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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:

  1. Sarah Connor
  2. That terrifying "oh shit how are they going to get away from this unstoppable Terminator" feeling
  3. 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.

More commentary:

  • Terrified Waitresses and Chicks Who Kick Ass at Brutal Women
  • 6 Comments

    Damn! I missed one. I feel like such a disgrace......but as I review the movie in my head, I think I spent that whole scene desperately hoping one of those water-bots would take off Christian Bale's head.

    I still maintain we need a feminist takeover of at least one major movie studio. Then we could prevent the destruction of such iconic legacies.

    Query: What heroine films could I show a 5-year-old whose mother is still angry at me for screening Aliens? Apparently the lack of nightmares or negative responses to the movie were irrelevant and I need to find something more 'age appropriate'.

    SunlessNick said at June 8, 2009 6:23 PM:

    I hadn't decided whether to see Salvation because I was afraid it would just make me miss the Sarah Connor Chronicles more. Looks like the fear was justified, and I'll be giving that a miss then.

    Grue.

    It also makes me more determined than ever to interpret the SCC ending the way I did.

    ****NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS ARE SCC FINALE SPOILERS****


    That Sarah staying to continue trying to stop Skynet - a quest that would logically now risk winking John out of existence if she succeeded - means she's choosing the world (or the two of them each doing the best they can for the world) over John. And I'm keen on that.

    And I'd have been keen on a third season with just Sarah and a repaired Cameron (Cameron's software seemed to be on John Henry's original hardware, Sarah could have got a new chip from another Terminator, and Weaver must have had the facilities for repairing a body as she fixed Cromartie's).

    ****SPOILERS DONE****

    Ultimately, I'm not really fussed about John Connor. I mean I liked him ok in T2, but mainly because of what he represented in Sarah's life. In his own right, he's an abstract key to a future that shouldn't be.

    Sarah's where the core is. The franchise is hollow without her.

    All I can say to this one is, "I know, right?"
    I swear, the only thing I truly enjoyed in this movie was whenever Linda Hamilton's voice could be heard on the tapes. I thought of it as John looking to his mother for guidance even well after her death, but, in retrospect, that might be stretching things a bit.

    Hi Guys,

    First, Daconismoi, hey what about the one Grace just reviewed: A League of Their Own? Pretty mild. If not, there is always Monsters & Aliens when it comes out - I was actually pleasantly surprised by the feminine content: Ginormica really does goes through a hero's journey, and the storyline mainly revolves around her. Lastly, maybe check with the mom first, since it is pg-13, but I'd definitely recommend the new Wonderwoman DVD. It is all kinds of good, with adult-ish themes, but it is all about HC. Violence wise, it's anime-light. You see some heads chopped off, very minimal blood, and other characters that go poof when they die, or end up in the underworld (since it's in the realm of Greek mythology), so that takes the sting out of the death a bit. I gave it to my niece and she liked it.

    You know I still haven't seen Terminator yet; it's been a combination of coincidence and I have to say the review kind of killed some of my enthusiasm. But I have been thinking a while about this and why this film didn't do as well. But while I think for us, it was predominantly about Sarah, I think for many other people it was about the T-800 (Arnold). I was talking to my bro who thought the Terminator series without Schwarzenegger wasn't worth watching, and he didn't mention Sarah at all. When I brought her up, it was kind of an "eh" - which is probably why the show was canceled, or why they made Sarah the focus on tv, but John the movie. I think what made the two movies a hit, and what makes Cameron such an interesting director is his ability to do things that both guys and gals like generally (like he did with Titanic and Aliens).

    I actually was looking forward to this one - all the time traveling and multiple terminators was getting to be much for me. I was looking forward to the future being present, where they are just fighting the machines. I guess I just wished there were more "good fighters" in the future like Kyle said in the first one.

    Just wanted to say, "ditto" on Monsters Vs. Aliens. Susan/Ginormica is one of the most impressive cartoon heroines I've seen in a while. A lot of her motivation seems to be male-related, even after her transformation, though. (I must admit, I've been kinda hoping to see the "Heroine Content" take on this movie, but I know you guys only have so much time.)

    I finally saw Salvation before it left the theatres - and it looks like it is close. And I have to say I enjoyed it far more than I was fearing. Did it need more than one star? Nah, I agree with that. It is strikingly similar to Star Trek, but a better done version of it to me. And while I think it did surpass ST, I don't know if it was good enough to reach two stars.

    For me the best part of the film was Star! I loved her. I am SO sick of all the annoying kids who are in films. To me she was Newt (from Aliens), but waay cooler. Newt, who was also mute, was fine until she met the rescue crew. She seemed to begin talking to only connect with Ripley in a sympathetic was and to begin screaming...a lot. Thankfully Star was not like this. She only needed rescuing about as much as everyone else in the film, and wow, was she ever thinking! There are so many real life children who think in times of trauma, and I feel like we never see them in film. I actually think the muteness helps her. Because she doesn't speak - other than falling in line with a post-apocalyptic existence, all of her other senses are heightened (not like DD :)). They focused a lot on how she looked and what she looked at, so it makes sense she would pay attention to things others didn't. I didn't think she wasn't panicked - I just think she acted in spite of that.

    And also Yelchin said in an interview that he really wanted to make a connection to her because he could relate to her as being the youngest member on a film set. I don't know if it was coincidence, or if it bled onto the screen, but I saw the relationship between Reese and Star less like hero & sidekick, and more like a parent/child, or sibling relationship.

    Apart from Star, much of the rest was a mixed bag to me. I didn't think Blair was betraying her people by setting him free, because she genuinely believed he was more like them - human. For me it all depended on how the film turned out. And I felt that in the end the film vindicated her choice in the end. It even did it sooner than that, which was why Connor let her go, and gave that speech that he did before he went to Skynet.

    At the same time, I did find her character kind of annoying. I would have even been ok with the rape scene if she was shown to at least beat up 1 guy before getting defended my Marcus. And while I didn't mind her assist in the tree, since it seemed like she didn't need him, but used him for convenience, why need him for body heat? That whole scene seemed lame to me.

    I've started to look at films now in levels. There is the background level, then the substantial supporting character, then the main ones. I actually think it was pretty diverse on the background characters - especially since I never got the feeling that those were the only people left, but just a handful. Even the secondary characters were good, but not great, but the lack of real primary characters seems to be a stumbling block for a lot of films.

    As always, thanks for the review! :)

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