terminator-salvation1When our esteemed editor and retired slow jam artist Jeff Giles first asked me to contribute to this site, he wanted me to contribute as a movie critic. I believe what he wanted was a “Chuck Klosterman of movies.” Certainly all of my friends would have thought me a perfect fit, but I told Jeff I’d rather do something a little different.

Popdose currently has two fine critics in Robert Cashill and Lance Berry. These are two gentlemen whose opinions I respect and enjoy. Many times, however, I find myself in serious disagreements with them.

I don’t consider myself a critic, though I have agreed to do the occasional DVD review here. Though I argue with my friends incessantly about film, to the point where they are often surprised when I actually like a movie, I don’t want people to think of me as a critic. Often my opinions stem more from feeling than actual critical thought, which may or may not be a good thing.

Say the name “McG” out loud. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Now allow your natural reactions be displayed when I tell you he brought us Charlie’s Angels and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Are you vomiting yet? Now that you know all that, check out this little movie he just made based on the cult, critical, and fan favorite Terminator movies.

I know you hate it already. How could you not? The guy’s name sounds like a Scottish gang member. He’s responsible for a movie starring not only Cameron Diaz, but also Drew Barrymore; a movie that looked to have a brighter color palette than an 8-year-old Pokémon fan’s brain scan, mid-seizure.

The critics all hate his new film Terminator Salvation as well, leading you to be very afraid when you walk into the theater. All your worries as a fan of Terminator seem to have been validated even before you set foot in the theater. You’ve read the 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a rating that is normally reserved for the latest Wayans Brothers parody film (Dance Flick, debuting the same week, ended up with only a slightly lower score).

I knew all of this going into Terminator Salvation. I noticed a couple plot holes, some occasional poor direction decisions, and bad acting. I said earlier that I tend to judge films more on feeling than critical thought. Surprisingly, this movie gave me a good feeling. The action is intense and shot mostly well. There is a robot character, played by Sam Worthington, who echoes the same sense of conflicted humanity than we felt in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Some of it doesn’t make sense, such as why a terminator fires at Marcus early on if Skynet wants to keep him alive. Lance Berry, who absolutely despises this film, pointed out a plot hole I’d rather not discuss for the sake of spoilers. These are both very good questions, but I still don’t see them as an example of Gene Siskel’s “idiot plot” scenario, in which the plot would be resolved easily were the characters not idiots.

The fact is that the James Cameron movies, which are held in such high esteem, are also laced with problems. There is probably as much hokey dialogue and acting in Terminator 2: Judgment Day than there is in Terminator Salvation. Go back and watch that movie, as I did recently, if you don’t believe me. Terminator Salvation fulfills its purpose quite well; that is to be an enjoyable sequel despite being mostly unnecessary.

Some of the critical anger has been directed at the lack of humor. To start with, this isn’t the same fish-out-of-water story that made Arnold’s performance work in a humorous manner. Tonally, it’s exactly like the apocalyptic dream we saw in the second film. This is a big, sweaty action film without the stupidity and emotional retardation of a Michael Bay movie.

Sometimes I wonder whether there is a conference of film critics where they decide which movies they will like and which they will destroy. How else can the mostly glowing reviews for Will Ferrell’s abominable collaborations with Adam McKay be explained?

Another example of my recent disagreement with the critical community is with Star Trek. The critical reception to this particular summer reboot couldn’t have been more different from that of Terminator Salvation. Star Trek received an incredible 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a fun movie if you ignore a lot of plot holes (the black holes, anyone?) and annoying choices by the director and some obnoxious characters.

I found Star Trek to be a parody, with caricatures rather than characters, and little mockeries spread throughout the film. For example, when Kirk and Sulu parachute onto the Romulan drill, a character is given a red space suit and promptly disposed of. There is also the scene in which Kirk beds a sexy green alien broad. Star Trek reminded me in some ways of the critically reviled, Joel Schumacher-helmed Batman movies, which took a lot of the worst elements of the 1960s version and winked into the camera. Granted, Star Trek is a lot better than those movies.

terminatorsalvation_t600_big-thumb-500x820-128611I should mention that I am no more a Terminator fan than I am a fan of Star Trek. I grew up watching Star Trek with my parents because they controlled the television in our home and that’s what they enjoyed watching. I respect Star Trek for the moralistic and optimistic future it attempted to convey, but don’t really consider myself a real follower. Likewise, I’ve seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day a few times, and only parts of the first movie. As only a casual fan, I didn’t notice many of Salvation’s “wink-wink” references until they were explained to me later.

I find it hard to believe that Terminator Salvation would have been any better had James Cameron directed it. To start with, James Cameron seems to possess the recessive George Lucas gene. He is a very skilled and arrogant technical director who has a lot of trouble handling emotion competently. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his Avatar, scheduled for release later this year, turns out like Lucas’ ham-fisted return (though I hope it doesn’t). Linda Hamilton’s acting was never a strong point of the classic Judgment Day, and the movie is basically a B-movie with great action and some flimsy time travel plotting. I still love it, though, and so do you.

Terminator Salvation probably isn’t a classic. Neither is Star Trek, despite its incredible critical reception. The last 40 minutes of Terminator Salvation feel like they’ve been chopped to hell in the editing room, and my colleague Lance raises some very valid criticisms. I’m never going to convince him that this movie is better than he thinks, and I hope his opinion of me hasn’t been destroyed by my differing view.

When we watch a movie, it’s often hard to judge it without taking into account certain outside forces. Expectations can often harm our experience. I had supremely high expectations for The Dark Knight, and had to watch the movie several times before I was able to separate my feelings from my expectations and actually enjoy it on its own. The shame is that in defending Terminator Salvation, I’m not really certain whether it’s actually a good movie, or whether my expectations had simply been lowered. What I do know is that this column wouldn’t have to be written had Terminator Salvation and Star Trek received roughly the same 70% score on Rotten Tomatoes. I enjoyed Terminator Salvation for what it was, and didn’t enjoy Star Trek for the same reason.

In the end, it’s all just a feeling.

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