the one movie in the first place, anyway.

On the third point, I know I’m in the minority; and, well, I recognize that Terminator 2 is a really kickass action movie, and Sarah Connor is a kickass heroine. But, to me, the original Terminator is a beautifully self-contained story, and the time travel paradox at the center of the plot hangs on such a narrow thread that any attempt to build on it — anything that requires you to apply too much thought to the idea of (spoiler alert!) John Connor sending Kyle Reese back in time to meet his (John’s) mother and become his (John’s) father — is going to do more harm than good. (Also, I deeply dislike the kid who plays John in T2, but that’s another gripe).

But I watched the Sarah Connor television series, and I really liked it — if they had to keep the thing going, this was a nice way to do that. So in a moment of sentimentality toward the franchise, I went for misguided completism, and that’s why I’m sitting on my couch watching Terminator: Salvation.

It’s not coming as any shock, but this movie is really deeply not good. Let’s go through the bullet points, which are going to be a mix of actual movie-criticism-type-thoughts, and my own idiosyncratic relationship with this franchise:

1) This movie clearly wasn’t made to be watched on a small (or, what used to be known as “normal-sized”) TV like mine. The title cards giving (I guess) plot and setting information at the beginning of the movie are too small to read, and most of the action in the opening sequence is too dark and hard to follow. I’ve actually ended up wishing I did see this in a movie theater, which would have played to its (big, dumb) strengths. I’m sure this ‘not made for your tiny tv’ thing is just going to happen more and more, as videophiles ruin things for everybody.

2. By far the biggest contribution Terminator: Salvation made to popular culture was the infamous Christian Bale onset rant, which was the Kanye-West-interrupts-Taylor-Swift of 2008. I never actually heard the thing all the way through, I just heard many many parodies of it. Watching this movie inspired me to look up the original. And. . .Christian Bale, I’ma let you finish but Kanye-interrupting-Taylor-Swift was one of the best celebrity-misbehavior memes of all time. (Sorry, but after a certain point, that is bound to get funny again; I thought I’d give it a shot).

3. Another thing this movie made me notice is that Christian Bale is using that weird gravelly scratchy voice even when he’s not playing Batman. That inspired me to look up this amazing segment about Batman from the TV show Community. Are you getting a sense of how exciting this movie is to me?

4. The big ‘reveal’ in this movie was included in the trailer which I saw approximately 10,000 times during the summer of 2008. Way to go.

Now onto my franchise-based nitpicks:

1. Kyle Reese appears in this movie as a character in his teens or, at best, early twenties. John Connor appears as a man in his 30s. This is BS, you know, because Kyle and John should be peers. They’re BFF. They’re brothers. That’s one reason Kyle turning out to be his father is poignant. (Also, why John showing Kyle pictures of his mom, as we know from the first movie that he did, is creepy. It’s creepy anyway, but it’s super creepy if you think John knew his father’s identity; this movie doesn’t even bother to make that question ambiguous, since we get Sarah’s voice on tape explaining the plot of the first movie).

2. When Kyle meets the character played by Sam Worthington in this movie (not worth getting into), he says, “Come with me if you want to live.” This is, of course, the line that he greets Sarah with in the original Terminator, and it’s been repeated in key situations throughout the franchise. Which, you know, great; I totally get what they’re doing there. But Kyle shouldn’t be saying this to anybody but Sarah. If he just goes around chirping “Come with me if you want to live” at every person he sees — if it’s basically his “five by five” — it’s not exactly special!

3. No way Anton Yelchin grows up to be Michael Biehn.

4. I’m not even going to touch on the plot here, but I think the main problem is that this is basically a prequel. Yes, it happens after the third movie but it’s more essential that it happens before the first movie. This is the way it went before Connor sent Reese back in time and it’s awfully hard to milk too much suspense out of that. Yes, it’s in the nature of the franchise that things could go differently this time, and then the whole first movie wouldn’t have happened. But, well, it did happen; I saw it. I’ve read enough X-Men comics that you have to do a little better than that. And speaking of X-Men comics, the Wolverine movie convinced me that prequels are pretty much never going to be a good idea. I think, at the time, I was able to come up with a few exceptions — prequels that actually worked as movies — but they’re really the exception that proves the rule.

Okay, I think that’s out of my system. Now Christian Bale is dressed like a ninja and actually doing something (for the first hour of the movie, he mostly stands around and snarls), so I guess I’ll see how this atrocity ends.

ETA: Jenelle linked me to this genius summary. It totally makes more sense than the movie.

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