Reviews: ALL! ABOUT! ACTION!
I am not the audience for this movie. I can complain about it until the day ends, but this movie is designed to hit particular, comic book-inspired notes that, to my ears, sound tinny and unpleasant. And that's nobody's fault; it's not inherently wrong. I just hated it.
The way the characters talk, for example. Almost every scene opens with a character monologuing their heart out, declaring their motivations aloud for no reason other than that the story wants to feel transferred directly from a panel in a comic to the screen. I found myself imagining these stupid lines in a bubble over the character’s head, and they fit that way, they made sense. It’s nothing personal, I just want dialogue that sounds like how people actually talk, not the expository snippets that tell a story in a comic.
What did sort of offend me about this movie was the emotional manipulation required to keep dragging Tobey Maguire (whatever his stupid alter ego was called) back into the fray. Example one: the elevated train sequence. One of the many “scared passenger” extras in this movie is a young, beautiful woman who is holding a baby. A baby wrapped in a blanket. Because nothing looks more vulnerable than a beautiful young woman holding a baby wrapped in a blanket. (Maybe if she’d had a kerchief on her head like a movie immigrant.) But there is no reality to this situation, OK? What woman gallivants around town holding her baby wrapped in a blanket? The kid would be in a stroller or in one of those backpacky things.
Example two: the building on fire sequence. Don’t ask me, first of all, why, exactly, this is Spider-Man’s responsibility, and not the responsibility of firefighters, who DO exist in the universe of the film but for some reason are unable to reach any crime scene until after all the shit’s already gone down. Also don’t ask me whether or not I think the firemen would later tell old Tobey, “You’re a hero!” because they wouldn't. I don’t speak from experience, of course, but I’m guessing that people who risk their necks on a regular, professional basis don’t take too kindly to amateurs, and that the more likely remark would’ve been along the lines of, “What the eff did you think you were doing?”
But worse, the whole “there’s a kid in there!” rescue sequence made no sense from beginning to end. First of all, the kid had parents—we see them, out on the street, huddled and scared—WHY THE HELL did those parents not get the kid out when THEY got out? I can conceive of no situation where the parents end up on the street and the kid is inside the burning building—IN THE CLOSET—that doesn’t immediately point to Child Protective Services. Don’t ask me to care about the parents of the kid, is what I’m saying, because if they had been doing their jobs, Tobey wouldn’t have “had” to do it for them. The problem is, this movie wants to draw explicit lines between hero and citizen, between good and evil, etc., which again, fits a comic book world, but which is just not a world I’m interested in seeing. There’s so much dramatic potential in questioning those roles—see Gone Baby Gone or The Dark Knight, for examples—and so I find these movies where everything fits into its little boxes just really disappointing.
I wouldn’t make such a big deal about it, but it was on the list, and some of the reviews I read afterwards really exulted over what a triumph this movie was (for example, Entertainment Weekly’s). And it made no sense to me.
A better movie than Spider-Man 2, because there was a little ambiguity involved, particularly with the question of whether or not the inventor (of the machines which would eventually rebel) should be killed. That’s all I’m talking about, Spider-Man! A little debate, a little ambiguity! It’s not hard! James Cameron can do it! The guy who said, “I’m the king of the world!”
This is one of the few list movies which Jeremy agreed to watch with me—and which, in fact, he already possessed on DVD. In keeping with the dictum that I’m allowed to watch the movies in whatever frame of mind I choose, I approached this one with a full glass of Jack and tea, and indulged myself in Arnold-themed ridicule throughout. With the accent and all, it’s just so much fun to attribute dialogue to him: “I ahm da tehrminehter; I cuhm fruhm da fewture wehring lehhther.” I know I had cleverer ones, incidentally, but I can’t remember any of them.
As for the movie itself, it was not as dumb as I thought, nor as good as it could have been. The narrative was a little looser than I liked. For example, the Robert Patrick liquefying-terminator-guy disappears for about half an hour while the movie is figuring out the whole Sarah Connors: ASSASSIN? thing. This guy is striding so purposefully every time we see him, giving the impression that he will not give up until all are dead; but when we don’t see him, it sheds some doubt on how dynamically he’s really searching. Personally, I picture him kicking back with an iced tea at some highway rest stop. Would it have been so difficult for Cameron to cut to a shot of Patrick, striding purposefully, once or twice during that 30 minute period? It would’ve built the tension and everything…
Also, the relationship between Arnold and the kid (Edward Furlong, later arrested for freeing some grocery store lobsters while in a drunken stupor). The way the kid was endlessly nattering on to this futuristic robot, about his childhood, about whatever was on his mind. It was a very awkward way to relate the history to the audience, and it just made the kid seem sad, like he needed a friend. Still, somebody clearly liked this “gruff accented giant” plus “talkative child” energy, because Arnold replicated it several times.
The movie did have potential, though. It didn’t really explore the technology versus humanity theme, but that hasn’t stopped scholars from doing it—want a link to “Making Cyborgs, Making Humans: Of Terminators and Blade Runners” from The Cybercultures Reader? (And by the way, isn’t academia AWESOME?) Another positive point, like I said above, is that the movie was not afraid to debate. To question what was right or wrong! All you need is a dollop, Hollywood. It’s like cayenne pepper. It goes far.
Incidentally, Jeremy went to see the fourth film in the series (the one in theaters right now) and found it only OK.