When "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" opened on July 2, 2003, it did so under an incredible amount of scrutiny. It had been 12 years since the last "Terminator," 1991's groundbreaking "Judgment Day," so how would this new movie stand out in a post-"Matrix" world? Would people still be able to take Arnold Schwarzenegger seriously? And how good could a third "Terminator" possibly be without its original creator, James Cameron, calling the shots?
Pretty good, it turns out, despite the fact that "Terminator 3" was basically a loose remake of "Terminator 2." It may not have been a necessary movie, but it was certainly an entertaining one, and it allowed "Arnold the Terminator" to go out on a high note before becoming "Arnold the Governator."
That brings us to "Terminator Salvation" — the fourth installment of the popular series that started in 1984. But if the third film faced a lot of scrutiny, then the fourth movie faces even more. The closest its director, McG, came to an action film was directing the two "Charlie's Angels" flicks. The person most closely associated with the "Terminator" films is far too busy running California into the ground, and then there's Cameron, who moved on a long time ago.
But if the third movie was better than it had any right to be, the fourth film isn't nearly as lucky — and that's because it's a loud movie that doesn't have a lot to say. In fact, if there's anything to be learned from "Terminator Salvation," it's that a) McG likes to blow stuff up, and b) Christian Bale, who plays resistance leader John Connor, likes to shout — a lot. (Though we learned that a few months ago, after Bale's infamous on-set tirade made the rounds on the Internet).
If a big, loud, action-packed spectacle is all that you're looking for in a summer blockbuster, then "Salvation" certainly delivers the goods. Otherwise, there's no story or character development, and the weak screenplay (co-written by "T3's" John Brancato and Michael Ferris) is filled with corny, cheesy dialogue. And where the earlier "Terminator" films were inventive and imaginative, "Salvation" is contrived and derivative of other post-apocalyptic classics like "The Road Warrior," "Blade Runner" and the brilliant remake of TV's "Battlestar Galactica."
The previous "Terminator" films took place in the present day, but "Salvation" is the first in the series to take place in the future. The year is 2018, Judgment Day has come and gone and human beings are an endangered species. Their only hope against the killing machines produced by Skynet lies with John Connor (Christian Bale), the resistance leader whose mother saw this day coming. But Conner's faith is shaken with the arrival of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a mysterious stranger whose secret past holds the key to the future.
"Salvation" reeks of being directed by a filmmaker who has something to prove, but at least McG proves that he can handle a $140 million action movie. In fact, some of the sequences are downright intense, particularly when he depicts the takeoff and crash landing of a helicopter from the cockpit's point of view. It's also thrilling to see other killing machines, like the early T-600 model and a giant Terminator (or is it a Transformer?) that features detachable motorcycles on its legs.
The main problem is with the screenplay, which is severely lacking in character development. And while Christian Bale brings credibility to the series, he lays on the intensity too thick to make his version of John Conner a dynamic personality. If anything, the movie belongs to Australian actor Sam Worthington, who makes Marcus Wright the most interesting character of the bunch. Anton Yelchin also stands out as the young Kyle Reese, but the resistance fighters played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Common and Moon Bloodgood barely register.
The film's biggest "wow" moment is also its best surprise (or is it?), so to reveal it would spoil the fun. But everyone who's seen the first movie knows that the only way John Connor will be born is if he sends Kyle Reese back in time to meet his mother. "Terminator Salvation" never gets that far in the story, which means they'll be back in "Terminator 5." And if they do make another movie, you can bet that it will be under an incredible amount of scrutiny.
Verdict: SKIP IT!
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