2009 | Director: McG (“We Are Marshall”) | Writers: John Brancato and Michael Ferris (“The Game,” “Catwoman”)
There are many paradoxical problems with the time travel presented in the Terminator films, such as the potentially infinite loop shown through the series where human resistance leader John Connor’s buddy Kyle Reese goes back in time to save Connor’s mother from being killed by a murderous robot, and in the process nails her—this is the cool/stupid part—becoming the father of John himself. Don’t try too hard to wrap your mind around that; the first three movies are much more enjoyable if one stays mostly thought-free through the viewing experience.
But even a logic-optional series like this deserves a better director than former video hack McG behind the camera for its newest sequel, which, being set in the future threatened in the previous entries, eschews talk of time travel altogether, focusing instead on the irrelevant (and PG-13) plight of an original character and the flimsy repercussions of his bland arc. McG is nothing if not technically proficient, but even two early, blistering action scenes in “Terminator Salvation” do little to dress up the thinly drawn characters and formulaic plot that make up the whole of the film.
After a needless preamble set all the way back in 2003, “Salvation” finds series newcomer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) wandering the post-nuclear wasteland of Los Angeles, asking aloud such questions as “Where am I?” and “What year is this?” If one has seen the trailer, or is smart enough to count to six, one may discern quickly that Wright is, in fact, a cyborg. But who resurrected him? What’s his purpose? And who gives a crap?
Meanwhile, John Connor (Christian Bale) finds himself stymied by bureaucracy in the form of a bunch of stuffy army dudes crammed into a submarine. Can Connor convince them that he’s the chosen one and bear the mantle of Leader before it’s too late? Will Connor be able to save young Reese (Anton Yelchin) from the evil robots before they assassinate him and prevent the aforementioned time-loop thingy?
The critical error in this smoldering hunk of cinematic wreckage is that Connor, long the focal point of the series’ destiny-themed storyline, is relegated to a side role as a snarling, almost antagonistic caricature of the role previously played by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl. Instead, “Salvation” spends most of its time following Wright as he stares lifelessly at things one moment and screams gutturally the next; the movie essentially asks Terminator fans to care more about a wet-blanket nobody than the very man who must survive if the human race is to outlast the robots. But hey, the explosions are rad.
The rest of the semi-talented cast manage to sleepwalk through a plot that makes sure the audience knows that a vast network of machines is hankering to kill all humans, yet “Salvation” stuffs that potentially great premise into an insular package that lacks any authentic stakes or sense of urgency. The cyborg at the movie’s dull center may have a heart, but there’s no blood, figuratively or otherwise, pumping through this film.
Rating: Two of Five Stars