Terminator Salvation: It sucked
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.
We apologize for the delay in issuing this review of Terminator Salvation. You see, after I took one for the team and reviewed Terminator 3, I was kind of hoping that Grace would step up and save me from what I feared would be a race and gender FAIL. Alas, no. So here it is.
Ladies, be not afraid! In the future, your important roles as accessories to men's Important Heroic Actions will not be disturbed! You will be free to be kidnapped, knocked around, and rescued just as before, with no concessions made to the fact that the future of humanity depends on every person fighting tooth and nail against unstoppable foes!
People of color, you too will continue to enjoy your traditional positions as sidekicks to the Important White Men! And lest you fear that diversity will not be as highly valued in the future as it is now, let me reassure you that some of the higher echelons of the fight against the machines will be extremely international! There's a guy from Japan or somewhere!
p.s. To the guy who got a piece of rebar shoved through his chest: hope you like your new heart with a side of sand! And I'm glad they taught organ transplant surgery in vet school! Now if you just had access to a lifetime supply of anti-rejection medications, we'd be rocking this thing!
I'm sorry, what? Not long enough? Okay fine. I'll start over.
Terminator 2 was an amazing film. The amazingness was basically this:
- Sarah Connor
- That terrifying "oh shit how are they going to get away from this unstoppable Terminator" feeling
- Whatever else happened
Obviously someone, somewhere knows this, because they launched an entire television show called The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Obviously, that someone has been kept far, far away from any further movies in the franchise.
Part of my issue with this movie is my complete lack of ability to care about any character played by Christian Bale, the man of no emotions, so I'm trying not to hold that against the film. What I do hold against the filmmakers, however, is the decision to ignore all reasonable ideas of what humanity's future survival would require in order to privilege white men's experiences.
If you compare the statistical distribution of women's size and strength to that of men, in the current day, I have no doubt that there is some truth to that whole "but women just aren't as strong as men" thing which is often used to argue against women being in combat. But here's the thing: in the post apocalyptic future, it won't fucking matter. Even today, it doesn't matter, because there are still plenty of women who are way tough enough to exceed minimum standards of kick-ass-ness necessary to succeed in a military situation if they so choose to. The fact that proportionately more of the male population is at that level is totally irrelevant. And when a self-reproducing army of lethal machines is trying to KILL US ALL? If you can pick up a gun, you'd better be out there running, jumping, and blowing stuff up. Women, men, children, dogs, whoever.
(How anyone is supposed to do all of these physical tasks in a future where agriculture seems dubious is beyond me. Seriously, the supply chain issues in this movie boggle the mind. What are they eating? Where is the jet fuel coming from? Hell, where did all these people come from who can fly helicopters? We're supposed to assume that most of the people who survived Judgment Day are military? It's not like yours truly could just get in a helicopter and figure it out. I probably couldn't even drive a dump truck without wrecking the transmission while I was figuring out the gears. And did the machines just say "oh, well, we don't really need to target the military bases, there won't be anyone around to fly those planes anyway"? I realize that without all the gear, there wouldn't be much of a war, but I'm still wondering.)
So when I see combat forces made up of 80-90% men, and 99% adults, it tells me that the filmmakers are far more interested in telling a particular story than in creating a realistic vision of the future. That story is about Men doing Manly things. Men fighting. Men saving helpless people, like women and children. Men who make women fall in love with them.
Blair Williams, a female pilot, is supposed to be the badass, but her character is a joke. The tide has officially turned in the Terminator films. Sarah Connor is now the exception. She is the Only Woman, like Selene, Violet, Lara Croft, and too many more to mention. She is an aberration. For a good rundown of the other female characters, check out Terminator's Salvation Was/Is/Always Will Be Sarah Connor at Feminism to a Neurotic Extreme. I remember one other woman with some dialogue, a technician of some kind who is involved in testing the Ultimate Weapon, and she was a woman of color, but aside from that I think this list nails it. Save one anonymous female footsoldier who is quickly dispatched, none of them are in action roles. None. Did I mention the movie is set in the post apocalyptic future where humanity is fighting for survival? Oh I did? Good, I wouldn't want us to lose sight of that.
There's a sidekick of color for each of the three Important White Men in the film. John Connor has Barnes, played by Common. He gets to tag along while Connor is testing the Ultimate Weapon, and he gets to guard a prisoner. There is no indication that he's anything but a devoted subordinate. Kyle Reese, John Connor's future dad, has Star, played by Jadagrace. She's a young black girl who doesn't talk. As pointed out in the above linked post, she has more presence of mind than many of the adults, but she does spend an awful lot of time getting saved and carried around. As well she should, since she is a child, but in a movie where adult women are few and far between, her role feels manufactured. Marcus Wright, the prodigal cyborg, has Blair Williams, played by Moon Bloodgood who is part Korean. She may not be able to defend herself against rape, but she knows a good man when she looks into his eyes. Ah, love.
What did you say? Where are the Latino and Asian folks among the resistance fighters?
No clue, sorry. Perhaps they were all assassinated by Terminator Barbie in T3 when it was killing all of Connor's lieutenants.
I can't decide whether to give this film one star, because it's so damn typical, or no stars, because of what they've done to destroy the sliver of hope that Sarah Connor represented. I have finally decided on one star, in an attempt to be positive.